Agroforestry for a sustainable life: something to be learned from Chiapas, Mexico

Think ecology and economy don’t mix? Think again. Most of us are used to relate money with industrial technology, bulldozing properties to construct condos, hotels, expensive living complexes, malls, to summarize: everything that has to do with harming the environment. I can’t deny it’s true, it moves our economy, but at what cost? What about the people living in less developed countries? We can’t see it now, but if we think about it, natural resources are limited and as our carrying capacity is increasing at an unstoppable rate our resources are decreasing just as well.

I just had the honor of participating on the SEEDS Chiapas field trip two weeks ago and it was an amazing experience not only scientifically, but also culturally. I got out of Chiapas with these valuable lessons: not to give up on what you believe in and the living proof that the future of our delicate Earth lies on the hands of sustainable agriculture and renewable energy for a solution to our global problems.

Seeing how these indigenous people cherish and nourish the environment until the point that they came up with different alternatives to herbicides, fertilizers, chemicals, hormones and antibiotics on milk, has inspired me and as an future ecologist I have the responsibility and the obligation to share these alternatives and the knowledge that I gained from this trip with others. Agroforestry is a multifaceted, effective way to address the environmental and malnutrition problems we are facing throughout this and past centuries.

The coffee field we visited at Simojovel operated by a cooperative called CIRSA, practiced this kind of agriculture. Growing crops among trees (this case mango), is an excellent way to conserve the area as an alternative to the classical slash and burn method, at the same time it’s a way to maintain the biodiversity of the area, as well as sustain the region economically by their exportation market to other countries. We also visited Don Adrian Castillejo’s cattle farm, and he had his animals select for the best grass and spread seeds of trees, this way restoring whatever was grazed. His cows produce what he sells so in that way he controls his owns profits. These methods not only are more profitable, they also contribute greatly to our health, and at the same time it doesn’t disturb in an irreversible way the composition of the area. Another example of what I call �sustainable tourism� and use of renewable energy is the eco-hostel at Las Nubes at Lagos de Mobello, this beautiful place didn’t need any light bulbs to have all the amenities we needed, and why have some when you have the moon light? Why have electrical heaters when you can have a solar one? Hotels and condo’s use up large amounts of energy to support their necessities, while this caba�as and its surroundings (mainly) attracts tourist and runs with little energy as possible. I said it and I say it again the what the world needs is an eye opener and more examples like the ones Chiapas gave us to reaffirm that the only way to stop that Earth’s road to destruction is by sustainable methods and renewable resources.

I emphasize the example of ecological contributions linked with the economical ones of Chiapas because last night I attended a conference by the Sierra Club: Puerto Rico chapter, where I got informed that some of our senators admitted publicly that �They’re not environmentalists, they only look forward to the economy and the only way they can achieve this is by developing and constructing to attract big interests�. Whoa! are they wrong, I might just have to pay a visit to our Capitol house�

Contributed by Diana K. Guzman, University of Puerto Rico at Bayamon

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