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International Journal of Biodiversity Science & Management Vol. 5, No. 1, March 2009, 21–34 Out-migration and commons management: social and ecological change in a high biodiversity region of Oaxaca, Mexico J.P. Robson* Centre for Community-based Resource Management, Natural Resources Institute, University of Manitoba, 303-70 Dysart Road, Winnipeg, Manitoba R3T 2N2, Canada Commons scholarship has done a poor job of studying drivers of change, their impact on commons institutions, and how these institutions and other social arrangements are responding to such change. This paper examines the multiple impacts that demographic and cultural change through human out-migration is having on a commons regime in a high-biodiversity region of Oaxaca, Mexico. The findings suggest that the region’s forest communities face an uncertain future. While change through out-migration can undermine traditional governance systems and erode social and cultural reproduction, innovative institu- tional adaptations and the existence of strong transnational ties may help reduce community vulnerability. Within this context, the paper discusses the implications for land use and forest biodiversity, and in doing so adds a new layer of complexity to the body of work examining the consequences of rural depopulation on Mexican forest landscapes. Keywords: Oaxaca; out-migration; institutions; biodiversity; demographic change; vulnerability; migrant networks; forest transitions Introduction and revision of the papers presented at the last four biennial conferences of the International Association for the Study of Despite some notable exceptions (Agrawal 2002, 2005; the Commons (IASC). While the main focus of the paper is Baker 2005), commons scholarship has done little to study on how out-migration impacts key institutional arrange- drivers of change, their impact on commons institutions, ments, it also considers how these changes are affecting and how these institutions and other social arrangements territorial land use, environmental knowledge and practice, are responding to such change. Indeed, the study of sus- and forest biodiversity (Figure 1). In doing so, it adds to ceptibility and response to change has been described as the growing body of work examining the consequences of one of the most neglected and least understood aspects in rural depopulation on Mexican landscapes, and forest tran- resource management science (Gunderson and Holling sition theory more generally (Rudel et al. 2005; Meyerson 2001). While self-governed commons regimes can main- et al. 2007). tain themselves and flourish for centuries (Netting 1976; Field data come from the Chinantec community of Ostrom 1990), other studies have told a story of systems Santiago Comaltepec, located in the Sierra Norte that falter and fail (Baker 2005). Commons regimes are (Northern Sierra) region of Oaxaca, Mexico. This region complex and uncertain (Ostrom 2005; Anderies et al. provides the perfect setting and context for such a study, 2004; Adger 2006; ) and it is not easy to predict if, how thanks to its rich biological diversity, the extensive forest or why a stressed regime will persist unchanged, transform areas under community control, and the increasingly impor- to endure, or collapse. Community vulnerability to exter- tant role that migration plays in the local and regional nal stress concerns the multiple factors that influence their economy (Merino Perez 2004; Cohen 2004a; Martinez susceptibility to harm and govern their ability to respond. Romero 2005; Mittermeier et al. 2005). Cutter et al. (2003) suggest that these factors can include a lack of access to resources (including information, knowledge and technology); limited access to political Oaxaca and the Sierra Norte power and representation; social capital, including social Oaxaca is widely considered the most biologically impor- networks and connections; and, rules, norms, beliefs and tant state in a country ranked fifth globally in terms of customs. terrestrial biodiversity (Conabio-Conanp 2007). This is This paper examines the effect on a commons regime of despite the general absence of state or federal protected demographic and cultural change through human out- areas (Robson 2007). Rather, the vast majority of its forest- migration. While the impacts of migration on receiving lands (over 80%) are under the management and control of communities have been documented (Gibson et al. 2000; approximately 1400 local communities (Sarukhan and Agrawal 2001), the impacts on sending communities have Larson 2001; Merino Perez 2004). The majority of these received far less attention, as shown by literature reviews (more than 75%) are indigenous communities, with far *Corresponding author. Email: email@example.com ISSN 1745-1590 print/ISSN 1745-1604 online # 2009 Taylor & Francis DOI: 10.1080/17451590902775137 http://www.informaworld.com 22 J.P. Robson 2001; Chapela 2005; Robson 2007), it is not clear how indigenous communal land tenure systems in Oaxaca, nor the institutional arrangements that regulate them, are responding and adapting to new realities and challenges. DEMOGRAPHIC/ Human out-migration, in particular, is a process with prob- CULTURAL CHANGE Out-migration able implications for land-use cover and change. Since the 1960s, increasing numbers of people have been leaving the Sierra Norte in search of work in regional, national and international urban centres. The loss of people has become Changes in local land use (forest) practices an issue of increasing concern to many community leaders, and cover and has been identified as an emerging constraint to resource management and self-governance (Martinez Romero 2005). Most indigenous communities in the region are under- pinned by a traditional governance system called usos y cos- Figure 1. A conceptual framework for understanding the rela- tionship between human out-migration, community well-being and tumbres (uses and customs), which is legally recognized under the environment. the ‘Rights of the Indigenous Peoples and Communities of the From Ecosystems and Human Wellbeing: Multiscale Assessments State of Oaxaca’, a law brought into force in 1998 (Vela´squez by the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment. Copyright # 2005 2000). This system considers the local assemblies (both muni- Millennium Ecosystem Assessment. Reproduced by permission cipal and communal) as holding the maximum authority of Island Press, Washington, D.C. within their jurisdiction. Elected posts are accountable to these assemblies rather than state or federal government, and fewer ejidos of mixed ethnic background (Atlas Agrario del communities are free to devise and approve norms to govern Estado de Oaxaca 2002). Their presence in the region typi- life in these (predominantly small) municipalities, including cally dates back to pre-Hispanic times. activities related to the use and conservation of communal The Sierra Norte (Northern Sierra) of Oaxaca is a forest resources. Central to the workings of this autonomous rugged, highland region that comprises the southern limits governance system is local participation in obligatory labour of the Sierra Madre Oriental mountain chain. A unique days (tequios) and service through non-paid positions of topography and location in the neo-tropics has blessed this responsibility and authority (cargos). These two social institu- area with a diversity of climatic and physiographic condi- tions are key components of community identity, community tions. While the abrupt terrain divides valleys, canyons and organization and community social capital, and can be under- water basins, the constant influence of the Gulf of Mexico stood as the set of conditions that enable collective action and and the Pacific Ocean on either side provide for varying for problems to be resolved. humid, dry and temperate conditions. This