Nelson Institute adjunct professor and Department of Forest and Wildlife Ecology alumnus, Eduardo Santana Castellón recently co-authored a letter to the editor titled, Value of Mexican Nature Reserve is More than Monetary in the journal Nature. The letter addresses the United Nation´s new System of Environmental-Economic Accounting (SEEA), which will help countries establish the monetary value of ecosystem services.
The editorial describes the University of Guadalajara Sierra de Manantlán Biosphere Reserve project, which was initiated with the support of the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Department of Botany. Throughout the paper, Santana and his colleagues in Mexico including Enrique Jardel, Sergio Graf, and Angelica Jimenez, outline why assigning monetary value to nature is necessary but insufficient to achieve conservation goals. They propose that the urban sectors that benefit from the limitations of usufruct (the temporary right to use or benefit from someone else’s property) by poor rural communities (e.g., not harvesting their forests to sustain hydrological services to cities) must be based on ethical values of justice and retribution. The authors argue that although these economic tools help certain sectors understand the value of nature, “commoditizing” ecological services can be dangerous in the long run.
“We need to acknowledge dimensions, other than monetary, of the relation between society and nature,” Santana said. “For example, the cultural purpose of conserving the five colors of corn in the case of the Wixarika indigenous communities can be as important in land use, as is the dietary or commercial purposes of corn production.”
The National Commission of Protected Areas, the Mexican Fund for the Conservation of Nature, and various CSOs proposed a local compensation mechanism to sustain rural communities in the forested areas of Cerro Grande that furnish the capital of the State of Colima with 90 percent of its water. By 2020, the Colima Congress had modified environmental, tariff, and water laws and almost 1 million USD (18.1 million pesos) have been transferred to mountain rural communities.
“We are redesigning with the local communities the voluntary payment component because the lack of urban awareness of the importance of mountain forests has produced low donations,” Jimenez said.
Santana believes that the System of Environmental Economic Accounting recently adopted by the UN will help recognize the economic value of ecosystem services, but he says complementary agroforestry production programs also need to be implemented. The Nelson Institute, along with the Global Health Institute, the Latin American, Caribbean and Iberian Studies program, the DFWE and the School of Human Ecology, continue to work cooperatively with the University of Guadalajara, in finding solutions to socio-ecologícal problems with local and global effects.