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Think global, act local

12 July 2008

It’s a little ironic that it’s the conservatives in Mexico who are pushing the BIG GOVERNMENT PROJECTS these days while the socialists are looking at smaller, neighborhood solutions.  Or, in this case, socialists in partnership with the Commies!

Don’t get me wrong … there is no way to spend time in Mexico without seeing the very real consequences of climate change, and human-caused environmental damage.  There’s no way to deny that the Valle de Mexico didn’t experience climate change as the water and trees were removed over the past few centuries.  And, air pollution dramatically changed the climate (not for the better) over just the past 40 years or so.

I’m excited about the innovations being used to undo some of that damage — subway expansion, strict emissions controls for autos and factories, “green” buses and taxis — but the Valle is never going to be a lake with a few islands, surrounded by forests, again.  Greenpeace complained that the national (big government) tree planting program isn’t all it’s cracked up to be … mostly pointing out that the trees are mostly cacti, and are not replacements of timber trees.  So be it, at least there’s trees (and in a snarky aside, I’d point out that protesting with a bunch of cardboard coffins made me wonder how many trees died to support their protest).

How much support a “big government” push like the tree planing campaign will have in the long run I don’t know.  It made a good start, according to press reports, like this one from AFP:

More than nine million trees were planted in Mexico as part of a day-long campaign against deforestation, the environment minister said Monday.

The day of tree-planting took place on Saturday and aimed to compensate for the 316,000 hectares (780,000 acres) of forest that are lost annually to illegal exploitation, Environment Minister Juan Elvira said.

Mexicans were able to “plant 9,345,000 trees of various types,” said Elvira, adding that 507,000 citizens had participated across the country.

Mexico is the fifth leading country in the world in terms of deforestation.

The government launched an ambitious reforestation project in 2007, when 250 million trees were planted, with a goal of 280 million for 2008.

The environmental group Greenpeace has criticized the government, saying it has done little to prevent illegal logging and that deforestation was likely to continue.

Of course, that gets the media attention. A smaller project, from Itzapalapa, is also putting more greenery into the Valle, and… at the same time… a few pesos in people’s projects. Not the way socialists and commies are supposed to do things (Jornada, 11-july-2008 article by Rocío González Alvarado. My translation):

From what until last year was a trash-filled empty lot surrounded by asphalt, poor families in Iztapalapa, members of the civic associatin, Comparte, are harvesting their first fruits of their own labor, part of an urban agriculture program promoted by the Mexico City government.

The Itzapalapa garden in one of twenty-one projects which seek to recver and improve idle land within the metropoli. Rooftops and traffic islands, as well as gardens, have been planted with fruits, herbs and vegetables, as well as medicinal plants and ornamentals, all being grown without chemical fertilizers.

Very different from the smells that emananted from the plot when it was full of trash and garbage, the 400 squared meters in San Miguel barrio smell of cilanto, epazote, mint, rue and oregano, intersperced between the rows of tomatos, tomatillos, radishes, carrots, chard and spinach.

Since last November, professionals, workers and housewives have had free use of eight meter by one and a half-meter wide plots of soil to grown their own frutis, medicinal plants or herbs, either on their own, or in combination with others.

We didn’t know anything about gardening, but we had a workshop, and decided to give it a try. At first it was difficut, having to clear the land, and prepare the soil,” said Comparte member, Irma Díaz. Although the most difficult time was the rainy season, the results have been satisfactory, she added.

Production is tiny: five kilos of radishes, ten of tomatoes per month, but it’s enough to supply the ten families that participated, and has even created a “mini-market” for vegetables at prices well below theose in the markets.

Pedro Ponce Javana, who oversees the urban agriculture program for the Department of Rural Development, said twenty-one similar projects in Álvaro Obregón, Cuauhtémoc, Cuajimalpa and Iztapalapa Delegations are in development. His program, Sederec, has invested five million pesos in fifteen projects which will benefit 750 families.

Interviewed at the Itzapalapa site, he said the project plans to recuperate unused land and encourage use of space around schools, factories, parks and traffic islands, as well as using balconies and rooftops to grow healthy foods, like vegetables and fruit, as well as ornamental, medicinal and aromatic hurbs. An addition to health benefits, this should help save the environment, as well as providing a major social benefit.

Sederec director, Rosa Márquez Cabrera, said she is counting on support from Universidad Autónoma Chapingo [the Federal Agricultural University] experts to make the project a success. She added that the program is working with the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization and the Cuban government, and indicated an interest in international agreements on sustainable food development.

She said that Mexico City was the first place in the country to try a program of this sort, which has proven practical and popular in other countries, especially in Europe.

One Comment leave one →
  1. 14 July 2008 9:22 am

    There is an entrepreneurial farming movement underway throughout the U.S. and Canada, and the impetus behind it is SPIN-Farming. SPIN could perhaps also spark a farming revival in Mexico. SPIN is a franchise-ready vegetable farming system that makes it possible to earn $50,000+US from a half acre. SPIN farmers utilize relay cropping to increase yield and achieve good economic returns by growing only the most profitable food crops tailored to local markets. SPIN’s growing techniques are not, in themselves, breakthrough. What is novel is the way a SPIN farm business is run. SPIN provides everything you’d expect from a good franchise: a business plan, marketing advice, and a detailed day-to-day workflow. In standardizing the system and creating a reproducible process it really isn’t any different from McDonalds. By offering a non-technical, easy-to-understand and inexpensive-to-implement farming system, it allows many more people to farm, wherever they live, as long as there are nearby markets to support them, and it removes the two big barriers to entry – sizeable acreage and significant start-up capital. SPIN farmers use backyards and front lanws and neighborhood plots as their land base, and you can see some of them in action at http://www.spinfarming.com

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