spatial and ver- Work by Chapela (2005) and Merino Perez (2004) has tical distribution of climatic elements has led to a myriad of shown that this governance system provides for at least five soil and vegetation types. Home to four of the six principal of the eight design principles that Ostrom (1990, 2005) vegetation types found in Mexico (Rzedowski 1978), the argues characterize robust and successful commons Sierra Norte is nationally and internationally renowned for regimes. These are: (i) the participation of appropriators in its concentrations of biological diversity (Garcia-Mendoza the formulation of rules that regulate resource use; (ii) the et al. 2004; Mittermeier et al. 2005; Conabio-Conanp 2007). participative monitoring of resource conditions; (iii) trans- Administratively, the Sierra Norte is divided into 68 muni- parency in resource management decision-making; (iv) cipalities, which are split into three districts: Villa Alta (24 spaces for discussing and resolving problems (conflict reso- municipalities), Mixe (18 municipalities) and Ixtlan de Juarez lution); and (v) strong social capital within the community (26 municipalities). Ixtlan de Juarez, the geographical focus for 2 and past experience and knowledge (social memory). This this paper, covers 2921 km , and its forests are regarded as the system also meets many of the criteria considered important best conserved in the region. Most of Ixtlan’s 26 municipalities for resource conservation: local officials are elected, com- are made up of Zapotec, Chinantec or Mixe communities, the munities can self-evaluate their actions, communities are majority of whom have made use of dynamic and innovative able to network with each other, communities have appro- management practices to create ‘multifunctional, cultural land- priate institutions to manage and regulate natural resource scapes’ (Chapela 2005; Berkes and Davidson-Hunt 2006; use, and, most importantly, community institutions are Robson 2007). Territorial use is based upon long-standing recognized and authorized by the municipal, regional and customary ownership and is reflected in a mosaic of land uses national authorities (Chapela 2005). Cargos and tequios not that include forest protection, timber extraction, the harvesting only form the structural base from which the governance of non-timber forest products (NTFPs) and (principally) corn system operates, but act as mediating variables between the and bean cropping systems (Gonzalez 2001; Chapela 2005). population and the pattern of resource use and management that takes place locally. Conservation efforts and other Out-migration and local resource institutions forms of land use tend to involve considerable administra- Despite widely documented success in marrying resource tive labour at the local level. Much of this work is carried productivity with conservation goals (Sarukhan and Larson out under the auspices of two village-elected community International Journal of Biodiversity Science & Management 23 authorities: the Comisariado de Bienes Comunales The community of Santiago Comaltepec (Commissioner of Communal Resources) and the Consejo Figure 2 provides the location of the indigenous Chinantec de Vigilancia (Surveillance Council). Traditionally, these community of Santiago Comaltepec, and the layout of its cargos are held for a 3-year period, at which point newly communal territory. The main village of Santiago elected village members replace the outgoing authorities. Comaltepec is located in the west, at an altitude of 2005 m These same community institutions also represent the inter- asl. It is approximately 3 h drive north of the state capital of face between state and community, with incumbents of Oaxaca City. The community was founded in 1603, with the high-level cargos acting as brokers or intermediaries with original inhabitants having previously resided in the Rio state institutions. The Comisariado de Bienes Comunales, Soyolapam region. During 1958 and 1959, a federal high- for example, is the community body that deals with both way (No.175) was built that helped to facilitate the estab- government and non-governmental environmental agencies lishment of two more permanent settlements: La Esperanza and is responsible for applying for project funds and acces- and San Martin Soyolapam. While Santiago Comaltepec is sing conservation support on behalf of the community. the municipal centre, these two villages act as municipal Communal Lands of San Pedro Yolox Communal Lands of Ixtlan de Juarez Communal Lands of San Pablo Macultianguis Figure 2. Chinantec community of Santiago Comaltepec, Sierra Norte of Oaxaca, Mexico. 24 J.P. Robson agencies and help to maintain a presence throughout the agricultural and resource practices in Santiago Comaltepec. community’s large and diverse territory. Land uses range from multi-crop production for both sub- The ancestral lands of the community were formally sistence and commercial end use, pasturelands for grazing, recognized as common property in a Presidential forestlands dedicated to logging (of differing intensities), the Resolution on 17 June 1953, which gave Comaltepec official protection of ecosystem services, wildlife refuges, and the title to 18,366 ha or approximately 200 km of forest lands. harvesting of NTFPs. In this way, territorial use (Figure 3) is For local resource users, these communal lands are split into based on multiple values and needs that consider forest two main zones: the more extensive wet, humid zone that lies resources for both their subsistence and economic impor- to the east of the main cerros (mountain peaks) and that spans tance, for their spiritual significance, and as providers of both tropical and temperate climes, and a less extensive dry important environmental services. zone to the west. The community is home to large areas of the Since 1993, Santiago Comaltepec has developed a com- four forest types found in the Sierra Norte: tropical dry forest, munity land-use plan to guide management of its territorial mixed pine–oak forest, cloud forest and tropical rain forest. resources. In accordance with the current 10-year plan The community’s cloud forest covers some 6000 ha, is well (2003–2013), the community’s territory is divided into conserved with little fragmentation, and forms part of one of four main land use categories (Table 1). The plan is the largest and best conserved areas of cloud forest in approved by the whole community, and implemented by Mexico. The community’s forests also provide a range of the Comisariado de Bienes Comunales. Technical support vital hydrological services, not only to the local populace but is provided by UZACHI (Union de Comunidades also to downstream users living in the cities of Valle Nacional Zapoteco-Chinanteca) – a regional organization of three and Tuxtepec. At a regional scale, the community’s territory Zapotec communities and one Chinantec community, forms part of the River Papaloapan watershed, one of the which was created to develop and support community forest most important in the south of Mexico. management strategies and face common problems collec- tively (Chapela 2005). Subsistence agriculture and gathering in Santiago Multifunctional land use Comaltepec persist as central elements of local livelihoods. Diversity in soil type, vegetation type, temperature and rain- Corn, beans and squash are universally grown crops in all fall has been the driving forces behind the diversification of territorial zones. In temperate zones, pea, butter bean, Communal Lands of San Pedro Yolox Communal Lands of Ixtlan de Juarez Communal Lands of San Pablo Macultianguis Figure 3. Territorial land use, including agricultural and forestry zones. International Journal of Biodiversity Science & Management 25 Table 1. Community land use plan. alternative silvicultural system (known in Mexico as the Metodo de Desarrollo de