Interview with Lorenzo Rosenzweig, Executive Director of the Mexican Fund for the Conservation of Nature

Interview by Katiana Murillo, Rainforest Alliance

“As a Mexican institution we are more deeply acquainted with the country and its environmental problems than most foreign organizations and donors.”

While many institutions in Mexico are working for the conservation of natural resources, there is a concern for project stability due to a lack of long-term financing. The Mexican Fund for the Conservation of Nature was founded to respond to the need for sustained financial support. The Fund’s mission is to “conserve Mexico’s biodiversity and ensure sustainable use of its natural resources through the promotion of strategic actions and medium and long term financial support.”

We spoke with Lorenzo Rosenzweig, Executive Director, about the role of the Mexican Fund. Rosenzweig, with 15 years experience in the environmental field, has a degree in Biochemical Engineering from the Monterrey Technological Institute and masters degrees in marine biology and food technology from Oregon State University.

Question: What type of organizations and projects does the Mexican Fund prioritize for financing?

Rosenzweig: We have an open program for biodiversity conservation projects within Mexico directed at civil and conservation organizations, research institutes, community and rural groups. The institution has been evolving toward other themes and ways of channeling resources while maintaining the requirement of working with the private sector only; that is to say, we do not disburse funds to the government.

The fund’s first field program was launched in 1996. The second program was a financial sustainability initiative for priority protected areas at the national level that began in January 1998. The third program focused on fire prevention projects with funds from the government of the United States.

Afterward we took on the task of designing and incorporating other environmental funds. One of them, the Fund for Environmental Communication and Education, was incorporated in June 2002. Another, the Mexican Initiative for Apprenticeships in Conservation, is a national institutional strengthening project that works with conservation organizations and organized groups by category…

Q: What conservation areas are you most interested in supporting?

Rosenzweig: We have evolved three thematic courses of action that are the most relevant. First is the conservation and management of hydrographic basins, where conserving a watershed for the generation of water also means conserving the biodiversity contained within. We are also supporting sustainable tourism and community tourism development. Another priority area is fire prevention…

Q: On which geographic regions do you focus?

Rosenzweig: Basically, we cover the whole country, but it could be said that we support protected natural areas and priority regions. When we say priority regions we are referring to the 150 different regions that were defined through workshops and the prioritization work of the National Biodiversity Commission and the national scientific community. We do not restrict ourselves to these areas only, but we favor projects that are carried out in protected natural areas or in priority regions.

Q: Regarding systems of monitoring and control, how do you ensure that the funds are used appropriately?

Rosenzweig: We have two systems: a system of indicators for the protected natural-areas program centered on biological and social variables, and an evaluation program for the other projects. This is a rather sophisticated system in which we try to combine similar indicators in order to draw conclusions at regional levels for a given theme. Like the rest of the world, we are in a learning process since the subject of measurable impact is very new.

In some cases, the indicators are subjective. In other cases, there are direct indicators, but one cannot have good indicators if there are no good baselines. If I am working in reforestation or soil conservation, and I do not have baseline information, it is very difficult to know what impact I am achieving. Or, if I am working with bats, and the population of this animal increases 1,000 percent, one might deduce that the project was successful and had great impact, but at the same time, it might also have coincided with a phenomenon of abundant food or reduced predation, for example.

For this reason, we look at all the indicators with a great deal of caution. But yes, we do try to compel each project to have good primary indicators, baseline information, and to define impact indicators in the proposal.

Q: What do you think has been the fund’s main contribution to the nation?

Rosenzweig: I think that we are a participant in the dialogue between civil society and the government. We also contribute to the strengthening of the protected areas system in perpetuity through the endowment that we acquired for 14 natural areas. On the other hand, we are stimulating many national and international foundations to take an interest in the nation’s environmental reality. As a Mexican institution we are more deeply acquainted with the country and its environmental problems than most foreign organizations and donors…

Q: How do you envision the role of the Mexican Fund for the Conservation of Nature — what will be its main challenges, objectives, and plans?

Rosenzweig: In the first place, we will continue strengthening civil society so that more organizations with capacity to use resources and execute projects exist. We are also contemplating the creation of a regional endowment fund that will attend to local needs. The third important objective is to finish building an endowment of at least US $100 million for the Mexican Fund and the block of environmental funds for Latin America and the Caribbean, and to acquire many more resources for the conservation and sustainable use of resources.

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