I’m in Oaxaca, Mexico for a few days — enjoying the weather, the food and the people. It’s one the most beautiful places in the world, but very poor. Like many poor places,Â people often deal with daily necessities at the expense of a sustainable environment. In the Mixteca Alto, a 6,000 square kilometer region in northern Oaxaca State, grazing, agriculture and forestry practices focused on short term needs have turned what were once lush forests into eroded fields.
Jesus Leon Santos took on this problem 20 years ago and this week he’ll be recognized as one of the winners of the Goldman Environmental Prize. I don’t know Leon Santos. I only came across his story because I’m in Oaxaca, but I find it instructional and inspirational. Several government programs had failed in the region. Leon Santos took a wholistic approach, involving people in reforestation, changing agricultural practices and even changing their eating habits to emphasize locally grown food. The efforts are paying off — there are over a dozen nurseries in different villages; trees are getting planted; ecologically sound drainage ditches are getting built and people are even shifting from raising goats to sheep to protect the trees.
I did get an offer from T-Mobile today — if I switch to paperless billing they will pay to have a tree planted. I was feeling slightly positive about “my tree” until I read what people can really do to affect their environment.
A much more complete description of what Leon Santos is doing is on the Goldman Prize Website.