The bottom-up approach to forest preservation and reforestation at Finca Oasis creates a model for addressing the seemingly conflicting priorities of environmentalists and struggling farmers in regions like ours. The billions of trees that gave rise to Mexico’s eastern cloud forests pull water out of the ground and release it through their leaves gave rise to a “giant river in the sky” that keeps the forest wet and provides rain for the fertile crescent that spans much of the Gulf Coast. We are located in Mexico’s at the northern edge of that crescent in the Eastern Sierra Madre mountains, and in one of the communal farming regions (ejidos) established after the Mexican Revolution.
As descendants of Ejido El Chino’s founders, we can understand why impoverished early settlers were motivated to remove trees in order to cultivate food crops. Deforestation accelerated late in the 20th century after the federal government established sugar refineries in the region and obligated farmers to adopt a cane monoculture. As the forest disappeared, so did the predictable rainfall and the rich biodiversity associated with it.
Over the past three decades, we have acquired approximately 1,500 acres of forested and partially deforested land in Ejido El Chino in order to preserve existing trees and reforest some areas that were stripped of hardwood trees. We are aware that environmental concerns alone will not motivate local farmers to preserve the remaining forested areas, so we are working with them to add value to the forest in a non-destructive manner. This involves collaborative experimentation with crops of value that normally grow in forests and replacing invasive trees with others that can produce income.
Family funding has underwritten Finca Oasis up to this point, but the pace of growth will be determined by our ability to tap forest preservation stipends, carbon credits and other funding sources. Our forest preservation and reforestation strategies are replicable in other parts of Mexico and the world, and we are developing strategies for working hand in hand with farmers and environmentalists so that we can prevent the “river in the sky” and rivers on land from going dry.