The Rise of Community Forestry in Mexico: History, Concepts, and Lessons Learned from Twenty-Five Years of Community Timber Production
By David Barton Bray and Leticia Merino-Pérez
A Report in partial fulfillment of Grant No. 1010-0595
The Ford Foundation.
This report is a draft for limited circulation and comments are extremely welcome. Dr. David Bray is Associate Professor in the Department of Environmental Studies at Florida International University, Miami, FL USA (email@example.com). Dr. Leticia Merino is a Researcher with the Instituto de Investigaciones Sociales at the Universidad Autónoma de México (UNAM (firstname.lastname@example.org). Many thanks to Rosa Cossío-Solano for assistance in research and manuscript preparation.
Mexico presents a virtually unique case where much of the nation’s forests were placed in the hands of communities, in successive degrees of actual control, beginning in the early decades of the 20th century, as a little-noticed result of the Mexican Revolution. Today, Mexico’s common property community-managed forests, and associated community forest enterprises (CFEs) in both temperate and tropical areas, appear to be at a scale and level of maturity unmatched anywhere else in the world. It is thus a national laboratory for studying the social and ecological benefits of delivering forests to local communities. Mexico’s forests have rich biodiversity, including one tenth of all terrestrial vertebrates and plants known to science. Although deforestation has been a serious problem throughout the second half of the 20th century, a recent national study suggests that forest losses have been at the low end of estimates over the last two decades. Nonetheless there are few substantial intact forest masses left in Mexico, and some of these appear to be in areas where community forest management is a dominant land use. Estimates of communities that are managing their forests for the commercial production of timber in Mexico have ranged from 288 to 740. Preliminary research for this study found 533 community logging permits in just 5 states, suggesting that the number of CFEs may be beyond the upper end of current estimates. With this large universe, there have been several recent efforts to classify CFEs by degree of vertical integration and other characteristics, and a new 5-level classification is proposed here, that also expands the definition of what constitutes a CFE.
The Mexican experience forces a reevaluation of many theoretical concepts which have been used to analyze community forestry elsewhere. Contemporary common property regimes have been defined as those that have endured and those that have emerged, but Mexico is neither. It is a massive, state-structured experiment in common property management that has been growing in size throughout most of the 20th century. Some 40% of Mexico’s forest natural assets were transferred to community hands between 1950-1980 alone, reaching an estimated 80% of Mexican forests in community hands. Mexico’s CFEs are virtually unique in the world in having mounted community enterprises for the commercial production of timber on the basis of a common property regime. Given Mexico’s strong regulatory framework, the Mexican case may also be thought of as a form of co-management as it occurs in Asia, but on the basis of a privately held common property rather than public property. Mexican forest communities are found to have large stocks of relational and traditional institutional social capital, but that government and other actors have done much to create new organizational social capital on the traditional foundations. In asset building the Mexican experience forces the focus of attention away from the accumulation of household assets and towards the accumulation of assets in the CFE and in community infrastructure and social welfare programs. In ecosystem management, Mexican CFEs are seen to be moving progressively towards a more ecosystemic view of their forest resources.
The substantial Mexican CFE sector has emerged from a 70-year history of policy initiatives and struggles by communities and civil society. The Mexican Revolution, predicated on a massive and ongoing distribution of land to groups of peasant farmers in two main categories of agrarian reform (ejidos and indigenous communities), had the consequence of giving communities important natural assets on their community lands. Thus, the idea that communities should be in charge of producing timber from these community lands, just as they were in charge of agricultural production on their lands, took root very early. However, there was another major current very early that felt that communities did not have the skills to manage timber production on their lands, and that the Mexican constitution called for state intervention to organize timber production. After early efforts in the 1930s to establish forest cooperatives, which quickly fell into corruption and state tutelage, forest policy in Mexico from 1940-1970 was dominated by logging bans and logging concessions in a context of import-substitution industrialization, with virtually no attention given to CFEs. Beginning in 1970, however, two different strategies for the promotion of CFEs emerged. One, linked to a government agency called FONAFE, attempted the large-scale creation of CFEs that were forced to sell to concessionaires. The second, seated in another government agency, the DGDF-SFF, worked outside the concession areas in promoting CFEs that were freer to operate in the marketplace. By the late 1970s and early 1980s, reformers in the DGDF were able to enter several different regions of Mexico and the “first golden age” of community forest promotion began (1974-1986). After the passage of a pro-community forestry law in 1986, government support of CFEs went into a decline until the late 1990s. In the early 1980s, grassroots mobilizations and civil society actors also banded together to create a new wave of resistance to government concessions. In the late 1990s, two new government programs emerged, PRODEFOR and PROCYMAF, that gave new support to CFEs. This period marked a sea change in community control of forests and logging in Mexico, and was a major advance in social and economic equity and a more democratic distribution of the benefits of forest resources.
