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Diversity and sustainable development in Southern Mexico

(6 October 2015)

In September of this year, I visited the Mixteca region in Southern Mexico (Oaxaca state). This is a fascinating region, not in the last place because it has ecosystems ranging from deserts to humid mountain forests. It so diverse that it is generally considered the most biodiverse region of Mexico. Apart from its biological diversity, it is one of the most culturally diverse regions of Mesoamerica. The Mixtec people have occupied this area since at least 1000 years (in coalition with the Zapotec in prehispanic times) and survived the Spanish conquest.. Nowadays, Mixtec still constitute the majority of population but in total, there are six ethnic groups. The Spanish contributed to the cultural diversity of the region, among others with monumental churches and monasteries from the Dominican order.

I was in the region to evaluate the UNEP-GEF-WWF project on mainstreaming ecosystem services in development programs in the Mixteca region. I could visit many parts of the Mixteca, see stunning landscapes and meet wonderful people undertaking a variety of innovative productive projects. Man and women cultivated succulent plants to sell as garden plants and to restore natural populations, they tap resin from (native) pine trees as non timber forest products, they plant trees for fuelwood, they apply traditional land rehabilitation techniques and restore degraded woodland. A really encouraging enthusiasm! I was particularly impressed with the local capacities, finding out how many people from local communities have managed to study at university and now support development of their former neighbors. But I was also sadly impressed by the remaining poverty leading to a continued massive emigration to the USA.