This past week, Tufts was host to two guest speakers talking about sustainable forest management. The first, last Monday, was a representative of Mexican reforestation initiative Ejido Verde. At the Environmental Studies department’s weekly Lunch & Learn, Tufts lecturer in environmental anthropology and MIT doctoral candidate Tod Özden-Schilling spoke about the use of computer models in forestry research.
CEO of Ejido Verde, Shaun Paul, stopped by GDAE at Tufts to present on their sustainable and equitable model for pine resin production in the Mexican state of Michoacán. “Ejido Verde” means green “ejido,” which is the term used in Mexico for communally owned land used for agriculture, or in this case, agroforestry.
This video was produced as part of a crowdfunding campaign, which raised their initial goal of $200,000 in only two weeks. As explained in the video, the Purépecha people now have income from over 2400 hectares of pine resin production. Pine resin is used in products including chewing gum, adhesives, food preservatives and more. Mexico is the fifth largest producer of pine resin, with 95% of that coming from the state of Michacán. Mexico has a huge variety of pines, many of which produce large quantities of valuable resin. China, Indonesia and Brazil are by far the largest producers.
Here’s how the model works: Working with the communal owners of ejidos, mostly in Michoacán, Ejido Verde brings funding and sustainable forest management education to provide an initial investment of ~$2000 per hectare of ejido. These are long-term loans, a result of the fact that it takes at least 8-10 years for a pine forest to become ready for tapping. Ten years later, a hectare of pine forest can be expected to generate $3,400 in revenue per year, for eighty years. Cultivation and maintenance are paid through debt financing in the short-term, providing much needed job opportunities to the region. Longer-term, the ejido benefits from a stable revenue source for years to come. Ejido Verde takes 10% of the value of resin sold by the ejido to the pine resin industry. On top of this revenue, the Mexican government pays the ejidos for the benefits of reforestation.
Ejido Verde struggles with reconciling the need for biodiversity in long-term sustainability with the need for short- and long-term revenue to sustain the indigenous people of Michoacán. Pine beetles are an issue affecting many ejidos, but because the system is scattered and not confined to one large area, spread of pests is somewhat controlled.
Tom Özden-Schilling spoke to the Environmental Studies Department about the contention between field-based vs computer model based forestry research. With ever increasing technological tools at the fingertips of forestry scientists, the world of “experimental forests” is diminishing. Computer models are thought by many to be capable of turning what used to be a scientific problem into an engineering problem: What features can be put into place in order to grow the most trees at the fastest rate. Unlike experimental forests, these computer models were unable to account for the presence of the mountain pine beetle, which swept through British Columbia’s forests between 2001-2009. More about Özden-Schilling’s is outlined in this blog post of his from 2014.