Silvicultura) incorporates clear- Land use zone Area (ha) ings and regeneration cuts that imitate the effects of forest I. Forest production areas fires to help with pine regeneration and reproduce processes Intensive logging 452.57 of ecological succession (Matthews 2003; Barton Bray and Low intensity logging 291.60 Merino 2004; Perera et al. 2004). Low impact logging 0.00 Each village has a designated domestic use zone, where Seed areas (Germoplasm) 4.97 Domestic use 687.20 villagers extract oak and other local species for use as fire- Subtotal 1,436.34 wood or as timber for house construction and fence posts. II. Protected areas This kind of strict land use zoning is a recent phenomenon, Watershed protection 522.82 which has developed since Santiago Comaltepec became a Wildlife protection 4,420.85 member of UZACHI in the mid-1980s. In La Esperanza, Forest reserve 5,067.85 Recreation 0.00 due to strict regulations aimed at protecting cloud forest Subtotal 10,011.52 species, only dead, dry wood is removed, with care taken III. Forest restoration areas 416.03 when cutting not to damage living individuals. Community IV. Agriculture/livestock/urban use 6,206.28 a members in this region are only allowed to extract what they Total 18,070.17 can carry. In all three villages, wood remains the preferred 295 ha of Comaltepec’s territory was under legal dispute fuel for cooking, although many homes now use gas as well. with the neighbouring community of San Pedro Yolox. While this conflict has been resolved, no form of land use is currently permitted in this area. Autonomous community conservation areas Comaltepec’s territory covers an area of the Sierra Norte cilantro and mustard are also found, along with orchards of identified as an ‘extreme priority site’ for biodiversity con- peach, apple, cherry and other temperate fruits. In the tro- servation in Mexico (Conabio-Conanp 2007), which recog- pical zone that surrounds San Martin Soyolapam and nizes not only the biological richness of local forest lands Metates, the climate allows for the growing of more exotic but also their importance for national conservation planning crops including papaya, grapefruit, banana and tamarind. priorities. However, this is a region that has maintained Protected home gardens provide important locations for forest cover and rich biological diversity in the absence of many of these crops. Cash crops also exist in each climatic state or federal protected areas. Rather, it is indigenous and ecological zone. There are small-scale fruit plantations communities that have helped to protect the region’s natural and cattle ranches in tropical areas, sugar cane is grown resources through a multifunctional land-use system that close to La Esperanza (and to a lesser degree in Soyolapam), includes the establishment of autonomous community con- and shade coffee has been grown across extensive areas on servation areas (ACCAs) (Robson 2007). the humid side of the mountains. By promoting such crop Under the 2003–2013 management plan, over half of selection, the community is home to high levels of agro- Comaltepec’s territory (10,011 ha) is designated for forest biodiversity. Local shade coffee plantations include up to 20 and ecosystem protection: with over 500 ha set aside for different native and non-native tree species. In some watershed protection, almost 4500 ha for ‘wildlife protec- instances, coffee is grown together with bananas (up to 10 tion’ and, over 5000 ha as a ‘forest reserve’. In all such different varieties) and other crops (avocado, mamey, areas, extractive activities are officially restricted, with sets vanilla) as part of multi-crop agroforestry systems that of rules clearly defining (and limiting) who has access to, also use trees to provide shade, maintain humidity and and use of, forest resources. The communal authorities, and improve soil fertility. These systems exhibit important specifically the Consejo de Vigilancia (surveillance levels of beta-diversity (Bandiera et al. 2005). In addition, council), are charged with supervising and monitoring this the agriculture–forest mosaic provides for a complex, pat- forest area. chy landscape to which a number of species respond. In particular, many birds (faisan, among others) and a number of forest mammals (white-tailed deer, jabali, tejon, Out-migration from Santiago Comaltepec: impact on mapache) either reside in, or are frequent visitors to, these commons institutions, land use and forest biodiversity areas (field observations and interviews with local land Methods users, 2007–2008). In higher, more temperate areas, the community has Santiago Comaltepec was chosen for this study based on the extensive pine-dominated forests that include large popula- following criteria: out-migration rate (high) (Martinez- tions of commercially valuable species such as Pinus Romero 2005); level of forest production and integration patula, P. psuedostrobus and P. ayacahuite. The commu- (Procymaf Type IV community); and conservation status nity’s forest management plan and cutting cycles have (‘extreme priority site’, Conabio-Conanp 2007). The moved away from the single-species focus favoured by research conducted was interdisciplinary, which is essential previous logging operations to an ecosystem approach that for understanding the complex processes that link migration seeks to protect natural forest processes and functions. This and the environment in sending communities. The methods 26 J.P. Robson employed borrow from cultural anthropology, sociology, lie close to the border with Veracruz state). From the 1940s demography, ecology and human geography: through to the early 1960s, many men from the community took part in the Bracero Programme; a guest worker pro- (1) Participant observation; gramme established to provide a cheap supply of foreign (2) Formal and informal interviews with communal labourers to the US agricultural sector. In the 1960s and and municipal authorities; 1970s, out-migration began to increase as individual com- (3) Informal interviews with comuneros (rights-holders), munity members and whole families left in search of off- women, migrants (residing in Los Angeles), returned farm employment in regional and national urban centres (Oaxaca City and Mexico City in particular). At the end of migrants and young people; (4) Household surveys focusing on demographic and the 1970s, there was an important shift in the migratory socio-economic aspects, migration dynamics and pattern as the first Comaltepecanos (people from the com- land-use change; munity of Santiago Comaltepec) left for the USA. Very (5) Forest sampling work in the community’s cloud quickly, the USA overtook Mexico City as the prime desti- forest (applying IFRI methodology, 35 sites were nation for migrants. Indeed, many who had earlier left for visited to measure local forest conditions) (Figure 4); Mexico City moved on to the USA when they heard that (6) Forest transects in the pine–oak forest around Agua work there was plentiful. During the 1980s and 1990s, Fria and the oak–pine domestic use forest, with the migration to the USA rose sharply as social networks assistance of local guides (Figure 4); became established between home and migrant commu- (7) Secondary sources consulted for socio-economic nities. The vast majority of Comaltepecanos (80 to 90% of and demographic data, including (i) local commu- USA-bound migrants) headed to Los Angeles, with the nity census and (ii) INEGI census and population majority settling in a handful of neighbourhoods. While counts; and many of the first migrants were men, increasing numbers (8) Revision of community statutes and current land- of women have been leaving in recent years. use plan (2003–2013). Over time, the migratory pattern has changed. While most make the trip illegally (or sin papeles), crossing the Principle fieldwork took place between January and border during the 1970s, 1980s and