Martha Isabel Ruiz Corzo, credited with securing the future of one of Mexico's most critical ecosystems, Sierra Gorda Biosphere Reserve, and supporting the livelihoods of disadvantaged rural communities, received a UN 2013 Champions of the Earth award. The Reserve is home to more than 110 species of mammals 334 bird species, and 2,308 plant species.
The Sierra Gorda Biosphere Reserve, Mexico's most ecologically diverse protected area, described as a "green jewel" in the heart of the country, is home to jaguarondi, wild cats in danger of extinction. They live in the Reserve together with more than 110 other species of mammals 334 bird species, and 2,308 plant species, many of which are yet to be found anywhere else on earth. The Reserve with over 380,000 hectares of forest and other ecosystems is afforded special conservation status as a natural protected area.
Once-threatened species that inhabit the reserve’s 14 distinct ecosystems, including jaguar, Humboldt butterflies, green macaws, and aquatic life, are increasing in number.
Ten years after Ms. Ruiz Corzo, her husband, and local residents established the Sierra Gorda Ecological Group, they successfully lobbied the Mexican Government to grant the area Biosphere Reserve status in 1997 with recognition as a protected natural area by the Environmental and Natural Resource Ministry (SEMARNAT). It remains the only case in Mexico of a protected area resulting from a grassroots initiative.
Since then, the region has transformed into a role model of sustainable development for Mexico and the world.
The reserve is heralded as a model of public-private ecosystem management, where eco-tourism, waste management, and conservation projects provide income for hundreds of local residents, as well as securing the future of a rich habitat once threatened by deforestation and unregulated development.
On September 19, 2013, Martha Isabel Ruiz Corzo, better known as ‘Pati,’ a grassroots environmental campaigner, was honored for “Empowering Poor Communities and Spearheading Green Economy.” She is credited with securing the future of one of Mexico's most critical ecosystems, and supporting the livelihoods of disadvantaged rural communities, received a 2013 Champions of the Earth award, the UN system’s highest environmental accolade.
“The transformation of the from a critically threatened ecosystem to a living example of conservation through green economic development and community action is testament to Pati’s inspirational work over the past three decades,“ said UN Under-Secretary General and UNEP Executive Director, Achim Steiner who presented her award.
Through her work and advocacy, 33 per cent of the State of Querétaro is now protected as a Biosphere Reserve.
In 2008, the Sierra Gorda in the neighboring state of Guanajuato also achieved Biosphere Reserve status, resulting in another 280,000 hectares coming under conservation management.
The Champions of the Earth prize is awarded annually to leaders from government, civil society and the private sector, whose actions have had a positive impact on the environment. It is organized by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).
Champion of the Earth: Martha Isabel Ruiz Corzo from UNEP
“A love for the Earth, safeguarding the sacred fabric of Nature, promoting individual and collective efforts, being alert to emergencies, and a maintaining the commitment, creativity and passion to relieve the weight that our society places on the planet; this is what continues to inspire my work,” said Ms. Ruiz Corzo.
“Her success comes from her innovative approach to finding sustainable development solutions for poor communities that are often burdened with the costs associated with conserving nature,” says the UN biographical sketch of Pati that accompanied her award. “But through Pati's efforts, they are now environmental service providers and derive part of their livelihood from protecting local ecosystems.
“Pati was responsible for the federal administration of the Sierra Gorda Biosphere Reserve for 14 years. Before that, she spent eight years as a UN Development Programme Coordinator, gathering accolades and securing cash and in-kind resources in excess of US$45 million. She has drawn considerable national and international attention to the region and has raised significant resources from the private and public sectors to support a “conservation economy.”
Ms. Ruiz Corzo has long advocated a “conservation economy,” combining natural protected area management with widespread civil participation.
Over the past 25 years, Pati and Grupo Ecológico Sierra Gorda (GESG) have engaged more than 34,000 people in community environmental education programs, solid waste management, soil restoration, productive diversification, and conservation. Pati and her team have developed simple replication strategies through online and on-site courses provided by the Earth Center training center.
The “Learning and Teaching for a Sustainable Future UNESCO-Sierra Gorda” diploma is a certified course that teaches the lessons learned in the SGBR to students graduating from the training center. In 2010 alone, the course served 900 students.
The Sierra Gorda Biosphere Reserve works to diversify the region’s economy by harnessing the benefits of ecosystem services, and training community members in conservation-based skills, to alleviate poverty and build social entrepreneurship.
A "payment for ecosystem services" program has been central to the success of the reserve. The scheme, which gained the backing of the federal government, assigned an economic value to fresh water, land, and other key natural resources. Local residents were paid US$30-40 per hectare of land for reducing cattle numbers and not cutting down trees, which improved local watersheds and reduced soil erosion.
