Interview with Heladio Reyes, agronomist and president, Ecosta Yutu Cuii, Oaxaca, Mexico

Interview by Diane Jukofsky, Rainforest Alliance

Reyes: In the area of Oaxaca where I live, we have seen repercussions from the deterioration of natural resources over the past 40 years, as a result of deforestation by local farmers. About 17 years ago, cotton was introduced, which also caused destruction, as has the cattle industry, although that has been decreasing.

Ecosta Yutu Cuii, which means “green tree” in Mixteco, is an NGO now in its 8th year. We started as a local movement within the community and little by little activists from other communities became involved, so by 1995 you could say we had become a regional project. We are mainly volunteers. I was personally motivated to get involved because I am the son of a farmer who had the opportunity to go to college. When I returned, I became worried about the problems in the area where I live, so little by little I found myself getting more involved, leading this process of change.

Although the role of the volunteers has been fundamental, we also — especially in the last few years — have been able to get funds to pay staff. But the volunteer work has been the heart and soul of the group.

People here have always been inclined to collaborate with us, so our work has not been too difficult. Our activities have always included strong environmental education components. We have workshops, meetings, and have analyzed the cause of local environmental problems. There are people that are involved in production projects, but those activities also have a strong link to the environment, such as cultivating beans and limes organically.

We use three methods to disseminate information about our work: One is through volunteers that have worked closely with us, and when they return to their communities, spread the word. Another has been the communities that have gotten involved because they heard about our work on the radio. The third is when we see a particular problem that we want to address, so we hold community meetings, etc.

We have had many small successes. One of the most encouraging is to see how people have gotten involved and how the organization has been able to generate very concrete alternatives and solutions for people in rural areas.

I have three pieces of advice for those who are working with community groups or any local organization:


  • Set up a mechanism for making decisions that is sufficiently flexible to allow decisions to be made but that isn’t autocratic.
  • It’s important to have transparent administration: How much money there is and how it is being spent, so you don’t create a sea of suspicions.
  • Seek consensus in project planning, because that’s how everyone can get involved.

Our vision for the next ten years is that more people are collaborating with Ecosta Yutu Cuii and are implementing micro-models of integrated organization. For example: Right now, we have colleagues that are participating in a project to conserve a patch of forest on their lands. We also have a family participating in integrated development activities. One of my goals for the next few years is that people are establishing forest reserves and are more involved in conservation, such as wildlife management. Each family should have a range of options and alternatives.

One problem here is that everyone does whatever he can to make a living. There’s no coordination or examples to follow. So another goal is to involve administrative authorities in these activities — not directly in our projects — but they can do the same, and we will encourage them to do so.


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