early 1990s was easier April 2008, with a trip to Los Angeles in August 2008. and the coyotes (smugglers who take people illegally from The author was assisted by an interdisciplinary team of Mexico to the USA) more affordable. As such, it was researchers from the National Autonomous University of common for Comaltepec migrants to move regularly Mexico (UNAM). between the USA and their home village. Such temporary, circular migration has become more and more difficult in recent years. Not only is the border crossing more compli- cated, but the coyotes are now extremely expensive (char- Principal findings ging US$3000 per migrant in 2008 compared to around Recent migration history and current dynamics US$250 in 1990). In addition, many unmarried migrants Out-migration has been a feature of life in Santiago who left in the 1980s and 1990s have since started families Comaltepec since the beginning of the twentieth century. in the USA, making trips back to Comaltepec a riskier and During the Mexican Revolution (1910–1917), a number of less attractive venture. Consequently, a form of semi-per- families left for Tuxtepec and Valle Nacional (two cities that manent or permanent migration has emerged, with migrants spending 5, 10, 15 years or longer in the USA before returning. Many do not return at all. It is quite possible that the current economic crisis in the USA will see an increase in migrants returning to Comaltepec. However, this has not happened to date (as of October 2008). The most likely to return are those individuals with minimal family ties in the USA. Push and pull factors Out-migration is, first and foremost, a response to economic pressures such as: the need to earn money to build a house in Comaltepec, put children through school or simply provide food and clothing for the family. Nearly all respondents stated that there is little paid work in the village and what work there is often fails to provide enough income to cover basic expenses. The daily wage in the community is about $130 pesos (US$12). The same amount (often more) can be Figure 4. Forest ecosystems with location of IFRI sample sites and transects. earned in 1 h in Los Angeles as a construction worker, International Journal of Biodiversity Science & Management 27 gardener or nanny. For many, the USA provides an oppor- 2007 census, the current ‘active’ population has dropped to tunity to earn enough for themselves while sending money 1060, which puts it at 1940 population levels. The main back to the family in Comaltepec. village of Santiago Comaltepec has 823 ‘active’ inhabitants, The classic economic model of migration, however, residing in approximately 200 households, while La does not apply to all who leave; especially teenagers who Esperanza and San Martin Soyolapam are much smaller, head to the USA soon after finishing school. In only a few with approximately 152 inhabitants (40 households) and 83 cases are they sent by their parents to earn money; in most inhabitants (20 households), respectively. instances they leave of their own accord (and often against The community authorities estimate that between 700 and 900 Comaltepecanos currently reside in the USA. their parents’ wishes). Survey respondents stated that many younger migrants head to the USA para conocer (to get to A further 350 or so are living in other parts of Mexico. know), in addition to any financial pull. This phenomenon Migrants to the USA are mostly men and women aged helps support a more ‘cultural’ explanation or model of between 17 and 45 years. The loss of community members migration (after Durand and Massey 2004), where a few of a productive age has had a profound impact on the years spent living in the USA becomes a ‘rite of passage’ for age–sex structure of those left behind (Figure 6). These young Comaltepecanos. Whatever the reasons for leaving, population pyramids show how the community’s demo- migration to the USA is aided by a strong social network. graphic structure changed between 1990 and 2007. As According to survey results, over 90% of first-time migrants well as an overall slimming (population loss), there has to the USA have friends or family members already living been an obvious change in the number of ‘active’ residents there, who can provide accommodation, help find work, and aged between 20 and 45 years (especially men). At the same lend moral and financial support. time, the proportion of residents over 60 years old has increased, representing a general aging of the population. The number of children under 15 years old has decreased dramatically, which is likely a result of reductions in both Demographic changes the community’s adult population (of reproductive age) and The line graph (Figure 5) shows Comaltepec’s ‘active’ family size (from an average of 8–10 children in the 1960s populations during the period 1930–2005. ‘Active’ popu- to an average of 3–4 today). lations’ refer to those individuals currently residing in one of the three permanent localities, and thereby participating regularly in community life. Data are taken from INEGI Socio-economic changes census and population counts. INEGI (Instituto Nacional de In conjunction with state and federal rural development Estadistica Geografia e Informatica) is the government policies, out-migration has also changed the local socio- institution responsible for national censuses (every 10 economic landscape. Prior to the 1960s, Comaltepecanos years) and population counts (every 5 years). worked the land to cover most, if not all, of their subsistence Between 1930 and 1950, the community’s population needs and generated little or no cash income. In the late increased steadily. Although growth rates slowed a little 1950s, construction of the federal highway marked the between 1950 and 1970, it appears that out-migration to beginning of an era of greater integration into mainstream urban centres in Mexico was not enough to offset the high Mexican society, which has led to many changes in terms of birth rates at that time. The community’s population peaked education, healthcare, new employment opportunities and in 1980, dropped off and then decreased considerably the provision of basic public services. It also brought village between 1990 and 2005. This can be attributed to the members closer to regional, national and international urban combined effects of high out-migration rates to the USA, centres. as well as the introduction of family planning initiatives in Since the late 1970s, migrant remittances have been the the mid-1970s. According to figures from the community’s most important local driver of socio-economic change. One only has to wander through Santiago Comaltepec, La 2500 Esperanza or San Martin Soyolapam to see the impact of 30 years of remittances on these villages, and on housing in particular. The traditional adobe houses are now in the minority, with two-storey houses built of cement and other ‘modern’ materials dominant. For community members, new house construction is the most commonly cited benefit associated with out-migration (followed by an improved diet and better clothing). While a small number of households (approximately 10%) live (almost) entirely off remittances, for many more families (60%), money sent from the USA is considered an 1920 1930 1940 1950 1960 1970 1980 1990 2000 2010 ‘important’ or ‘very important’ supplement to local sources of income, and ‘a great help’ in covering domestic expenses Figure 5. Population change, Santiago Comaltepec (1930–2005). Source: INEGI census and population counts. and school and medical bills. Data from the household 28 J.P. Robson 65 + 65 + 55-59 55-59 45-49 45-49 35-39 35-39 MEN MEN WOMEN WOMEN 25-29 25-29 15-19 15-19 5-9 5-9 –200 –100 0 100 200 –200 –100 0 100 200 Age-sex pyramid (1990) Age-sex pyramid (2000) 65 + 55-59 45-49 35-39 MEN WOMEN 25-29 15-19 5-9 –150 –100 –50 0 50 100 150 Age-sex pyramid (2007) Figure 6. Age-sex