Another unusual social capital feature of Mexican CFEs is the large number of second and third-level organizations which have emerged over the last 25 years. These organizations, which have usually banded together around the provision of the forest technical services (FTS) required by Mexican law, have frequently suffered the defections of the largest members because the perceived costs of collective action are higher than the benefits for them. Innovative models for managing the FTS problem without defections and for using second-level organizations to achieve vertical integration for small-volume ejidos are discussed. Third-level or national organizations have presented a special problem in the creation of social capital in the sector, and have been heavily reliant on government and foundation funding. It is found that traditional social capital in local communities can both provide a firm base for the construction of a successful CFE but can also serve as “communal fetters” that inhibit the emergence of a more efficient and productive CFE. Many CFEs are also plagued by internal conflicts over corruption and control by local elites. The construction of CFEs and their associated social capital has proven to be a powerful force for mitigating social conflict in the Costa Grande of Guerrero. The principal role of foundations in creating a stronger national presence for community forestry than would have otherwise occurred, and in assuring the survival of the more economically precarious experiences in tropical forest management in Quintana Roo.
CFEs have been based on a wide variety of arrangements for apportioning the stocks and flows of the common pool resource. This suggests that the exact conformation of the stocks and flows should be left up to the creativity of individual communities and that there is no one right way to handle this issue. Community enterprises in Mexico require the meshing of traditional governance structures with enterprise management Challenges that this meshing produce include managerial rotation, questions of authority and labor administration, issues of participation, and corruption. Communities have particularly struggled with issues of community interference in rational enterprise administration and corruption. The various organizational structures that have emerged in CFEs are analyzed and it is concluded than an organizational innovation based on a tradition from Oaxaca known as the Council of Elders is a unique feature of some CFEs and has served to separate enterprise administration from community politics in some cases. The emergence of “work groups” which represents dissolution of the CFE in favor of smaller enterprises is a genuine grassroots organizational response to corruption. CFEs are found to be highly profitable at all levels of vertical integration. Compared to small business start-ups in other countries, few CFEs appear to fail entirely. There is a clear relationship between size of forest and vertical integration. Finished product communities have on average some 11,000 ha of forest, sawmill communities 7,500 ha, roundwood communities 5,000 and stumpage communities only 2,400.
Mexican CFEs had enormous natural assets transferred to them through the agrarian reform process and, having constructed CFEs to exploit them, have devised a variety of ways of directing the flow of benefits from the common pool stock. These include employment and wages, investments in the enterprise, profit distribution (reparto), and investments in community infrastructure and social welfare programs. Where asset-building most clearly occurs is in capital asset building in the enterprise, which helps build employment and income security, a key component of household asset-building, and at the community level, where community assets increase the quality of life in forest communities. Almost all CFEs directly market their own timber production and historically almost all CFEs have sold into national timber markets, the smaller ones selling to state-level markets and larger ones selling into different national markets. There have been periods and regions when sales have been difficult due to price competition, but these problems appear to be episodic and transitory and most CFEs at most times appear able to sell their production, even if not always at the price they would like. The forest products industry is moving toward certified products, but this creates a dilemma for certified community forests. They cannot compete on price or volume or, it seems, on certification. This strongly suggests the need for a new market niche, a new form of certification, one that recognizes timber products that are produced by communities who are sustainably managing their forests, and who are also producing stable rural communities and economic equity along with timber. This is a market niche that Mexico could dominate.
It is found that the most economically dynamic CFE communities will also have high rates of emigration, as a phenomenon of their economic growth and the creation of migrant social networks. CFEs will not end emigration, but can only offer options to those who would like to stay in their community. It is also found that Mexican local communities, both indigenous and non-indigenous, offer a unique form of communitarian capitalism that should be celebrated and promoted by the Mexican government as a uniquely Mexican form of capitalism, analogous to Asian capitalism, that is proving to be highly competitive in the marketplace.
