Climate Change and indigenous people: Local actions, global benefits


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The author, Guillermo Recio Guajardo, won second place in an international youth essay competition sponsored by the World Bank and other partners. He answered the question “How can you tackle climate change through youth-led solutions?” The awards were announced in Seoul in June, 2009.

The Sierra Tarahumara in Chihuahua, Mexico
   Photo by Guillermo Recio Guajardo

Over the years, several multinational companies and global groups have entered the ancestral territories of indigenous communities in Mexico, and the process of modernization has often damaged the environment.

For example, both legal and illegal logging are now common in the Sierra Tarahumara in Mexico’s Chihuahua state. This territory is home to about 84,000 Rarámuris or Tarahumara Indians who depend on forest conservation for their livelihood and preservation of their culture. But deforestation and loss of biodiversity are a severe threat—with almost 90 percent of the wood for the forest industry in Chihuahua coming from the Sierra Tarahumara—and are increasing an irreversible ecological imbalance.

Illegal logging has also been causing upheaval in Mexico’s climate system. Without enough trees in our tropical and temperate forests, it is impossible to capture carbon dioxide. According to recent research, "Mexico has deforested more than one-third of its forests and jungles, thereby reducing its original woodland area of 52 percent of the country to 33 percent in the year 2000."1

My essay, “The Repercussions of Climate Change on the Indigenous Rarámuri People: Local Actions, Global Benefits” demonstrates, through my experience as a volunteer in the Sierra Tarahumara, the visible effects of climate change and its impact on Rarámuris in many ways, including migration, malnutrition, drug trafficking, and violation of human rights. It also outlines youth-led actions that can help reduce these impacts.

Youth-led orchard development to counter desertification, soil erosion, and food scarcity in the Sierra Tarahumara in Chihuahua, Mexico

Photo by Guillermo Recio Guajardo

I have proposed the implementation of three projects based on youth-led community participation. First, the development of an orchard based on the Rarámuris’ traditional agriculture, which would help to counter the effects of desertification, soil erosion, and lack of food in the Sierra Tarahumara. The main idea of the orchard is to empower indigenous communities to take action against climate change. The second project, Tarahumara Verde, seeks to work with green NGOs, volunteer networks, and socially responsible companies on the reforestation with native species and preserving of natural resources in the Sierra. Finally, an environmental education workshop for youth would highlight the importance of interaction between indigenous youth and Mother Nature by using Rarámuri philosophy.

I am writing this to share the reality of an indigenous people who are facing serious social repercussions—injustice, poverty, and inequality—from environmental damage. Acting to help indigenous people preserve their environment would also help to reduce Mexico’s emissions, which are set to double from their current levels by 2010.2


1Ricker, Martín (2008) The Role of Mexican Forests in the Storage of Carbon to Mitigate Climate Change. Institute of Biology [El papel de los bosques mexicanos en el almacenamiento de carbono para mitigar el cambio climático. Instituto de Biología], UNAM. México D.F.

2 Molina, Mario (2005) Air Quality in Mexico. A Comprehensive Approach [La calidad del aire en México. Un enfoque integral]. Fund for Economic Culture [Fondo de Cultura Económica FCE], México. D.F.


Join the Conversation

Indigenous Advocate
August 14, 2009

I think Guillermo has some really good points. My only concern is that from what I have read, and what people tell me who regularly go down into the Copper Canyon area of Mexico, is that much of the deforestation is happening by the drug cartels so they can grow poppies and other plants to feed the drug market in the US. If one starts a program using indigenous agriculture - something that I am 100% in support of - how long would this last? Would it be sustainable? If the drug cartels keep taking over land, how would this help stop them from coming in and destroying it? Climate change is local and global, and we need to address it from both ends. Youth led programs can do that, but only if we look at all the issues.

October 20, 2009

Thanks for the essay, it is very informative on this subject.

Deforestation is a problem all over the world, and typically the communities that are closest to the affected areas experience a wide variety of poverty related problems. Groups like Live Climate are using the carbon market to help replant native trees and provide local communities in Mexico with employment opportunities.

JP Brice
September 30, 2009

I have read your essay, Guillermo.

I think that your experience in fighting climate change in a local (rural) level given you these great ideas. That's good.

Please don't hesitate to share the continuation of it with us. Thank you in advance !