Oaxaca, Mexico

Annual Report 1988

Nicholas Dolphin, Volunteer Adviser

(I have two major roles: working with the LASOS vetiver team, and advising the Program for Erosion Control and Restoration of the Soils of Oaxaca (PCERS) on behalf of LASOS.)

Correo: APDO. POSTAL NO. 124, 68000 OAXACA, OAX., MEXICO
Tel/fax: (951) 1 05 65 o 4 77 66. Correo electrónico: [email protected]
RFC: LSA970221QH0


LASOS is a small Oaxacan NGO which provides direct services to communities and small farmers to conserve and restore their soils and natural resources, as well as to improve their food self-sufficiency. The core program of LASOS is the dissemination of vetiver grass technology and in this regard LASOS started, and continues to take a lead role in, a state-wide program for erosion control (PCERS) spearheaded by vetiver grass technology, in collaboration with communities, local authorities, government agencies, NGOs, and research centres.

Mexico is the 10th largest country in the world in area and Oaxaca State in southen Mexico is the 4th largest state in Mexico. The State of Oaxaca is the size of Portugal and almost twice the size of Costa Rica. It contains 80% of the vegetation types in Mexico, from desert to tropical rain foest, and has the highest concentration of ethnic and biological divesity in the country. Oaxaca has been identified by the World Resouces Institute as being one of the places on the Earth that gave concern for its soil erosion and rate of desertification. It is therefore an excellent place to demonstate the exceptional properties of vetiver grass which is one of there few plants which can unite the whole State around the common theme of erosion control and soil conservation because it grows in all the climatic and vegetation zones.

There are two equally important challenges to getting vetiver grass used on a significant scale throughout Oaxaca and to creating the awareness of the seriousness of the problem of soil loss: firstly, production and demonstration of the grass (when well demonstrated the grass speaks for itself), and, secondly, the development of organizational and difusion mechanisms which will enable this to happen in a relatively short time. The problem is so serious and the social, inter-organizational and political divisions so deep that new approaches are needed. LASOS and The Program for Erosion Control and Restoration of the Soils of Oaxaca (PCERS) are attempts to find new forms of organization to disseminate the vetiver grass (and other) technologies.

LASOS provides a legal and support structure for individuals wishing to develop their projects on soil, water and seed conservation. LASOS focuses on communities and small farmers - 75% of the territory of Oaxaxa is the collective property of communities, mostly indigenous.

The PCERS provides a legal and support structure for organizations to work together pursuing their soil conservation projects in their own ways integrating vetiver. The Program, which started in 1995, has 50 participants from communities, NGOs, research and education organizations, state and federal government agencies, and the private commercial sector - small farmers and householders also participate.

This report focuses more on organizational mechanisms for difusion than on the technical aspects and outputs of the vetiver grass because this year has been a year with few funds and has been used to prepare strategies and to make appropriate changes in the organizational mechanisms for the second phase beginning next year.

 Lasos para los Suelos Agua y Semillas de Oaxaca.

LASOS is focussing on 3 regions - the Sierra Norte, the Sierra Sur and the Costa - with its own propagation nursery in the centre of the State in the Valles Centrales and work in the City of Oaxaca.

In the Sierra Norte, we continued with the two communities which established nurseries in 1996 and 1997 - Tlahuitoltepec and Amatepec. The new Tlahuitoltepec authorities (which change every two years), being unaware of the value of the grass, were persuaded to exchange it for tree seedlings by an entrepreneur from out of the State. Whilst slowing dissemination of the grass in Tlahui (it retains a basic nursery), this shows that the grass is taking off in other states and that the market is developing. (Tlahui is way up in the mountains, very poor roads and hundreds of miles from where the entrepreneur set up his nursery). About 15 campesinos in Amatepec have distributed the grass amongst themselves for individual nurseries. A new campesino member of LASOS, Carlos Sanchez, established a nursery and two demonstration barriers with the farmers group in his community of Chichicaxtepec. The site will provide a source of grass for over 20 communities in this ecozone. These areas range from 1000 to 2500 metres above sea level.

