Reducing Impacts of Ranching on Biodiversity
In Mexico, as in other developing countries, large areas are deforested for agricultural purposes, and extensive areas are permanently grazed at the expense of temperate and tropical forests, contributing to changes in climate, global warming, destabilization of the hydrologic cycle, destruction of habitat, and loss of biodiversity. This affects 200,000 inhabitants of the Reserve and its areas of influence as well as a great number of national and global citizens. In spite of the SGBR´s notable natural regeneration following emigration and the abandonment of crop lands, it is critical to lower the presence of cattle and people in forests, especially in areas of high biodiversity such as San Antonio Tancoyol, the region chosen for the sale of integrated environmental services. Through this project the 800 cattle currently grazing this area will be reduced by 90%.
We have made considerable progress in applying federal Payments for Hydrologic Environmental Services and Protection of Biodiversity managed by the National Forestry Commission (CONAFOR). We have helped 97 landowners of 25,405 ha of forest participate in the program from 2003 to 2007. In exchange for excluding cattle from their properties they received US $2,497,870, improving their income through benefiting ecosystems and species. Another important achievement is our application of resources to the rental of lands for conservation purposes: US $60,000 within the full scale project “Conservation of Biodiversity in the SGBR” funded by the Global Environment Facility (GEF) executed from 2001 to 2008, and US $233,000 from the Rio Gonzalo Arronte Foundation for the project “Support for the recharge of priority springs in the SGBR,” being implemented from 2006 to 2010. Land rental is formalized by contracts that establish, among other conditions, the exclusion of cattle. This arrangement directly benefits landowners and biodiversity, complementing payments for environmental services.
This financial support is significant but insufficient. Our educational and promotional outreach has generated great interest in participation among landowners. The positive disposition of the local population to engage in conservation and the encouraging results achieved for biodiversity create the demand for more resources to expand this successful strategy.
Our certified and independently verified product of carbon captured in reforestations will be extremely innovative for its use of criteria and protocols appropriate for communities of extreme poverty, falling outside of the Kyoto Protocol. The potential benefits of carbon sequestration sales are enormous as the restoration areas contain extremely poor communities, facing serious marginalization, whose lands are very eroded and unproductive. The "Gourmet" product, a package of integrated environmental services including protection of biodiversity, hydrologic recharge, and carbon sequestration and storage, will be the first of its kind available on the voluntary environmental services market. It will considerably expand the marketing options available for the environmental services generated by temperate and tropical forests while giving businesses an opportunity to raise their environmental responsibility. This opportunity comes at a critical moment for cattle ranchers as droughts, lack of water and forage, new illnesses, high costs of supplies and medicines, depredation by wildlife and lack of labor make their current livelihoods increasingly difficult. This alternative will support equilibrium between the needs of the population and the conservation of biodiversity. The first steps for its securitization are also very innovative. The payments for hydrologic environmental services and for protection of biodiversity constitute a conservation innovation in Mexico. The Mexican government dedicates ample resources to halt deforestation by means of payments to forest landowners. In this manner they are stimulated to conserve their land. In the Sierra Gorda, 97 landowners of 25,405 ha have benefited from US $2,497,870 of support. With the approval of this proposal an additional 20 landowners would benefit. As for the pilot demonstration of intensive livestock management, aside from isolated cases of little impact and purely economic ends, Mexico has not seen an extensive push for integrated and intensive cattle management focused on improving ecosystems and protecting biodiversity. The governmental programs offer considerable support, but they do not promote the integrated development of cattle ranching, and they do not take into account either the damage to ecosystems or the conservation of biodiversity. The pilot is in motion in coordination with the National Commission of Natural Protected Areas (CONANP), the Local Cattleman´s Association of Jalpan of Serra, the State’s Ranchers’ Union and FONAES. It includes the planting hay pastures, improvement of facilities, equipment and genetic stocks, greenhouses for production of hydroponic green forage, use of waste for production of gas and fertilizer in biodigestors, and sale of products through a marketing company. The pilot will show that cattle ranchers can considerably increase their profits utilizing small spaces, with lower costs and without negative impacts to the surrounding forests currently used for grazing. Under current management a cow produces earnings of US $40 per year. Under the pilot project each cow would generate an estimated $5,590 per year. In addition the impacts of grazing on biodiversity will be greatly reduced. From 20 ha currently grazed per cow, less than .5 ha will be grazed under the new, more intensive livestock management. The dissemination of the idea will be carried out by the Sierra Gorda Earth Center, a training facility of the Grupo Ecológico Sierra Gorda (GESG) that offers classes, workshops and diploma courses to all levels of society, from farm producers to teachers or members of other NGOs and personnel of other Natural Protected Areas.
Diminish the harmful impact of extensive cattle grazing on ecosystems and biodiversity, supporting landowners with better and more sustainable alternative incomes.
- Update the quantification document of the product "Carbon Sequestration through Reforestation in Communities of Extreme Poverty” in order to pursue certification and external verification of the project. The voluntary carbon market, formed by businesses that are not regulated under the Kyoto Protocol, has been successfully explored. Eighteen landowners have already sold carbon to organizations voluntarily offsetting carbon emissions. With the approval of this proposal 73 more landowners could sell 21,600 tons of carbon to interested clients.
- Develop an integrated environmental services product including protection of watersheds and biodiversity, capture and storage of carbon, avoided erosion and reduction of poverty, and expand environmental services markets.
- Design a presentation document for the first "Gourmet" package of integrated environmental services in the area of San Antonio Tancoyol, to offer on the voluntary market. Investigate the Mexican Stock Market for the possibility of securitizing the gourmet product, an idea well received by national foundations as well as businessmen. Approximately 50 landowners of 15,200 ha have a good chance of selling the environmental services their land stewardship will provide. Implement environmental services payments for the 85 landowners of 13,800 ha of forests in zones of high biodiversity value in exchange for excluding 1,300 cattle from their lands and instead performing conservation activities. The idea has been well accepted among the landowners and we have access to important resources in the domestic market, which has generated significant demand and opportunity. During the project, US $150,955 will be paid by the National Forestry Commission (CONAFOR) to 45 landowners on 7,500 ha, $145,631 from the Rio Arronte Foundation to 20 landowners for the rental of 3,000 ha, and an additional 20 landowners of 4,000 ha will benefit from the solicited resources of DM.
- Support pilot demonstrations of intensive cattle management on 5 ranches including training and advising on food production, genetic improvement, modernization of infrastructure and equipment. The ranchers, selected from the central part of the Reserve for their willing disposition to change their current system of management, form an Association of Rural Production with in-kind resources from the Direction of the Reserve and the National Solidarity Fund (FONAES). The latter includes resources for market research. This project has great potential for replication as it represents a considerable increase in income for the ranchers. A cost-benefit analysis on the project demonstrated that ranchers who upgrade from rudimentary cattle operations to intense, modern management will increase their incomes by 1000% during the project period.
- Disseminate the idea, its results and its impact through the Sierra Gorda Earth Center for replication in other Natural Protected Areas in Mexico.