Social construction of the forest landscape of La Sepultura, Chiapas: the agency role of local actors from an interface perspective

I analysed the effect that the socio-environmental regime (SER), predominant in a natural protected area (NPA), has had on the configuration of livelihoods of domestic rural groups (DRG) and on the construction of forest landscapes of two ejidos in the Upper Tablón River Basin (UTRB), located in the biosphere reserve La Sepultura, Chiapas, Mexico.

Based on the approach of Peasant Territorial Systems (SITCA for its acronym in Spanish) I developed a participatory action research process that included several working phases: construction of the baseline and diagnosis of the SITCA, the assessment of peasant livelihoods, the governance analysis within the NPA, and the search for innovation alternatives. I designed and developed a qualitative methodology that, from the constructivist paradigm, generated dialogue and reflection processes with local actors.

An adaptive governance focused on domestic rural groups is required to shift the territorial regime in the Upper Tablón River Basin in order to reach the ability to reproduce socially.

This included tours in the territory to characterise landscape units, participatory interviews with key actors in the territory management, participatory workshops on livelihoods, role plays, an experience exchange among producers, participatory workshops for the search of alternatives, and the collective construction of planting beds as an exercise of local organization. The study offers a critical assessment of the SITCA from a transdisciplinary perspective. The results suggest that the SITCA in the UTRB has restrictions on its four components (landscape, DRG, socio-academic groups, and corporate governmental group) and has not reached the ability to reproduce socially.

I found that for the component of landscape the guidelines of the natural protected area have facilitated maintenance of relatively stable forest frontiers but there were other environmental problems such as soil erosion and compaction, pests and diseases (e.g. coffee rust) that restricted the long-term sustainability of the landscape. Corporate governmental group works under a vertical scheme where guidelines aimed for the local territory usually come from international proposals which encourage intervention policies and hinder local agency capacity.

Socio-academic groups support generation of knowledge but often projects lack long-term continuity and can even present some contradictions among each other. DRG have a multi-active lifestyle with many productive activities but they do not reproduce economically, lack the required capitals, and indicated that they have lost action capacity both individually and collectively, to transform their situation. A change in the territorial regime of UTRB is possible and could be achieved through an adaptive governance focused on DRG that comprehensively articulates all the components of the SITCA: landscapes, DRG, socio-academic groups and the corporate-governmental group.