pyramids of ‘active’ population for 1990, 2000 and 2007. Source: INEGI census, local community census. survey suggest that fewer than 15% of households receive positions of greater responsibility). In San Martin no migrant remittances at all. It should be noted, however, Soyolapam, for example, the municipal agent and secretary that remittances appear less important than they were 5 or are just 24 and 22 years old, respectively, whereas older, more 10 years ago. For example, where sons and daughters have experienced individuals would normally fill these positions. migrated, their parents tend to receive less money than In addition, while the top cargos (municipal president, mayor, before and on a more irregular basis. This is because many and president of the Comisariado de Bienes Comunales) first-generation migrants have now started families in the require a certain level of education and leadership ability, USA, and as their own expenses rise they find that they have the pool of well-qualified comuneros has diminished over less money to send home. time. Comuneros talk about how difficult it can be to name Migrant remittances have provided a range of benefits the three candidates required for community elections. to the local economy. The majority of these, however, Traditionally, after completing 6 years of cargos a remain with those with family in the USA. Benefits for the comunero can ‘retire’ from further commitments, while community as a whole are much harder to pinpoint. New upon reaching 50 years of age he is no longer obligated to housing is an example: while driven by migrant monies and participate in tequios (collective work days). While this is an important source of work locally, it is also a source of still respected in the main village of Santiago Comaltepec, it disequilibrio (inequality) between migrant and non-migrant may not continue if out-migration rates remain high. For families, and a perceived threat to internal harmony. many years now, this internal agreement has been rescinded in La Esperanza or San Martin Soyolapam, where there is Out-migration and village institutions no longer a limit on years of service. It is quite common to find men aged 65 or older still participating regularly in Upon reaching 18 years of age, all men in Comaltepec assume tequios and holding down less-demanding cargos. status as comuneros (rights-holders) and are asked to comply Another big change has seen individual cargos reduced with cargos, tequios and to participate in community deci- from a 3-year to a 1.5-year posting. It was felt that by sion-making. Only those continuing with their studies are reducing the length of the cargos more people were likely temporarily excused compliance with these obligations. to stay in the community and it would be easier to encourage Thirty years of out-migration have generated multiple migrants to return to fulfil cargos if asked to do so. The stresses and led to a number of changes to this system. One disadvantage, of course, is that with shorter postings there is obvious change has been a discontinuation of the tradi- now a quicker turnover of cargo holders and less ‘rest’ for tional, hierarchical nature of the cargo system (where comu- comuneros. Whereas one could previously expect to have a neros start with low-level cargos before moving up to International Journal of Biodiversity Science & Management 29 3- or 4-year break between postings, it is not uncommon for Interviews with farmers and other community members comuneros to move straight from one cargo to another. The suggest that approximately 60% of agricultural lands have cumulative effect of these changes has been to make the been abandoned over the past 30–40 years. In the 1940s, traditional governance system more demanding than ever 1950s and 1960s, around 90% of agricultural lands were before and a burden in the eyes of many community mem- being worked, and there were very few abandoned plots. bers. For the system to remain viable in the long term, some Most families at this time worked two or three areas (in both argue that further changes or modifications are required that dry and humid zones) where they would grow both tempe- go beyond the ‘reactive’ and short-term strategies adopted rate and tropical crops. When the forestry concessions began thus far. Perhaps the most telling response at the community in the late 1950s, many farmers went to work for FAPATUX level has been the inclusion of a new article in the commu- (one of the largest processors of lumber and paper in the state nal statute; setting out in writing what migrant comuneros of Oaxaca, which held rights to extract timber from the are expected to do if they wish to maintain full communal forests of the Sierra Norte from 1956 to 1981) and began to rights and status. In practice, this means that comuneros in cultivate less land. When out-migration rates increased, this the USA are asked to provide monies in lieu of carrying out trend continued. By 1990, no more than 50% of agricultural tequios and cargos in person. For tequios, this means con- lands were being worked. Since then, more and more parce- tributing a certain amount of money each month, with a las (plots) have been abandoned. Around the main village of record of contributions maintained by the municipal and Santiago Comaltepec, it is estimated that only 20–30% of communal authorities. If named for a cargo, the migrant has original agricultural zones are currently in use. the choice of returning home or paying for somebody else to The abandonment of agricultural areas has had a major carry out the role. impact on the community’s landscape, slowly changing the The authorities estimate that fewer than 50% of migrant ratio of forested to agricultural areas, and leading to a comuneros in the USA cooperate with tequios and cargos. process of ecological succession in many former corn and Those who do cooperate tend to be those with families living bean fields. Generally speaking, plots still being worked are in Santiago Comaltepec, and who plan to return at some those located close to permanently settled areas, while plots stage. For these comuneros, it is important to comply with furthest away from villages and access roads are the first to obligations and maintain comunero rights. However, in the be abandoned. In temperate zones, old terraces, abandoned words of one respected comunero, many others who leave ‘se 15–30 years ago, are now covered with young pine- or oak- les olvida de sus obligaciones’ (forget about their obligations dominated forests. In La Esperanza, areas no longer used for to the community), or believe that ‘no me pueden obligar long fallow rotational agriculture (popularly known as porque no uso los servicios en el pueblo’ (they can’t make me slash-and-burn) are at different successional stages towards comply when I don’t use the services in the village). Many a return to cloud forest. Around all three villages, forest who do return from the USA end up settling in urban centres cover has increased considerably. There are also instances such as Oaxaca City or Tuxtepec. An additional problem is where population loss through out-migration has saved that many younger migrants leave after finishing school at 16 existing forest from being cleared. In Soyolapam, local or 17 years of age. This is before they have officially become residents noted that the forested hillside behind the village comuneros and are only ‘morally’ obligated to contribute would have been cleared for pastureland if most of the monies for tequios or comply with cargos, and not obligated population had not left for the USA. under communal laws. Many older comuneros are saddened that young people are no longer content working in the countryside and pro- viding for their families by means of a subsistence-based Land-use change livelihood. As many admit, younger community members Until recently, agriculture was the