Hundreds of families in Sierra Gorda receive more than US$2 million from the sale of carbon credits. Furthermore, Pati has spearheaded the development of a “Basket of Ecosystem Services and Products,” a brand new regional catalogue of environmental products and services.
Among a range of community schemes, the Biosphere Reserve operates over 100 recycling depots run on a voluntary basis by local women. They manage 900 tons of recyclable materials per year.
A community environmental education program has reached 18,000 children in 170 schools in the region, while a network of eco-clubs across five states trains young people in environmental leadership.
Ms. Ruiz Corzo is also a pioneer in valuing natural capital. Sierra Gorda obtained carbon offsets validated by the Rainforest Alliance under the Climate, Community and Biodiversity Alliance and the Voluntary Carbon Standard, which is the first validated forest project of its kind in Mexico.
These tools have been adopted by the state Government and are also in the process of being validated by the National Forestry Commission in order to be easily replicated in other parts of the country.
Compensa tu Huella
¿Qué es compensar la huella de carbono? ¿Qué compromiso adquiere el dueño de propiedad al recibir un pago por la compensación de carbono? ¿Cómo emitimos carbono? Sierra Gorda contesta estas preguntas al describir el Carbono Biodiverso para combatir la pobreza, proteger la biodiversidad y responder al cambio climático. Published on December 18, 2013 on YouTube by Sierra Gorda Querétaro
During her appearance in New York for the UN Award ceremony, I had a chance to learn more about Pati’s compelling story. She kindly agreed to answer questions which I submitted to her. They are presented below followed by her answers in Spanish followed by English translations. By Janine Selendy, Chairman, President and Publisher of Horizon International
Q: How were you able to begin to realize Grupo Ecológico Sierra Gorda?
A: Con un gran equipo de trabajo, mi esposo y mis hijos que habiendo experimentado como familia la incalculable riqueza de haber vivido una vida simple y en contacto directo con la naturaleza, las vivencia cotidianas que fueron forjando en nosotros una comprensión de lo verdaderamente importante en la vía y el valor de salvaguardar lo sagrado, el tapiz de la naturaleza con esta conciencia y la Fortaleza de conocer la región, sus contextos sociales y el territorio, con la experiencia como educadora y los aprendizajes de la vida autosuficiente. Bordando un camino spiritual de servicio, de mucha fe, de persistencia absoluta, el poder del esfuerzo continuado todo integrado con olas de amor, paciencia en acción y mucho trabajo, intentando conocer hasta donde es posible, buscando llegar al límite sin todavía encontrarlo.
With a great team, my husband and my sons. As a family we have experienced incalculable richness from living the simple life and having lived directly with nature. We have learnt what is really important in life and the value of safeguarding nature, which is so sacred. We have raised awareness about looking after nature and got to know the region intimately, its social contexts and its territory. As an educator and with my experience of self-sufficiency, I was able to realize Grupo Ecológico Sierra Gorda. I have embarked on a spiritual path of service, with much faith, patience, action and work. I am constantly pushing the boundaries of what we can do to protect nature here and we haven't reached the limit yet.
Q: What were some of the constraining factors you needed to overcome?
A: La indiferencia absoluta de todos los diferentes actores, metalizados, cuadrados en un sistema decadente de consumo y vacio, en donde a nadie le parece ni urgente el cambio climático y vergonzoso los alcances de nuestra sociedad. La ignorancia que se enseñorea con prácticas corruptas y obsoletas en las instituciones de gobierno a todo nivel.
La falta de recursos financieros contar con la suficiente energía económica que nos permita revertir los procesos y operar conservación forjando una cultura sustentable en la región.
The absolute indifference of all the different actors in charge. They are only focused on making money and are stuck in a decadent and vacuous system of consumption, where no one believes that climate change is an urgent issue nor is ashamed of what our society has done to provoke it. Ignorance has created corrupt and obsolete practices within government institutions at all levels here in Mexico. Currently, there is a lack of sufficient financial resources, therefore, so that we may reverse damaging behaviour towards the environment, operate acts of conservation and forge a culture of sustainability in the region, we need a more stable economic income.
Q: This is a wonderful statement of purpose: “Founded in 1987, we are a grassroots organization with skilled communication and mediation on national and international levels, embarking on an educational process across sectors within the Reserve and across the country. We cultivate a sustainable culture with new values; diversify opportunities around the services provided by healthy ecosystems; form new skills to build an economy for conservation; organize and train community groups and accompany them in adopting the best practices and appropriation of the Reserve through civic participation; and strengthen rural social enterprise. Our experience is live, sustainable practices and groundbreaking initiatives that we are ready to share and replicate. The accumulated experience and lessons learned provide multiple solutions to poverty, climate change and biodiversity conservation.”
