Introducing the Environmental Agenda

Leticia Merino, Graciela Martínez & Henry Miller

More than 60 people attended the first in a series of monthly discussions on "Reimagining San Miguel de Allende as a Sustainable Community" based on the Agenda Ambiental 2018, developed by a special multidisciplinary seminar in the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM). The Agenda outlines the most urgent socio-environmental issues facing all of us today.

The event was held at the "Impulso Social Las Cuevitas" Community Center, on the Calzada a la Estación. The panel consisted of three 20-minute presentations, followed by a brief 5-minute discussion among the presenters and questions from the audience. Then the attendees divided into discussion groups.

The speakers were:

  1. Leticia Merino Pérez, coordinator of the Environmental Agenda 2018, prepared by the SUSMAI of the UNAM, initial presentation of the document, about the environmental environment, as the only means of facilitating life, through environmental resources of common use.
  2. Graciela Martínez, one of the founders and the current director of the Center for Agricultural Development (CEDESA) in Dolores Hidalgo, Gto., with close to 50 years of experience in agricultural promotion, education and training, in several municipalities of the state of Guanajuato.
  3. Henry Miller, director of the civil association El Maíz Más Pequeño and coordinator of the project "Watersheds, People, Water y Climate Change” project-- adaptation processes in the Támbula-Picachos sub-basin."

What follows are highlights of the presentations and discussion groups:

Leticia Merino explained how the Environmental Agenda 2018 was developed with the goal of presenting a diagnosis of pressing environmental issues that would be simple, easy to read, and useful in promoting public discussion. The document has, fortunately, been well received in various sectors of society. In addition to the Agenda, they produced a Guide to Good Practices that addresses matters of environmental conservation.

She briefly addressed four of the issues listed in the Environmental Agenda. The first was water and the important changes that have taken place in water management since the enactment of the National Water Law in 1992. This has resulted in the granting of water concessions and measures that favor the companies. Now, communities have to be constituted as civil associations in order to register their historical rights as associations.

  • CONAGUA has concessioned waters in protected areas of the biosphere.
  • Aquifers have been overexploited in many areas.
  • In summary, this policy has generated significant social discontent due to the unequal distribution of water.
  • Regarding water pollution, it is enough to point out that on average only around 20% of gray water is treated, a problen that has been aggravated by the presence of plastics in the water.
  • To correct these imbalances, a new Citizen's Water Law has been proposed in the Senate.

Merino's second topic dealt with agriculture, which was specifically referred to on the major deterioration of soils which is largely due to the excessive increase in agro-industrial plantations, particularly as a result of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which has also led to the ruination of small and medium agricultural producers.

  • This excessive concentration can be seen in the fact that 80% of the food we consume is produced by eight companies, several of them transnational.
  • This concentration contradicts the guidelines of the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) in terms of food sustainability, which advocates the sustainable practices of small and medium producers.
  • We are flooded by imported corn and agro-industrial products, resulting from the unequality between the neighboring countries, particularly with respect to transnational corporations.
  • In this field, Mexico's great effort has been towards large agro-export plantations; let's say the avocado, whose dissemination has led to the disappearance of 30% of the Purepecha plateau in Michoacán.

On forests:

  • 60% of the wood supply comes from illegal sources, among other explanations for the fact that in many cases the production is over-regulated. The market is flooded with wood from Peru, from Chile; places where forest management is not strictly regulated.

Finally regarding mining in Mexico:

  • Traditionally, Mexico has been a mining country, which had recognized a decline in its production, mainly due to the decline of veins and traditional deposits. This situation changed radically with the demand for mining products from emerging economies, which caused an increase in prices. The technology of the pit or open sky in the mines, adopted on a large scale in Mexico, which has allowed the concession of more than 40% of the territory for such purposes.

The document's recommendations include the local purchase of supplies, buying seasonal fruits, buying small and medium producers, and promoting local agriculture as a means of recreating the local culture.

Graciela Martínez discussed the great contribution of CEDESA which has been its work with rural and indigenous communities for more than 45 years. Based in Dolores Hidalgo, Guanajuato, CEDESA's major area of influence has been in several municipalities.

