The World Bank/WBIs CBNRM Initiative

Case Received: January 21, 1998

Authors: Concepción Luján Alvarez, Joel Diemer, M. Lois Stanford, John Mexal



Case identification

The study was made in 1997 and involved two forest communities in the Sierra Tarahumara: Basihuare (subject community) and Cusárare (control) located in the municipality of Guachochi in the State of Chihuahua, Mexico. These two communities have similar socioeconomic profiles and a similar ethnic make-up, the population of Basihuare being 80% indigenous and 20% mestizo while that of Cusárare is 85% indigenous and 15% mestizo. Economic activity in both communities is based mainly on utilization of their forest resources for wood production. The forested area in Basihuare is 33,965 hectares and that in Cusárare 33,373 ha. The land ownership system in the two communities is the "ejido". An ejido is an area of land received by rural people from the federal government. The people ("ejidatarios") have equal rights to the land and harvest the woods on a common basis. The forest resources are the main renewable natural resource considered in this study.

The objectives of the study were: (1) to assess the present management of the forest resources in the two communities; (2) to conduct a Search Conference (SC) (participatory strategic planning methodology) to find out more about the development needs, encourage a positive change of attitude among the residents and design a strategic action plan for the community's future development; and (3) to assess the attitudinal impact and change in perceptions caused by the application of the SC among the people of Basihuare regarding the development of the community and comparing it with Cusárare as control community.

The writers of the report were involved in this study through the "State Coordinating Office for Tarahumara", which is a Chihuahua State Government institution. This office considered it necessary to perform this type of research in the state, and chiefly in the Sierra Tarahumara region, since that was where the indigenous groups known as "Tarahumaras" lived and the indigenous communities in the region were at a very low level of socioeconomic development and ecological awareness.

Initial situation

The main problem identified in the two communities (before the SC in Basihuare) by means of ethnographic interviews with key informants from the communities themselves were: (a) the two communities have no plans for reforestation in the future; (b) the indigenous and mestizo people have no active participation in the design and implementation of their forest resource management plans; (c) the forest resources are being overexploited by business interests outside the communities; (d) there is corruption in the administration of the forestry undertakings and in the industrial processing of the wood; (e) high costs are entailed by the payments for technical services to private consultants who make the forest studies on which the forest management plans are based; (f) funds are lacking for investment in machinery, equipment, reforestation plans, and protection against and control of forest fires; and (g) there is a lack of planning for the future development of the resources, since the two communities have traditionally not participated in the design and implementation of the action plans for the sustainable management of the forest resources over the long term which could bring greater benefits for the communities (finding after a pre-evaluation: attitudes and perceptions questionnaire).

If these problems are not taken care of, it is to be expected that the communities will not have the opportunity to design and put into practice strategic actions plans of their own aimed at achieving sustainable development in the future. The people living in the communities will not gain any commitment and responsibility for the development of their community and sustainable management of its resources, because they would not have the opportunity to participate collectively in decisionmaking and thereby adopt and maintain an active-adaptive relationship between the community and its environment. Moreover, their forest resources would be completely destroyed and they would be left with a forest ecosystem in a situation of complete disequilibrium affecting the other associated resources and their own socioeconomic circumstances.

The process of change

The need for full and active participation by the people living in the communities in the decisionmaking process for defining their own desirable and attainable future and fostering better development of their communities was also a factor behind the conducting of a Search Conference (SC) in the community of Basihuare. The SC was used to identify the desirable and attainable future of the residents of the community and also to model a structure that would lead to participatory democratic behaviors.

The key players in the process of change are the people who live in and make up the community, since they state that they have not really participated in the planning of their future development because they only consider their very short-term needs and do not think about their long-term future. As a result there is no long-term goal for the development of the community because the people traditionally live solely for the present.

The outcome

Since it was in the community of Basihuare that the SC was carried out while Cusárare was only a control, comparisons were made in the two communities before and after the SC in Basihuare. According to the statistical analysis made, the SC produced significant positive changes in the attitudes and perceptions of the Basihuare people with respect to the quest for sustainable development, while such changes were not noted in Cusárare. In addition, as a result of the SC in Basihuare the participants designed a strategic action plan for the community's future development. The priority established in the strategic goals (six in all) was based on the need to create jobs for the people of the community and, consequently, to improve their socioeconomic circumstances and protect and restore their forest resources, which are currently seriously deteriorated.

The community considered this action to be an important strategy that would benefit the community. The people agreed to participate in different activities aimed at accomplishing the objectives of the strategic action plan thus generated. Subsequently, the participants in the SC defined technical support needs for achieving each strategic goal in order to enable them to implement themselves in the future the strategic goals defined. They will seek this support from external institutions which are prepared to work with the community.

The impact expected from this positive change in attitudes and perceptions of the people of the community regarding working for sustainable development in the future is that if the community has the resources necessary for implementing the strategic action plan, it will be able to obtain jobs and higher incomes for its people, while they will at the same time improve their socioeconomic circumstances and the community will be able to protect and restore its forest resources together with the associated resources such as water, soil and wildlife among others, and at the same time prevent environmental pollution. Consequently, these actions will reinforce the efforts to achieve a sustainable forest community, since they would be protecting and restoring their forest resources and, at the same time, the community would be working with other associated resources of the forest ecosystem without destroying the forest. This situation will benefit the community by improving its socioeconomic circumstances, upgrading its resources and bettering its environment.

Lessons learned

The SC was effective in promoting favorable changes in attitudes and perceptions of the people (indigenous and mestizo) of Basihuare concerning participation and designing of strategic action plans for development of the community, something which did not come about in the community of Cusárare. The results also indicate that the participation and active involvement of the local residents increased the level of motivation and interest of the people of Basihuare for the future development of the community This behavior is very important since the local residents, both indigenous and mestizo, who will live with the development initiatives, must participate fully in the decisionmaking process concerning the quest for their welfare, while at the same time they will be able to maintain a commitment and sense of responsibility about the furtherance of the community's plans. The residents of the community are also the ones who know their lives best and how things have been for the community in the past and how they are at present, so they also have a better understanding of its problems. Finally, a long-term evaluation is considered necessary in order to validate the sustainable effects of the process carried out.

The lessons learned in this study can serve as a model for application of the SC methodology (based on the open system theory) in development of sustainable forest communities in the Suerra Tarahumara, and also in the other regions of Mexico and elsewhere, since the SC has demonstrated its effectiveness for inducing involvement, active participation and a major change resulting in positive attitudes on the part of the residents of the communities toward designing their desirable and attainable future with a view to the sustainable development of the communities.