In the Sierra Sur, we continued follow-up in the three communities in Sola de Vega District identifying barriers demonstartion sites with farmers in each area. In the event, not more than 300 metres of new barriers were planted. We discovered that in this area farmers are use to being paid by government projects to improve their land (fertilizer subsidies) and to introduce new crops (vote catching). In this case - and the problem is not unique to this area - a slow process of demonstration will be required. One of the members of LASOS, Paul Hebb, is setting up a nursery in Sola de Vega and will be on hand next year to work directly with the local farmers to demonstrate the use of the barriers. A new nursery was set up with a group of 120 mescal producers - mescal, the local alcohol, is produced from the maguey cactus and is the major export of the area. The leader of this group is the technician who originally requested the grass for Sola de Vega. There are now four nurseries in Sola de Vega area.

In the Coast, a nursery was set up by a new campesino member of LASOS who worked with Kevin O´Sullivan in the early 1990s. Heriberto Ricardez is working directly with 6 communities in the area which will receive the grass next year and has good contacts with the Pochutla Municipal Authority. We participated in the first University ecology event in Puerto Escondido and will be planting a nursery in this important tourist resort over the Christmas period.

In addition to field activities, Ana Maria Le Moing included a significant vetiver component in her proposals for rural development in the Huaxteca region of Veracruz; Government/World Bank funding is expected next year for protecting 10 hectares of steeply sloping farmland. I wrote an article on the PCERS for publication in the Autonomous University of Mexico anthropology journal. The LASOS team participated in a degree program on natural resource management for Portland State University/Technology Institute of Oaxaca taking the group of 25 US and Mexican students to our sites in Sola de Vega and talking on erosion and vetiver in Oaxaca. In March, a team from the BBC filmed the LASOS mother nursery which has resulted in a BBC/ITDG Hands-on Program on vetiver (also with inputs from TVN); we will also be editing the raw footage into a vetiver promotional video for Oaxaca. The trial vetiver clothes sachets have been selling consistently (150 to date). Vetiver is being tested in a household black water recycling system.

The new Mayor elect of Oaxaca planted vetiver at the Nexacubi site in Oaxaca City and we will give his team a talk on vetiver when he takes over early next year. We also have contacts with the new State Governor who takes office this month for a six year term; his support is essential to getting vetiver into official projects and programs. Finally, I have been helping the 3 local entrepreneurs develop the market for vetiver.

Program for Erosion Control and Restoration of the Soils of Oaxaca (PCERS).

The first phase of the Program culminated in 1997 (results were reported in previous reports). The objectives of the first phase were to prove that vetiver grass grows in all the climates and vegetation zones of Oaxaca and does not become a weed, and to establish sources of grass throughout the State by including all relevant sectors of government and civil society. By the end of 1997 there were 35 nurseries directly participating in the Program, plus at least 15 others, in 6 of the 7 regions of Oaxaca, and all sectors are participating - community and other local authorities, farmers and womens groups, NGOs, research and education centres, state and federal government agencies, and the commercial sector. See the annexed map. The main objectives of the second phase, which starts next year, are to: 1. widely demonstrate the vetiver grass in use (farm land conservation, restoration of eroded lands, gulley stabilization, and road maintenance): 2. influence public policy in favour of soil conservation; and, 3. start disseminating local plants and techniques for erosion control alongside vetiver.

Between July 1997 and December 1998, the Program continued with only a small grant of US$7,000 from the Fondo Mexicano para la Conservación de la Naturaleza, A.C. for the 18 month period - $390 per month (we have still not received the final payment). The fact that it has continued indicates the commitment of key members working and the fact that the dissemination of the vetiver grass no longer depends on the Program.

Nursery and hedgerow outputs for the year will be surveyed when funds become available early next year. Casual contacts indicate that the grass is spreading well through all participants. For example, in one area in the arid zone of the Mixteca, 70 small demonstration hedgerows have been set up, and a member in the Valles Centrales has started work with 4 new communities.

The vetiver is now taking off in 7 other states and, as reported previously an important demonstration, including several kilometers of hedgerow, is flourishing in the State of Mexico and the Federal District with plant material and technical assistance from a members of the PCERS. The site is very heavily eroded, has very poor soils with little organic material, and receives 3-400 mm of rainfall per year - a good challenge. The vetiver is being used in conjunction with reforestation. In addition, there are at least 5 commercial vetiver nurseries, 3 of which are in Oaxaca and the others in Morelos and Hidalgo States.

