Sustainable Hillside Management Project

The Sustainable Hillside Management Project (SHMP), financed by the Global Environment Facility through the World Bank and the Mexican government, is a research/development project. It is related to climate change and involves indigenous Cuicateca, Mazateca, and Mixe populations who live in the sierras of northern Oaxaca State, Mexico.

These native rural populations are characterized by a high degree of economic and social isolation. Most of them practice hillside agriculture to produce staple crops using the slash-and-burn agricultural system (Figure 23.1). They obtain low yields of maize, beans, pumpkin, and other species, and they impact negatively on the quality of natural resources. The project target population includes 62 municipalities, 745 communities, and 325,000 people (Jiménez, 2001).

Figure 23.1 Hillside plots of maize and beans grown using the slash-and-burn agricultural system in the Mixe region, Oaxaca, Mexico. (Photos courtesy of Leobardo Jiménez S. and Aurelio León M.)

Families in these regions average five members. Adults typically speak their native language in the Mazateca and Mixe communities. Over 25% of parents in these communities are illiterate. Typically, these inhabitants, including those who can read and write, have only completed the third or fourth grade. Houses in the communities consist of two to three rooms, comprised of adobe walls, metal sheet ceilings, and dirt floors. Most farms vary in size between 2 and 3.5 ha. They are divided into two to three parcels on which maize, beans, coffee, and fruit trees are cropped. Generally, parcels are not cropped for 2 to 3 years, and then are cropped for the next 3 to 7 years. Maize, with an average yield of 0.7 Mt ha-1 in the three regions, does not contribute to household income, but many households earn cash from coffee bean production (León et al., 2001).

Research objectives of the SHMP are to (1) design of a sound methodology to measure carbon sequestration related to principal land use types in hillside ecosystems; (2) assess soil erosion and runoff; (3) characterize hillsides; microsheds, and regions geographically; (4) design and generate alternative technologies for a sustainable agriculture; and (5) characterize the socioeconomic conditions of target populations. The project also deals with development issues through an SHMP training and technology transfer unit. This unit focuses on technological innovations that have been derived from research. It is committed to farmer training to use and transfer the technological innovations, and improvement of target population living standards, particularly those related to nutrition, food production, and family income. The SHMP operational strategy is participatory, interdisciplinary, and fosters cooperation among participant farmers, both women and men, and their families, communities, and municipal organizations; scientific and technical staff devoted to basic tasks in research and development; and public and private institution staff who are participating at the community, municipal, state, and federal levels. Operationally, the SHMP works on a continuum from microsheds to subregions, to regions, and its development activities constitute a continuum (Jiménez, 2001).

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