Foreword and introduction


In Mexico, about half the jungle and forested areas are owned by communities and ejidos . In the Mayan Forest of the Yucatan Peninsula, this ratio is 61.3%. As a result, people have the ability to make decisions to define the fate of the forest.

Currently, the Mayan Forest faces numerous challenges. One is climate change, which because of the location and geography the peninsula presents, and will continue presenting, significant impacts: more pronounced droughts, hurricanes, and increased soil erosion, among other impacts affecting ecosystems, people and producers.
Another major threat is the gradual erosion of biodiversity. Food chains are affected mainly by the fragmentation and deterioration of wildlife habitats. For example, populations of large mammals are declining to such an extent that many are now endangered.

The deterioration of communities' livelihoods is another symptom of this process. On the one hand, food security is being affected, and this has an impact on productive landscapes. The Mayan milpa , including the solar , t'olche'  and other practices of high cultural value and compatible with the sustainable management of natural resources and landscapes, are experiencing a rapid transformation. Markets, including those for forestry, agriculture and livestock products, provide little incentive for sustainable production and few farming activities truly improve farmers’ well-being.

In view of this, many communities - accompanied by civil society organizations - have decided to experiment with new ways to achieve conservation and sustainable rural development, which must be compatible with biodiversity; as well as to help mitigate and adapt to the impacts of climate change. These pioneers work together to experience, learn, and innovate by testing original models and schemes, in order to achieve a development compatible with natural resource preservation.

To accompany these processes, a significant civil society ensemble has been built in the last 30 years. Nonprofit organizations play a key role in monitoring the development processes in the territories of the region. They contribute, for example, with raising funds from international agencies and organizations in order to create processes of change in the short and medium term, and act as agents of local development.

On their part, community leaders and producers have taken significant risks: some risk their production to test improved agricultural practices; some invest their time to acquire new skills. Others risk assets and resources to promote community and private conservation. All these communities and leaders are essential to pilot actions that allow true, sustainable territorial development.

The aim of this book is to present a series of experiences, communicated by the producers and local non-profit organizations that accompany them, which contribute substantially to changes in resource management. Their commitment and dedication to operate programs and projects in the field, hand in hand with the communities and producers, will enable a model of a true sustainable rural development that is critical for the Yucatan Peninsula.
Therefore, this book presents a wide range of experiences, where a new paradigm of sustainable rural development will complement traditional conservation actions. The presentation of these experiences has been documented in this book's article format, alongside a virtual platform where you can also access videos (available in Spanish only).  We hope that the processes and lessons of each experience will contribute to motivate young professionals and community members to try to contribute to this change. This book also marks a new stage in the strengthening of civil society in the Yucatan Peninsula: local nonprofit organizations, communities and institutions are increasingly forming alliances, learning communities and regional networks that enable, reinforce and scale successful actions. This movement, necessary to cover a larger part of the territory, allows the inclusion of more communities, and strengthens civil society through increased specialization and professionalization.

Finally, it is important to recognize the documentation work done by Biosakbé, an organization that accepted the challenge of exploring this vast region and of listening to the voices of those who are on the ground actively making a difference. We also want to thank the following organizations for their invaluable support, WK Kellogg Foundation, the Claudia and Roberto Hernández Foundation, and the Harp Helú Foundation.

Sébastien Proust
Coordinator for the Yucatan Peninsula
Mexico REDD+ Alliance, The Nature Conservancy.


A forest that witnessed the splendor of a civilization hides hundreds of Mayan pyramids as silent vestiges of those times. The Mayan Forest of the Yucatan Peninsula is one of the last refuges where the jaguar still maintains a high population density and shares the territory with four other large felines: puma, ocelot, tigrillos and jaguarundi. It is also home to other species of high biological value, such as the tapir, three species of monkeys, one of which is endemic, and two species of peccary, among others. It is a forest that sustains thousands of families who manage their natural resources with a holistic perspective. However, in recent decades there has been a rapid advance of the agricultural and urban frontiers that began to fragment the landscape with the subsequent threat to the biodiversity of the region and the livelihoods of communities. This situation has encouraged many organizations to search for production and governance strategies to confront the forces that lead to the deterioration of the Mayan Forest.

            Mayan Forest of the Yucatan Peninsula

The mechanism for Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (REDD+) presents an opportunity to address these challenges, for which the Yucatan Peninsula is considered a priority region. In order to strengthen low carbon rural and forestry development, the Mexico AMREDD+ Alliance was created, an initiative comprised by The Nature Conservancy, Rainforest Alliance, Espacios Naturales y Desarrollo Sustentable and the Woods Hole Research Center. The Alliance operates at three different levels: local, state and national; as it aims to test tools and approaches at the local level, and provide lessons learned to refine state and national strategies. This approach allows both local involvement -in the implementation of strategies to reduce deforestation and promote sustainable production- and to advocate for a framework of public policies at the state and national levels.

In this context, in 2012 a group of organizations met for the creation of a REDD+ Learning Community (CAREDD+) for the Yucatan Peninsula, which seeks to strengthen capacities by sharing knowledge on issues related to low-carbon-emission sustainable development. Complementary with these objectives the Itzincab Alliance was created; composed of many of the CAREDD+ non-governmental organizations and aiming to consolidate a network of areas covering critical and representative habitats of the ecosystem diversity under a scheme of conservation, management and sustainable use in approximately two million hectares of the Yucatan Peninsula.

This work is an effort to document the experiences of some of the sustainable rural development initiatives and projects that contribute to reducing deforestation in the region, and thus make their contribution to the conservation and sustainable management of the Mayan Forest in the Yucatan Peninsula. The range of projects represented here allows us to categorize them in efforts of 1) sustainable agriculture and ranching, 2) sustainable use of forest resources, 3) forest landscape restoration, 4) community production projects and 5) monitoring of biodiversity and conservation. In its thematic diversity and regional scope we can see the added significance of these practices and their potential for change at the local level.
Ornate Hawk-Eagle (Spizaetus ornatus) Radish planting in the demonstration garden of Toojil Xíimbal, Suctuc, Campeche