The report on the first vetiver training workshop held in 1997, in which Jim Smyle and Joan Miller of the Latin America Vetiver Network participated, was completed. This report contains an excellent summary of the experience with vetiver in Oaxaca to date. A manual on vetiver nursery establishment and management was also produced.

Protracted negociations with the Fondo Mexicano para la Conservación de la Naturaleza, A.C. resulted in obtaining a grant of 500,000 pesos for the next 3 years. The main sponsors of the FMCN are the US and Mexican Governments. We also managed to persuade the FMCN to be flexible in their requirements for working with organizations. The Program is not a legal entity - to date one of the members has provided a channel for funds. This arrangement has enabled a wide variety of organizations to participate who would otherwise have found it very difficult to do so. For example, government agencies have been able to participated and get familiar with the grass without requiring official, political endorsement. The FMCN will accept a simple notorized contract between the members of the Technical Committee giving us time to bring new members into the organizational bodies of the Program and to decide what kind of formal identity we want and when. We are also designing a managemnt structure that does not have a single coordinator - competition for power and control is a major cause on conflict and failed initiatives. We are also exploring various ways of ensuring transparancy, such as publishing the accounts in a web page - expropriation of funds is a major cause of suspicion and lack of cooperation..

For the next three years the PCERS will focus on three tasks: 1. influencing public policy and promotion with government and the general public; 2. completing the technical evaluation of vetiver grass and promotion of local plants, trees and other natural technologies for soil conservation and restoration; and 3. broadening the dissemination structure (see below - experience) and setting up nurseries and dissemination in areas of special ecological interest identified by the FMCN.



In places where local technical assitance organizations, usually NGOs, have established good, long term working raltionships with local communites and farmers groups, the vetiver takes root fast. In other areas, it has proved relatively easy to establish nurseries with communities, however dissemination in hedgerows is much more complex. The reasons, which vary from place to place, include dependence on government programs for payment to adopt innovations; the communal land tenure system; lack of awareness of soil loss; small farmers suffering depression under the onslaught of the global cultural and market changes taking place which are undermining local traditions and cohesion; realistic and natural caution over new fixes; soil conservation is a long term investment with no immediate returns (which also puts off many funders). Local farmers groups participanting have said that it will take 4 to 5 years to convince their neighbours to adopt vetiver. In addition, we have not designed an effective demonstration package to go with nursery establishment. We are working on this now.

The first phase of the Program concentrated on small farmers and a major effort has not been made to influence government, formal institutions and the commercial sector. The research and government sectors tend to be reluctant to adopt vetiver because initially there is no money to be made and because of the "not-invented-here" syndrome. However, individual researchers in all the major agricultural research organizations in Oaxaca have been some of the most ardent supporters. Ecologists and environmentalists tend not to like the grass because it is introduced (not native) - like wheat, cows and cars.

The PCERS has been set up in such a way that anyone can participate. There is no central control or party line - each organization can use and develop their own ways of disseminating the grass. The members of the Program provide technical advice and collaborate to put on trainings and produce technical information. The Coordination provides exactly this function - coordination of technical advice and assistance between the participants as they want it. It also has the role of promotion.

The dissemination system which has evolved can best be described as a flat pyramid: flat because each member and participant is autonomous, and pyramidical because each year the base broadens as each participant spreads the grass to their neighbours and collaborators. The basic design principles have proved to provide the basis of an effective organizational structure: autonomy of participants (so each can work in the way they know best and no central control or ownership), independence of the Program (it is not the property of one organisation), minimum of bureaucracy (it can survive with a minimum of money), and dissemination by enlaces (liaisons), the only obligation being to pass the grass on to others and tell us what you are doing).

Contrary to the good advice of many, initially the vetiver grass was given free to every organization and individual who wanted it. In three years there are over 50 nurseries in all but one of the 7 regions of Oaxaca and I am beginning to meet people on the street who ask me if I know about vetiver grass. The vetiver grass is now disseminating on its own, however, the Program has an important role to play in speeding up the process and demonstrating the many alternative uses of the grass.