Please provide specific examples, especially with personalized accounts of people and their families’ involvement.
A: Nuestro programa de educación ambiental que involucra a todos los actores regionales en 170 escuelas atendiendo a 18000 niños cada mes desde hace 25 años.
La integración del destino turístico sierra gorda como un ejemplo de turismo rural en áreas naturales protegidas con la mejora de infraestructura y nuevas capacidades de operación turística de 82 ecodestinos
El pago de servicios ecosistémicos en 40000 has. Con 300 beneficiarios directos
El manejo regenerativo de suelos a través de la adopción de mejores prácticas agropecuarias con 115 productores
La operación de 113 centros de acopio comunitarios de materiales reciclables operado por mujeres voluntarias.
Over the last 25 years, our environmental education program has involved all regional actors within 170 schools, attended by 18,000 children.
We have been developing the Sierra Gorda as a tourist destination, which will provide an example of rural tourism within a Natural Protected Area, by improving the infrastructure and teaching new skills for tourism operation at 82 eco-sites.
The Payment for Ecosystem Services program covers 4000 hectares and directly benefits 300 people.
The Soil Regeneration program promotes better agricultural practices to 115 farmers.
We support female volunteers operate 113 recycling centers within the rural communities in the region.
Q: What are some examples of incidences when the Grupo Ecológico Sierra Gorda accompanies “them in adopting the best practices and appropriation of the Reserve through civic participation.”
El decreto mismo de la reserve de la biosfera que conseguimos en el 97 después de 10 años de trabajo y presencia continua en las comunidades, única área protegida en México que surgió y fue promovida desde la base social.
Cada año organizamos 35000 serranos en numerosas actividades de saneamiento, educación ambiental comunitaria, diversificación productiva, manejo regenerativo de suelos, conservación de bosques, saneamiento en donde a través del equipo de promotores organizamos y se llevan a cabo miles de pequeñas acciones que liberan y restauran presión a los recursos naturales.
The Sierra Gorda Biosphere Reserve is the only region in Mexico that was decreed a Natural Protected Area, in 1997, thanks to grassroots lobbying, after 10 years of working in the communities.
Every year, we organize 35,000 local inhabitants in various activities, including, community cleanups, community environmental education, productive diversification, regenerative soil management and forest conservation, through our team of promoters in the field. Our promoters carry out thousands of small actions that remove pressure from and restore the Sierra Gorda's natural resources.
Q: How does the organization work to strengthen rural social enterprise?
A: Impulsando la valorización económica de los servicios de los ecosistemas, habiendo conseguido aterrizar Kioto en lo local, hoy día contamos con un mecanismo estatal de compensaciones por parte del gobierno del estado de Querétaro con reglas adaptadas a las condiciones de los dueños de los bosques, cada año ingresan 34 millones de pesos por conceptos que nosotros gestionamos y desarrollamos con fines de restauración y conservación y la generación de oportunidades de desarrollo humano, social y económico.
Fortaleciendo las capacidades de brindar servicios turísticos valorizando la belleza escénica integrando micro operadores de extrema pobreza dueños de la tierra.Una de las filiales del GESG, Productos y servicios sierra gorda s.a. apoya en toda forma posible, una empresa integradora que vincula sus capacidades a las oportunidades de integrarse a una cadena productiva:Diseño de producto, asesoría técnica y administrativa, comercialización, capacitación con 65 pequeñas microempresas.
We have worked to give economic value to ecosystem services by grounding the Kyoto protocols to the local context. Today, we advocated a State-level offsetting mechanism to be established by the Querétaro State Government in which they offset the emissions of their vehicle fleet in the Sierra Gorda. These resources reach forest owners who are living in extreme poverty. Each year, they receive a total of 34 million Mexican Pesos. We developed this mechanism so that these forest owners would restore and conserve their land. Furthermore, this mechanism has generated human development, social and economic opportunities.
One of GESG's sister organizations, Sierra Gorda Products and Services S.A. supports 65 micro tourism providers in all aspects of the production chain: product design, technical and administrative training, commercialization and skill-building. Through this organization, we have also been strengthening skills of the tourism providers in the region, giving an economic value to the scenic beauty, bringing together micro-operators who are living in extreme poverty but who are owners of valuable biodiversity.
Q: Your website says,” The Sierra Gorda Biosphere Reserve is the only protected area with an Alliance of civil organizations to achieve grassroots participatory management.” Is this true just for Mexico or for other parts of the world as well?
A: En México somos la única área federal protegida que surgió de este contexto, desconozco si hay otra en el planeta.
I only know that in Mexico we are the only federally protected area that came about in this way, I'm afraid I don't know if this is true for other parts of the world.
