“I want to see our watershed green, I want to cover the deforested patches. Our message is that a sustainable economy is possible and we are willing to help others to do it,” says Romeo Salinas Ramirez, co-owner of Alternativa Agrícola Suchixtepec, an agribusiness enterprise based in Mexico’s Copalita-Zimatan-Huatulco (CZH) landscape, and one of 13 Community Conservation Enterprises (CCEs) in the region that will benefit from a new three-year program developed by WWF Mexico and IKEA Social Entrepreneurship, with the support of the Nature Pays global initiative
Since joining the family business alongside his father Claudio in 2017, the former WWF volunteer has combined his livelihood with his passion for restoring CZH.
Covering more than 250,000 hectares, the landscape stretches from sea level to an altitude of over 3,500m. It contains a wide range of habitats, from cloud forest through temperate pine and oak forest to tropical dry forest and mangroves, and a huge diversity of species. It’s equally rich in cultural diversity, with much of the forest under the control of indigenous communities from the Zapotec and pre-Mayan Chontal civilizations.
But in recent decades, forests have been cleared to make way for agriculture - logged unsustainably and often illegally. Together with the impact of climate change, this loss has caused a decline in the quality and quantity of water and the erosion of soil, undermining the livelihoods of local communities.
After taking part in training on agroecology and water use, organised by WWF-Mexico, Romeo was inspired to apply the lessons he learned to his father’s farm. Alternativa Agrícola Suchixtepec, which had long specialised in growing saplings for reforestation efforts, has since become a hub of innovation in the region. Using a circular economy model with zero waste, Romeo and his father have expanded into crop diversification, sustainable farming, and the development of techniques to support organic fertilisers and other agroecological innovations - all practices which reduce pressure on the forest.
Support from WWF has enabled the father and son team to expand their tree nursery, which produces native seedlings from seeds collected in the forest. One of ten nurseries across CHZ being supported in a WWF-facilitated partnership with French cosmetics company Caudalie, the nursery has contributed to the reforestation of 2,625 hectares, helping to secure vital water supplies. Around their village of San Miguel Suchixtepec, reforestation of 187 hectares has secured 14 water sources which supply 2,500 people.
Alternativa Agrícola Suchixtepec is also playing a decisive role as a sustainable model for other farmers that can be scaled-up and replicated in the region - work that will be scaled up even further as part of the partnership with IKEA Social Entrepreneurship.
“We show other people that we can work in an integrated way, supporting soil conservation. We do terrace agriculture to avoid erosion of our soil, we generate our own fertilizers, we harvest rainwater and recycle the water we use. We don't have to go out and buy things, we have everything within,” says Romeo.
Seeing the benefits of adopting these practices, others have followed suit. In San Miguel Suchixtepec, farmers now use 64% less water for irrigation. By applying fertilizer and water more efficiently, farmers growing corn have reduced their costs by a third, while increasing yields by the same proportion. Similarly, avocado farmers have reduced the cost of establishing the trees by 59% compared to conventional production.
The partnership with IKEA Social Entrepreneurship
will see the 13 CCEs - six of which are staffed exclusively by women - receive support to help consolidate and strengthen their businesses, with assistance provided on commercialisation, product design, market access, and the development of business cases. The partnership will also seek to support governance and decision-making structures to ensure that women and youth play more prominent roles.