Mexican CFEs are moving towards a more integrated ecosystem management that goes beyond timber production, in part prodded by a stronger regulatory framework coming from the Mexican government. There are both traditional and newer, urban conservationist tendencies within many logging communities, which could pressure some logging communities to abandon logging or move into the sales of more benign ecosystem services over the next decade. Sales of ecosystem services and products including water, parrots, mushrooms, ecotourism, and carbon sequestration are increasing options for many communities. Since 1997, a highly favorable policy climate for community forestry has emerged, which has now become more pronounced in the administration of President Vicente Fox, with notable expansions of the PRODEFOR and PROCYMAF support programs.
25 lessons learned in Mexican community forestry are presented. A new government-led marketing campaign for the entire CFE sector, in close collaboration with second and third-level organizations and forest NGOS, is an important further step that government could be taking now. As has been argued, Mexico’s CFEs represent a distinctive productive sector within the global forest products industry. A publication relations campaign could be mounted within the forest products industry and for the public that “sells” the Mexican CFE sector as one that uniquely combines high quality wood products with “green seal” forest management, and social justice and equity. This should also involve a major push for certification and the development of schemes for the sale of ecosystem services. If it is true that Mexico is the face of the future in global community future, it means that for Mexico, the future is now. Thus, Mexican community forestry stands at the brink of even greater achievements. It is a golden moment for all of its stakeholders to join together in a concerted effort to take it to the next level of equity, democracy, sustainability, and economic competitiveness.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
I. An Overview of the Mexican Community Forest Enterprise Sector 8
A. Introduction 8
B. The Forests of Mexico: Extent, Ecology and Deforestation 9
C. Economic Dimensions of Mexican Forests and the Role of CFM in the Sector 12
D. The Magnitude and Characteristics of Mexican Community Forests and Community Forest Enterprises (CFEs) 13
E. Typologies of Mexican CFEs 14
II. A Conceptual Approach to Mexican Community Forestry: Common Property, Social Capital, Asset-Building, and Ecosystem Management 18
A. Common Property Theory and its relevance to Mexican Community Forestry. 18
B. Social Capital and CFM. 22
C. Asset-Building and CMNF 23
D. Ecosystem Management and CMF 25
III. The Historical Development of Community Forestry in Mexico: Policy, Grassroots Movements, and the Rise of Community Forestry 28
A. Phase I: Early Initiatives, 1932-1970 28
B. Phase II: The Great Awakening of Mexican Community Forestry 1971-1986 33
C. Phase III: Uneven Policy Initiatives and Consolidation of a Mature Community Forestry Sector 1988-2000 40
IV. Investments in Social Capital and CFEs: Indigenous, Government, and NGO-created Social Capital 48
A. Indigenous Forms of Relational and Traditional Institutional Social Capital 48
B. Government-created Social Capital 50
C. NGOs and Social Capital: The Role of Civil Society and “Advisors” 52
D. Investments in Social Capital: Second and Third-Level Organizations 54
E. The absence of social capital: conflict and covert privatization 63
F. Community Conflict or Democracy in Action? 65
G. New Perspectives on Social Capital and Mexican CFEs 66
1. Social Capital as Communal Fetters. 66
2. CFE Social Capital and Conflict Resolution. 67
V. Foreign Foundations and Mexican Community Forestry 68
A. Stocks and Flows in Common Property CFEs 72
B. Communities and Enterprises: The Permanent Tension 74
C. Enterprise Organization and Work Groups 81
D. Human Capital in CFEs 82
E. Are CFEs profitable? 84
F. When Communities Don’t Have the Resources to Vertically Integrate: The Challenge of Low-Resource Stumpage Communities 90
G. Distribution of Benefits and Asset-Building in Communities and Households: Capital Investment, Social Investment, and Reparto 90
1. Employment and Wages. 91
2. Social Investments 92
3. Reparto (Profit Distribution). 93
4. Capital assets 94
H. Marketing (Local Markets, National Markets, International Markets, Certification) 95
I. The Challenge of Migration 99
J. CFEs as communitarian capitalism: Mexico’s unique contribution to the global economy 101
VI. From Logging to Ecosystem Management 102
A. The Evolution of Silviculture in Temperate and Tropical Forests 102
B. From Silviculture to Forest Ecosystem Management 106
C. Non-Timber Forest Products 109
D. Valuation Through Sales of Ecosystem Products and Services: Carbon Sequestration, Watershed Services, Ecotourism 111
E. Carbon Sequestration 112
VII. Conclusions: Current Trends, Lessons Learned and the Future of Mexican CFEs 114
A. Current Trends 114
B. Future Paths of Mexican CFEs 117
C. Twenty Five Lessons Learned from the CFE Experience in Mexico 118