Letter from Oaxaca, January 2017

Letter from Oaxaca, January 2017

Professor Monique Segarra is the lead faculty for our January Term in Oaxaca, Mexico. She wrote this letter on January 27, 2017.

Dear All,

We are having an amazing January term –in large part due to the tireless work of Sebastian.

Yesterday we rested and recovered from a pretty grueling few days (don’t believe the beach pictures –we were working!) in the mountains of the sierra sur. Stephanie should be posting pictures soon –she was out for the count yesterday – a combination of too much sun and walking up and down on steep slope farms at 9,000 feet-but better now.

To briefly re-cap what we have covered so far, we spent the first 4 days in Oaxaca City, and worked with INSO for two days and then with members of the local watershed council and micro-watershed organization to visit an indigenous community in the foothills of the sierra norte and the Etla valley who have gone completely off the water grid –every household had a dry composting toilet and they have worked to manage their forests and improve the flow of water from the mountain to the extent that the water coming into their community has less bacteria and better quality that much of the water that people in the US are drinking now. They are also a model of cultural generosity in that they explicitly state that one reason for this style of water management is not only to benefit their community, but to do no harm the communities farther down the river who need the water as well.

We then went to the community of San Pablo de Etla and spent the day with faculty from CIIDIR and members of the community who are managing a voluntary protected area. The CIIDIR faculty are conservation ecologists, biologists and water specialists, and they took the students up into the mountain area (the theme of this trip has been steep slopes) to use dung beetles and other insects as a means of testing water and habitat quality. We were then fed by the community (this also was another thread that differs from last year’s trip) and had a set of interesting presentations on the history and aspects of voluntary protected area management from the CIIDIR faculty.

The trip to the coast was wonderful. Students went through those crazy, curvy roads in a van driven by Sebastian, and Giles, Elizabeth and I flew on a 12 seat propeller plane. Sitting with Giles we realized that 1) our seat belts didn’t work 2) that we could use our phones since the pilot was chatting on his during takeoff and in flight and 3) that we were not flying much higher than the tree line. I could see from the air several of the larger villages that we visited on the way back. I rode back with the students in the van –very bonding and eye opening for me.

We met with the WWF team in Huatulco, visited an organic market that is trying to incentivize communities in the upper mountains that form part of the coastal watershed to manage their production and lands sustainably and to compensate them for this. In addition, we had a two-hour presentation and discussion with the director of the Huatulco National Park and later that day he took us by foot into the park’s dry forest to the beach and gave us a further socio-ecological lecture.

The students also saw the jarring nature of tourism here combined with poverty.

The last two days we spent in the upper mountains visiting projects/farmers that are working with the WWF team and the national park authorities –so there was a strong integration of our field visits. On the one hand, it was pretty grueling in terms of walking, sun and dust (hiking up and down steep slopes at altitude, dodgy and non-existent sanitation etc. But on the other we ate with the farmers/community authorities and spent significant time learning about their practices –the shade grown coffee site was amazing.

Now we are back in Oaxaca and working on processing what we have seen and experienced. I will use a lot of this material to expand on during the semester in the Ag and land use modules.

So much to tell you. See you all soon.

Cheers, Monique

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