When the Earth Charter talks about establishing “viable nature and biosphere reserves,” and of managing “the use of renewable resources such as water, soil, forest products, and marine life in ways that… protect the health of ecosystems,” it can seem like they’re talking about only government or a big NGO’s initiatives. To preserve a forest, or to plant a new one is something that would take millions of dollars and new laws and support from all kinds of international organizations, right?
And yet when we got to Chiapas in southern Mexico, we met a woman who does all of that on her own, without her government, without any official organization and without anything remotely resembling millions of dollars – just a woman working with her family to plant trees in an area that desperately needs them, often in the face tremendous obstacles, even at risk to her life.
Meet Eufemia Hernandez-Sanchez, a mother and owner of a small store who has helped regenerate forest in over 500 acres of southern Mexico. The program started with her brother in fact, shortly after Eufemia and her family were relocated by the government to the village of Santa Rita, after the construction of the Laguna Verde nuclear plant meant they couldn’t stay in their family home any longer.
To carve a way of life out of what was essentially virgin rain forest a five day journey from the nearest town of any size, the villagers were forced to cut back the trees to create fields for planting beans and maize and to graze livestock. The wood of the forest trees became their houses and community buildings.
The only problem was that just as in every other rain forest, the soils in Santa Rita proved to be poor in nutrients and rarely served for cultivation after more than a few years. The same is the case in rain forests in Brazil or Indonesia – an ecological irony that some of the most productive ecosystems in the world just don’t make good land for conventional farming.
What happens next then is rather obvious – when the lands stop producing after a few years, new sections of forest are cut down and burned and planted, and the old fields are left for grazing cattle or more often just to lie unused, no longer suitable for any agriculture. Desertification is the net result, a phenomenon which now threatens 38% of the world’s land surface.
But not in Santa Rita. In Santa Rita, without government support, without international programs like REDD+, without international conservation organizations or agreements, Eufemia has been planting trees. Little by little, on unused land that doesn’t serve for agriculture anymore, in spite of the murder of her brother over his own reforestation efforts, in spite of fear for her own life, she keeps planting trees. She has already reforested over 500 acres, and more trees are planted each year.
If there is a better example of just how much one person can do for the planet, we can’t imagine what it would be. The fact is that we could all do the same, we can all change the world, we just have to decide we want to.