Through an alliance between local communities and government, Mexico’s Sierra Gorda Biosphere Reserve has become a model for biodiversity protection and sustainable development.
Focus: Biodiversity, Environment, Rural Poverty
Geographic Area of Impact: Mexico
Model: Leveraged Non-Profit
Number of Direct Beneficiaries: 41,291 (2009)
Annual Budget: US$ 3,048,377 (2008)
Percentage Earned Revenue: 7.56%
Recognition: Social Entrepreneur of the Year, Mexico, 2001
Comprising 3,835 km2 (32%) of the north-eastern Mexican state of Queretaro, the Sierra Gorda Biosphere Reserve is home to old-growth forests and a diverse range of animal species, including jaguars. Sierra Gorda is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, created by presidential decree in 1997. It is the largest natural protected area in Mexico and is currently managed by the Comisión Nacional de Áreas Naturales Protegidas (CONANP) in cooperation with Grupo Ecológico Sierra Gorda. For more than two decades an alliance of community organizations under Grupo Ecológico Sierra Gorda has carried out award-winning actions in the reserve in environmental education, solid waste management, conservation and economic development. According to a recent survey, 86.2% of 40,000 inhabitants reported that their quality of life has improved thanks to the reserve, and 13,000 hectares of previously deforested land have been recovered as a result. The region’s comprehensive social strategy has become a model in biodiversity protection and sustainable development in Mexico.
Innovation and Activities
The Sierra Gorda Ecological Group was established to reverse environmental degradation and encourage sustainable use of the region's rich natural resources. Local inhabitants are directly involved in conservation and economic activities within Sierra Gorda, which includes commercial tree planting (5 million trees have been planted), soil regeneration, protection of springs and micro-watersheds, sustainable ranching and farming, and ecotourism. A project in the reserve also promotes compensation and payment to local forest owners for environmental services, including initiating carbon offset sales under a voluntary mechanism.
Through Grupo Ecológico Sierra Gorda a number of conservation and social networks have been formed, which includes local teachers, parents, students and the wider Sierra Gorda community. Together they take part in community surveillance groups, voluntary fire fighting brigades and run 120 recycling storage centres. Grupo Ecológico Sierra Gorda’s public education campaign teaches 23,000 children a year about conservation and local development.
In addition, Grupo Ecológico Sierra Gorda’s Earth Centre offers a variety of training programmes and shares its experience in natural resource management. Through the centre the organization promotes the replication of successful projects elsewhere in Mexico and Latin America.
Twenty-seven years ago Martha Ruíz Corzo sought a simpler way of life and moved with her husband and two sons from the city where she taught music, to a rural community in the Sierra Gorda Mountains. In 1997 she was appointed federal director of the Sierra Gorda Reserve, and for the past 22 years has worked to protect this unique area of the world. The result has been the creation of a grassroots environmental movement that has transformed natural resource management practices of the local population and re-oriented public investment from government authorities. Ruíz Corzo is the recipient of numerous conservation awards, including an Ashoka Fellowship and the 2002 Rolex Enterprise Prize.
Martha (Pati) Ruiz Corzo