principal activity and ‘ya quieren otras cosas’ (now want other things) and an livelihood strategy for most families and a focal point for increasing number of families (especially in the main vil- life in the community. Most of the accessible land around lage of Comaltepec) are no longer growing corn or other Santiago Comaltepec, La Esperanza and San Martin staples but rather living off migrant remittances and buying Soyolapam was farmed, while people from all three local- subsidized corn from CONASUPO (the state-owned food ities would work seasonally at the many rancherias distribution network and grocery stores that provide basic (ranches) dotted around the community’s territory. For the foodstuffs to the rural and urban poor in Mexico). This past 30 years, however, there has been a steady reduction in change has not just come about through out-migration, it the numbers working en campo (in the countryside), and far is recognized by many as forming part of a larger process, fewer families dividing their time between dry and humid where television, radio, Internet, roads and other aspects of territorial zones. In addition, those who do plant corn, beans ‘development’ have served to connect the village with the and other crops tend to be working fewer hectares than in outside world, and further integration with mainstream the past, largely due to the reduction, or total absence, of Mexican and North American society. available labour. Other factors leading to a reduction in Forestry has been impacted in several ways. For one, the farming include: depressed market prices for key cash community has found it increasingly difficult to find local crops such as coffee, and less stable weather patterns that people skilled and/or willing to work in the community make planting crops a higher risk venture. sawmill or its logging operations. At the moment, only 15 30 J.P. Robson local men are employed in these two activities. There are Currently, there are fewer than half the ‘active’ comuneros just two teams involved in felling trees, whereas in the there were in the late 1970s. While groups can adjust to slow 1980s and 1990s there used to be three or four teams work- changes, where enough feedback is provided about the ing simultaneously. This is due to a lack of skilled chainsaw consequences of these changes, Ostrom (2005) has noted operators, which contrasts markedly with earlier years when that as variables change more quickly, institutional adapta- the community had a large group of workers to choose from, tion is made more demanding. In Santiago Comaltepec, the the majority of whom had received their training during the responses of key social institutions to demographic and FAPATUX forest concession period. The lack of available cultural change have been largely reactive, and done little to encourage people to stay in their home villages. The issue workers is also tied to local wage inflation being driven by migrant remittances. Men can earn more for working in of what should be done over the long term is a contentious and around the village (building new houses or looking one, with opinion somewhat divided along generational after migrants’ agricultural plots) than they can from work- lines. While younger comuneros complain of the burden ing in the forest for the CBC. Migrants earning dollars in the and, for some, archaic nature of the cargo system, older USA are willing to pay local workers $10 or $20 pesos more comuneros now retired from active service still expect their per day than the daily wage ($130 pesos) offered by the sons to contribute to the community as they once did. communal authorities. A particular bone of contention is the recent ‘monetar- Tequios in the forest have also been affected by the ization’ of the cargo system, whereby migrant comuneros in reduction in available labour. Currently, there are only 180 the USA can pay for a substitute in place of returning to the ‘active’ comuneros in the community; there used to be close village themselves. While this is one way of dealing with to 400. In La Esperanza and San Martin Soyolapam, respec- the low numbers of ‘active’ comuneros, some older comu- tively, there are only 40 and 19 comuneros available to carry neros argue that paying for a cargo is not the same as out work in forest areas. Some older comuneros complain performing it oneself. For many, it goes against the very that not enough tequios are being carried out in the forest, ethos of community life, identity and participation, which is and those that are organized are just single-day activities. In based on providing an unpaid service in exchange for com- past years, it was common for truckloads of comuneros to munity membership and benefits, such as land and access to head into the forest, make camp, and spend several days territorial resources. working on forest road-building projects, reforestation or maintaining territorial boundaries. Diversification as adaptation One of the major problems faced by the community is that Erosion of traditional ecological knowledge despite being home to an incredible natural capital, their Associated with changing land use and fewer forest workers territorial resources have not generated the commercial or is a weakening of ties between community members and economic benefits to reflect this potential. A combination of their territory. Despite the richness of local ethno-botanical limited local employment opportunities and low wages is and environmental knowledge systems in Comaltepec the principal reason why the community has suffered so (Barton Bray 1991; Martin 1993), which have formed the heavily from out-migration. If more options were available basis for important conservation and resource practices and locally, this could encourage more community members institutions, a process of demographic and cultural change is and their families to stay. Does forestry offer an opportunity leading to a breakdown in the inter-generational transmis- to keep people at home? While an option, it is doubtful sion of this knowledge. As it does so, the number of knowl- whether the community currently has the skill-base to edge-holders is decreasing. While there are still innovative increase logging activities dramatically. In addition, farmers in Comaltepec – who hold extensive traditional Martinez Romero (2005) has already shown that, in the ecological knowledge, grow a wide array of crops, and Sierra Norte, there is no clear relationship between level experiment with new productive resource activities (cloud of community forest production and out-migration rates. forest honey, ixtle palm) – most of these individuals are over There has been limited formal discussion at a community 50 years old. Their sons and daughters are invariably in the level about out-migration, its impacts, and the appropriate USA or studying in a Mexican city, and many are unlikely long-term responses or coping strategies. One idea being to return. Their children ‘ya no anden en campo ni en el debated by the current municipal and communal authorities monte . . . no lo concocen’ (don’t go into the countryside or is to encourage comuneros to organize themselves into work the forest . . . they don’t know it). groups to develop more productive and commercially oriented agricultural activities. This, in turn, could provide investment options for migrants and a move away from a Discussion reliance on subsistence-based livelihoods. Such initiatives The community of Santiago Comaltepec is being impacted could generate more employment options locally, and in multiple ways as people leave their homes to work and increase farmer incomes, but they also represent a shift settle in other parts of Mexico and North America. from individual to group level work, and a possible departure Comuneros of all ages talk of a crisis in the cargo system, from community-level initiatives and decision-making. It is or of a crisis