Celebrating mangroves and local community leaders on World Forest Day

News 20.03.19

Posted by UNDP

Written by Anna Giulia Medri, Programme Analyst, Equator Initiative, UNDP

Le u zacil in tukul, le u zacil in kajal” in Yucatec Maya translates as, “the clarity of my thought is the light of my people.” José Inés Loria Palma learned this early on from his grandmother.

Meet José Inés. In 1995, José Inés, with a group of like-minded local friends, embarked on a journey aimed at restoring mangrove forests in the San Crisanto community in the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico. Why? The area frequently faces heavy rainfall and widespread flooding. In addition, communities faced a shortage of food and work. José Inés remembers that people from the surrounding communities thought his plans were a “foolish idea”. It was then that he founded the San Crisanto Foundation.

Since the Foundation began, over 11,300 meters of canals have been restored to help the flow and draining of water. 45 cenotes (natural sinkholes) have been rehabilitated. 85% of the mangroves (an area of 850 hectares) that had been there historically have been restored. Ecotourism activities generate $60,000 of revenue each year. In this community of only 570 inhabitants, 99% of the working population is now employed with an income of $8,000 per capita, more than twice the national average. In short, there have been remarkable social changes within the community.

In the beginning, community members would wonder: “How are all these restoration efforts going to benefit our jobs and families?” By persevering in educating the community about the importance of the mangroves, the Foundation has managed to change the community’s outlook on the value of nature. Now the Foundation’s mission is achieved with the engagement of the youth and all community members through restoration and conservation activities.

The Foundation hosts an annual Mangrove Festival and the San Crisanto Coconut Festival. It also creates a culture of conservation. The income from ecotourism activities helps the education and cultural advancement of the community through building and maintaining schools and buying books and supplies.

Today, the Foundation supports three schools for children from 8 to 16 years who attend classes on environmental education and engage in extra-curricular activities. They learn how to prevent the degradation of local ecosystems, including the mangroves. Climate change is also an important topic in the curriculum.

Children in the community have an enhanced sensitivity to environmental issues. In José Inés’s words, they have “become promoters and guardians of the environment within their families”. With their peers, they organize around eco-friendly goals, creating “ecopandillas” (“eco-crews”).

The San Crisanto Foundation received the prestigious Equator Prize in 2010, underscoring the organization’s role as a leader in social and ecological development. Nonetheless, José Inés believes there is more to do. He is eager to work together with the local and regional government to expand sustainable economic activities. Also, he hopes to start a school for professional development for eco-friendly businesses.

The San Crisanto Foundation is managed by and for the local community. It has helped improve the community’s quality of life, strengthen socio-economic conditions and expand livelihood options for the local population. Restoration of nature has helped on multiple fronts and mangroves stand proud in this story of natural climate solutions and regeneration of a community, thanks to the clear vision of community leaders like José Inés.