Q: Pati, you and your family have achieved remarkable results with your dedication and ability to effectively communicate and work with local communities. What are some of the primary lessons you would like to share with others throughout the world who might be inspired by your example to try to undertake a project that would encompass some of the Grupo Ecológico Sierra Gorda’s goals?
A: Mi recomendación seria que si verdaderamente quieren incursionar el camino del bien común, se definan bien como custodies de la tierra con valores muy innovadores, no más de lo mismo, que piensen con el corazón, empresarios que los impulse el amor y la generosidad, que busquen la trascendencia con su trabajo, buscando un crecimiento interior con el ejercicio de virtudes espirituales que los centren en retornos mucho mas allá que los económicos, en donde la satisfacción no se consiga solo a base de valores económicos sino mas bien en valores intangibles como la dicha, la satisfacción el fortalecimiento humano como un bien común el orientar una sociedad a una forma diferente preparándose para los tremendos cambios por venir y un profundo sentimiento fraterno con todos los seres vivos una responsabilidad por el tapiz de la naturaleza.
Si esa es su intención me parece que proyectar atmosferas mas respirables que las que rigen al mundo moderno, es cuestión de emprendimiento social trascendente.
Pati Ruiz Corzo talking at the Seed Symposium in Nairobi, Kenya
ENG: On 31st October 2013 in Nairobi, Kenya, Pati Ruiz Corzo was a keynote speaker at the Seed Symposium 2013. The theme was "Green Entrepreneurship: Local Solutions that Make a Difference" and she was invited as a "Community-Based Conservation Advocate". ESP: El 31 de octubre 2013 en Nairobi, Kenia, la Mtra Pati Ruiz Corzo fue ponente en el Seed Simposium 2013. El tema del evento fue "Emprendimiento Verde: Soluciones Locales que Hacen la Diferencia" y invitaron a la Mtra como "Defensora de Conservación basada en Comunidades Locales." Sierra Gorda Querétaro
My recommendation for those who really want to take the greater good path, is that they commit themselves to being custodians of the earth by being innovative. We cannot follow the same old patterns: we need to think from the heart; be entrepreneurs driven by love and generosity; look to transcend limits through our work; search for interior growth through spiritual virtue; look for results that are more than just economic but more intangible values such as human development; change conventional paradigms in order to prepare society for the tremendous changes to come; and promote a deep feeling of fraternity among all living things so that we all take care of nature. If that is their intention, I believe that they should promote healthier environments than those that rule the modern world; it's a question of transcendent social entrepreneurship.
Q: You have a wonderful way of adding song to your presentations. Do you use music in your community outreach?
A: Siempre, la música toca emociones despierta capacidades dormidas en nuestro Corazón órgano pensante por excelencia, construye puentes, armoniza y levanta una ola de optimismo y lucha por lo que amamos, aparte como maestro de música siempre cantar ha sido mi instrumento de trabajo.
Always. Music touches emotions, awakens forgotten capacities in our hearts, builds bridges, harmonizes, raises a wave of optimism and fights for what we love. Furthermore, as a music teacher, singing has always been my instrument of work.
About Champions of the Earth
Champions of the Earth, which was launched in 2005, is the UN's flagship environmental award. To date, it has recognized 59 individuals and organizations for their leadership, vision, inspiration and action on the environment. The list of previous Champions laureates include Mongolian President Tsakhia Elbegdorj, Mexican President Felipe Calderon, Chinese actress and environmental advocate Zhou Xun, the Women’s Environment & Development Organization (WEDO) and global music legend Angélique Kidjo. Visit http://www.unep.org/champions/ for more details.
About Guangdong Wealth
Guangdong Wealth Environmental Protection is a leading supplier of water purifying products and water treatment integrated solutions in China. The company practices a business model that puts social welfare before economic interests, using the concept “let the sky be bluer and the water clearer”. The company invests in environmental scholarships for young university students, organizes cleanup operations and donates tons of purifying tablets to tackle pollution in rivers in Guangdong and Beijing.
Links to Sierra Gorda:
The Sierra Gorda Conservation Alliance
GESGPIAP is the founding organization of the Sierra Gorda Conservation Alliance, constituted by Bosque Sustentable, A.C., Productos y Servicios Turísticos Sierra Gorda S.A. de C.V., Joya del Hielo A.C. and Viva Sierra Gorda. Together, these stimulate a continually developing laboratory of best practices in favor of the Earth.
Available at: http://sierragorda.net/en/acerca-de/
Civic Participation Available at: http://sierragorda.net/en/participacion-civil/
Earth Center Available at: http://sierragorda.net/en/centro-tierra/
Sierra Gorda Ecotours contact: email@example.com
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All of the photographs presented in this article are courtesy of the Sierra Gorda Ecological Group.
This article was published on the Horizon International Solutions Site on 28 January 2014.