that will hit home in the coming years. not clear where this shift to a more market-based economy International Journal of Biodiversity Science & Management 31 would leave a customary governance system based on ideals these associations, Comaltepecanos in Los Angeles have of non-paid community service and participation. been able to maintain many of the customs practised back This is a key question that reaches the heart of how home in Oaxaca, including the February carnival and the communities like Santiago Comaltepec can negotiate the community fiesta that takes place each year in July. meaning of migration, and resolve the collective and indivi- As well as sending remittances to their families in dual tensions that such processes generate. Another area that Comaltepec, many migrants in Los Angeles send other comes into play is gender, given that cargos and tequios have monies to the community. This is to pay in lieu of carrying traditionally been the sole domain of men. Despite the low out tequios and cargos in the home village or to part-finance specific village projects at the behest of the municipal and number of ‘active’ comuneros, the community has largely restricted the use of women’s labour to a few treasury and communal authorities. This may include the improvement of secretarial positions. This contrasts with some other commu- basic urban services in the village (such as drainage and nities in the Sierra Norte, where women have been given sanitation), the construction or refurbishment of the village higher-level cargos within communal and municipal autho- temple, the purchase of computers for village schools, or rities. For example, in the nearby Zapotec community of San equipment for the casa de salud (health centre). Adger et al. Juan Evangelista Analco, women have held village cargos (2002) suggest that the use of migrant remittances in this since the early 1990s, with six women currently working in way can improve social resilience by promoting diversifica- medium-level cargos in the municipality and CBC. tion and risk-spreading, enhance social capital and extend opportunities for improved wellbeing. Recent policy devel- opments in Mexico such as the Tres Por Uno programme Out-migration as opportunity (whereby the Mexican government provides matching funds While it is suggested that the depopulation of rural areas, for community-level projects that are part-funded by home- along with a demographic shift toward an increased average town migrant associations in the USA) also acknowledge the age of remaining residents, represent serious threats to importance of such contributions. In Comaltepec, the exis- natural systems and resources locally (Adger et al. 2002; tence of strong ties between home and migrant communities Meyerson et al. 2007), out-migration may also provide provides an opportunity to encourage more migrant invest- important opportunities. A number of studies, for example, ment in community-level projects. For example, there has point to the reinforcement rather than the weakening of local been talk of turning some cargos into full- or part-time paid institutions, and recognize that the erosion of community is positions. This has already happened in some communities not universal (Basch et al. 1994; Kearney 1995; Waterbury in the Sierra Norte. Part of the money to finance this would 1999; Klooster 2005). have to come from migrants in the USA. Indeed, migrants The maintenance of strong socio-cultural and economic are the most likely source of financing, given the chance of links that connect home villages with migrant communities limited assistance from state or federal government. Nevertheless, while the community may believe that in Oaxaca City, Mexico City and further afield may provide more money can be leveraged from migrant contributions, an important opportunity to safeguard customs and local the migrants themselves may see things differently. For governance structures, and finance new village projects. example, in neither of the three villages have migrants They may also help migrants and their children remain been asked to contribute financially to forest or conserva- part of traditional community processes, so much so that tion-related work, and there is no guarantee that they would new senses of belonging and ethnic and village identity are forged (after Basch et al. 1994; Kearney 1995). In Mexico, be willing to do so. As some community members have two studies have highlighted instances where demographic already commented, it is by no means certain that migrants and cultural changes have actually strengthened community will be willing, or even able, to provide monies to finance through positive changes to local systems of governance community projects beyond the village fiestas or upkeep of that regulate community life and management of its territory the local church. (Orlove 1999; Waterbury 1999). In Santiago Comaltepec, the existence of strong links Implications for forest biodiversity between migrants and their home villages provide an impor- tant opportunity to invest in adaptation. It is estimated that In Santiago Comaltepec, the most obvious environmental up to 70% of migrants from the community reside in the change has been driven by a reduced reliance on agriculture, Greater Los Angeles Metropolitan Area. Migrant networks and lower overall demands on the resource base. This has have helped forge strong economic and cultural ties between led to a general abandonment of agricultural areas and a the two localities. Since the late 1990s, Comaltepecanos in subsequent process of natural forest regeneration in old corn Los Angeles have set up mesas directivas (hometown asso- and bean fields. These findings fit the general theory of ciations) to coordinate both cultural events in Los Angeles ‘forest transition’, previously reported within the context and maintain formal links with the home community. Each of Latin America and Mexico (Klooster 2003; Rudel et al. of the three villages has its own mesa directiva, structured in 2005). Forest transition theory suggests that economic much the same way as the traditional village authorities, with development eventually leads to forest recovery and so, in a president, secretary and treasurer as the main (unpaid) this respect, migration can be seen as playing a positive role positions that change hands on an annual basis. Through in forest encroachment (Velazquez et al. 2003). However, 32 J.P. Robson and as Klooster (2003) points out, there is still uncertainty held by a diminishing number of aging comuneros. Out- about the type and particular characteristics of forest transi- migration is both robbing the community of potential for- tions that will occur under differing socio-economic and esters and resource users, and leading to a breakdown in the environmental conditions. For example, it is not clear traditional inter-generational transmission of TEK. what these changes mean for forest biodiversity beyond an Another key management issue is that some of the obvious increase in forest cover. labour deficits caused by out-migration are closely tied to In both the dry and humid zones of Santiago the problem of administering biodiversity – something that Comaltepec, and the Sierra Norte more generally, high other authors have alluded to in the case of sustainable biodiversity is found within working landscapes that inte- forestry (Mutersbaugh 2002; Klooster 2003) and certified grate logging, agricultural and conservation areas. Berkes organic agriculture (Mutersbaugh 2004). In Santiago and Davidson-Hunt (2006) have argued that the practices Comaltepec, all forests, grazing lands and watercourses taking place within such landscapes help conserve biodi- are common property resources and are administered by versity through four main mechanisms: the maintenance of the Comisariado de Bienes Comunales, under the mandate successional stages, the