  • The environmental recommendations for San Miguel de Allende, is that a number of considerations need to be based on a complete view of the Cuenca de la Independencia, which covers 7 municipalities: San José Iturbide, San Diego de la Union, San Felipe, Dolores Hidalgo, Doctor Mora and San Miguel de Allende. The San Damián river and several streams flow into the Presa Allende, but also the contaminated water of the drainage of San Miguel de Allende.
  • Throughout the watershed we can see a degraded ecosystem, mainly resulting from the agro-industry, which for 60 years has exploited so much the shallow water as the underground. The effect of the chemicals used in agro-industry has also damaged the territory itself. In many places, desertification can be observed-- even affecting resistant plants such as nopal, maguey, and cactus.
  • We need to remember that traditionally--say 40 years ago, agriculture was not only the basis of the family economy but also the family's source of food.
  • The effects of pollution on health human, can be observed in several communities in cases of dental fluorosis, damaged neuro transmitters, and kidney failure.
  • The great contribution to compensate these imbalances is the community work, the field work with the people, to make proposals together, to work the beekeeping, vegetables, the construction of cisterns for the harvest of rain.
  • Some contributions of CEDESA have been in education and training in organizational processes. Among the current achievements is the Mexican Community Trade Network. Two graduates have been working with the UNAM to study the problems of groundwater.

Henry Miller also stressed the conception of the ecosystem of the watershed. He pointed out that this is a place that captures water, structure and works in three recognizable zones: the upper part, the middle part and the lower part. For it to fullfil its primary role as a provider of natural assets, it highlights its biophysical structure of soil and functions. If we modify the structure, it stops functioning as a means for the reproduction of life, since we are altering the functions of the basin.

  • The Támbula-Picachos sub-basin, where San Miguel de Allende is located, in the Alto Río Laja, has an area of 340 km2, and is the provider of ecosystem services to rural and urban populations. Utilization services such as air, water, farm land; natural resources such as sand, gravel. The extraction of many materials has been so great that the precipitation of the water over the low areas goes much faster.
  • Lack of measures to replace the water, particularly in the high zones. There can be no sustainability if there is no proportion, an equality between the water we drink and the water we inject into the aquifers.
  • When the regulation services are changed, subject to the change of land use, for example, the abandonment of pastures, hills, which cushion the blow of the drops by gravity, or the concrete lining is abused, which accelerates the water runoff.
  • Examples of the floods are those of the Colonia Guadalupe in 1998, due to the overflow of the Cachinches stream, or in Fajardo in July of this year. 5 step strategy:
  1. Increase popular participation, taking from a perspective as a life system, ask ourselves what we do, where we do it, what the territory allows us to do.
  2. Integration of this knowledge, these visions within the subjects of education. Have a prior knowledge of options.
  3. To be able to choose what people want in terms of freedom. Occupy the space where decisions are made. Participate in councils, express themselves in public consultations. Today we should be analyzing a document that will define the future of SMA.
  4. Efficient good practices, for example, soil regeneration, rainwater harvesting, demonstration practices of the Gaia ranch, CEDESA, Via Organic.
  5. Formation of support networks, which encourage better prices, savings. Take advantage of the resources that have been generated in the Center for Education and Training for Sustainable Development (CECADESU) of Semarnat, has much material for the activity of the population in four economic aspects: self-financing communities, increase economic capacity, savings and loans .

Participatory dialogue tables identified the following issues:

  • The monopolization of real estate and the hoarding of a large number of properties in the area and that measures to protect the environmental impact are not being carried out. Among other things as citizens we would need to know what the protected areas are and what how these zones should be developed.
  • The need to establish channels of communication with more young people. How to that they are interested in finding out about the problem and participating.
  • Among the challenges is to advance collaborative work among organizations and to publicize efforts which have been effective. This analysis should includes, of course, the urban area as well as the periphery and the communities.
  • The problem of water pollution, an example being the case of San Luis Rey, which, faced with the cost of buying bottled water, needs to demand water collection systems, collectively.
  • The fundamental problem of industrial agriculture in the depletion of the watershed.
  • Various members of CEDESA, discussed the wide-spread problem of the contamination of potassium erionite, a carcinogenic mineral that usually is found in volcanic ash that has been altered by weathering and ground water, that has affected the population of Tierra Blanca de Abajo in different ways for years.