creation of patches and gaps, the of the General Assembly of Comuneros. The strict regula- creation of edges, and the conservation and enhancement of tion of different resource uses and the existence of specific vertical diversity. Recent empirical work on resource sys- institutional arrangements have helped to control the level tems managed to increase food production and farmer and type of extractive activities taking place within each of incomes, conserve biodiversity and protect ecosystem ser- the community’s forests, and have played an important role vices supports this view (Leakey 1999; Schroth et al. 2004; in conserving forest cover and diversity. This system is now Bhagwat et al. 2005). under multiple stresses. First, out-migration is reducing the Interviews with local land users have highlighted how, number of ‘active’ comuneros who can take part in forest within cultivation zones, the combination of forested and tequios, which are traditionally used to carry out a wide open areas provides important refuge, habitat and food to a range of forest work. Second, the pool of well-qualified range of fauna. In both dry and humid zones of the commu- comuneros to fill high-level cargos in the CBC and the nity’s territory, many forest birds, mammals and rodents Consejo de Vigilancia is getting smaller. Third, out-migration reside close to, or frequent, open areas where grains and impacts the community’s ability (or inability) to carry out wild and domesticated fruits are grown. The anecdotal appropriate forest surveillance, monitoring and maintain a evidence collected so far suggests that fewer birds and general presence throughout its large and diverse territory. mammals are being seen in agricultural areas as the ratio One of the principal characteristics of common-pool of non-forested to forested areas changes. resources is their high excludability, which, in the case of While a great many elements of forest biodiversity will Comaltepec, concerns the physical nature of local forests no doubt benefit from agricultural abandonment and new that makes exclusion both difficult and costly. This is com- forest growth, other elements may be negatively affected. plicated by the presence of a federal highway that passes These findings support the argument that multiple compo- through the middle of the community’s territory. While nents of managed landscapes should be conserved, and the there is no apparent problem with illegal logging, there are ‘patchy’ dynamic maintained (Robson 2007). In Santiago concerns over clandestine harvesting of orchids and other Comaltepec, this would require the continued promotion of highly valued plant species. La Esperanza and San Martin multi-cropping systems – combining the cultivation of sta- Soyolapam were established partly to increase the commu- ples such as corn and beans with fruit orchards, grains and nity’s presence throughout its lands, improve surveillance other crops – to complement sustainable forestry operations of territorial resources and better defend communal rights. If and autonomous community conservation areas (ACCAs). current migration trends continue, the long-term viability of Of course, encouraging people to return to farming when these two villages could be in doubt. there is little or no money in such activities would prove A final pressure derived from a poorly studied conse- extremely challenging. Moreover, there is no guarantee that quence of out-migration, concerns the reduction in duration such a move would have any significant effect on lowering of medium-level and high-level cargos from a 3-year to a out-migration rates. 1.5-year term. While many comuneros were happy to see Managing for diverse conservation and resource values shorter cargos, there is now a much quicker turnover of is an even greater challenge in areas where out-migration is communal and municipal authorities and this is affecting the reducing the number of land users and territorial ties are quality of the work that each authority is able to achieve. being weakened. While out-migration is not overtly affect- This is due to several reasons. For one, there is little time for ing people’s perceptions of the forest, there is little doubt the incoming authority to ‘learn the job’ and fully assume its that it is affecting the evolution and transmission of tradi- responsibilities before having to make way for the next set tional ecological knowledge (TEK). Comaltepec’s multi- of incumbents. Next, the short 18-month term discourages functional land-use system is based on the application of authorities from pursuing longer-term projects (that last different environmental and resource practices according to more than 1 or 2 years) or when long-term projects are in ecological niche, and ethno-botanical knowledge of soils, place, there can be a problem of seguimiento (follow-up) climates and both wild and domesticated plants (Martin from the incoming authorities. In the context of communal 1993; Chapela 2005). This knowledge, however, is now forest resources, this is particularly relevant for the streams International Journal of Biodiversity Science & Management 33 of money that are raised through participation in national environmental and biological implications of a changing and international conservation schemes, which tend to landscape mosaic, the reduction in local land users and imply 2–5year commitments. foresters, and the erosion of important ecological and ethno-botanical knowledge. Together, these changes will determine the role that local land-use systems and autono- Conclusion mous community conservation areas (ACCAs) can play in It is not clear what the future holds for commons regimes in future efforts in the region, in addition to framing the the Sierra Norte region of Oaxaca. For a long time, local responses of external agencies and government policy. communities here were held up as examples of highly suc- cessful resource management systems and considered a model for other forest regions, both in Mexico and interna- Acknowledgements tionally (Barton Bray et al. 2003; Merino Perez 2004; The author would like to thank the authorities and residents of Chapela 2005; Barton Bray 2006). However, these are com- Santiago Comaltepec, La Esperanza and San Martin Soyolapam for their kind hospitality and ongoing participation in this study. munities that face multiple challenges as they become open to Thanks also to Armando Rincon, Gabriela Acosta Espino, Alicia the uncertainties of globalization, transnationalism and envir- Garcia, America Plata, Denise Lugo, Nancy Mejia, Mauricio onmental change. While some (Cohen 2004b) argue that Cervantes Salas and (Esperanza) Mestli Matias for their help communities in Oaxaca have been able to maintain a sense with the IFRI study. This research was possible because of the of independence and uniqueness that belies their involvement kind support of Dr. Fikret Berkes, Canada Research Chair for Community-based Resource Management at the University of in global markets and transnational processes, this paper Manitoba, and Dr Leticia Merino of the National Autonomous suggests that the ability of rural communities to balance University of Mexico (UNAM) and head of the Mexican compara- and reinvent local traditions may be beyond cultural, social tive research centre (CRC) of the International Forest Resources and environmental resources. Time will tell whether tradi- and Institutions (IFRI) Programme. tional community governance structures can survive a pro- cess that is robbing them of their single most important asset – people. 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International Journal of Biodiversity Science & Management – Taylor & Francis
Published: Apr 24, 2009
Keywords: Oaxaca; out-migration; institutions; biodiversity; demographic change; vulnerability; migrant networks; forest transitions
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