Conservation and Society

: 2014  |  Volume : 12  |  Issue : 3  |  Page : 233--244

From Community Conservation to the Lone (Forest) Ranger: Accumulation by Conservation in a Mexican Forest

Molly Doane 
 University of Illinois at Chicago, Chicago, IL, USA

Correspondence Address:
Molly Doane
University of Illinois at Chicago, Chicago, IL


This paper explores the paradigm shift from 1990s models of community conservation that encoded environmentalist praxis within legal and cadastral frameworks, to recent attempts to encode environmentalist principles and goals within individual practice. Using the case of Chimalapas, Mexico, I look at how community-based conservation was abandoned after being deemed «SQ»too political«SQ» to implement, and how new models of conservation not dependent on community consent emerged. Environmental services models of conservation pay individuals for forest ranger services, for reforestation, and for access to waterways and for water use. These models commodify land and labor in new ways, and join carbon markets as an important new avenue for what I call «DQ»accumulation by conservation.«DQ» They also institutionalise conservation practices designed for private property regimes, despite the fact that the world«SQ»s well-preserved forests are located principally on indigenous, communally-organised territories.

How to cite this article:
Doane M. From Community Conservation to the Lone (Forest) Ranger: Accumulation by Conservation in a Mexican Forest.Conservat Soc 2014;12:233-244

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Doane M. From Community Conservation to the Lone (Forest) Ranger: Accumulation by Conservation in a Mexican Forest. Conservat Soc [serial online] 2014 [cited 2019 Dec 10 ];12:233-244
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The problem of environmental services

At a 2009 meeting of the Specialty Coffee Association of America, held in a concrete bunker of a conference centre flanked by an eight lane highway with its snaky ramps and overpasses-a truly dystopian setting-a representative from Conservation International presented a paper on the environmental impact of coffee farms. His presentation showed photographs of highly mechanised industrial farms along with charts and graphs to demonstrate that agriculture is one of the principal generators of the greenhouse gases carbon dioxide and methane. He asserted that globally emissions from fires caused by shifting agriculture contributed significantly to greenhouse gases, and that for this reason unmechanised small-holding farmers were as culpable as the agro-industrial sector for environmental problems. The possible exception to this were small-holding coffee producers who, if they followed sustainable practices such as shade production, might be able to neutralise their carbon footprint. With carbon-absorbent shade trees they might even earn carbon credits that polluting industries could buy to offset their own emissions, or qualify for government programs that pay small farmers for environmental services.

Payment for ecosystem services (PES) is a localised and individualised way to achieve environmental conservation by paying people who live in ecologically sensitive or valuable areas for their stewardship. Because global environmental assets and impoverished communities tend to converge, PES programs are also central to development models, and are promoted by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and within the Millennium Development Goals. They are generally represented as win-win programs that benefit communities and the environment. In most cases, they are managed by states and agencies rather than markets or commodity exchanges, and operate more like transfer payments or subsidies than commodity markets (Corbera and Brown 2008). In Chimalapas, the case I discuss below, some communities participate in the Payment for Hydrological Services Program (PSAH). This program is managed by the Comisión Nacional Forestal (CONAFOR; National Forestry Commission), and is funded by a federal water fee levied on users to be paid out to communities that perform watershed management and/or provide water from a local source (Rico et al. 2011). Individuals might be employed by CONAFOR to perform reforestation services, or as rangers to monitor and report environmental violations. PES programs are the latest attempt to integrate Chimalapas into a formal conservation program. As I will show, earlier attempts to institute conservation there failed. The adoption of PES programs represents what appears to be an inexorable move toward market-based conservation. I argue that institutionalised conservation-embedded as it is in a dominant market cultural system-operates as a system of accumulation. Accumulation by conservation is a form of symbolic accumulation that adds value to our market-based cultural, political, and economic system, by asserting that it is a source of, or force for, ecological sustainability. Like the forms of accumulation described by Luxemburg (1951 (1913), accumulation by conservation appropriates non-capitalist or peasant conservation achievements-namely the intact forests on communal landholdings-rebranding these areas for conservation agencies and potentially annihilating the alternative land management practices that gave rise to conservation in the first place.

Rico et al. (2011) point to the continuities between earlier development models and newer PES programs. Like the integrated conservation and development programs (ICDPs) that dominated conservation in the early 1990s and the community-based conservation (CBC) programs of the late 1990s, environmental service models attempt to integrate economic development incentives into models for environmental sustainability (Walley 2004; Brosius et al. 2005; Haenn 2005; West 2006). At this point, PES programs in Mexico are largely government programs that provide small subsidies for activities that were carried out under different rubrics previously-such a reforestation, watershed management, and soil conservation-and are designed so that they can be implemented on the many forested communities that still retain communal status (Corbera and Brown 2008; Rico et al. 2011; Kelley 2011). The emerging system of market-based conservation incentives builds on ICDPs, which attempted to provide development-based economic incentives as carrots to engage communities in conservation practice by promising, for example, tourism revenues in exchange for accepting conservation regimes. ICDPs have been criticised by conservationists for their ineffectiveness in achieving conservation goals. For example, in the edited volume Parks in peril (Brandon et al. 1998), lack of community commitment to conservation, political complications to implementation at the community level, and agrarian conflicts that clouded land tenure arrangements and park boundaries were all cited as major "barriers" to conservation.

In contrast, work in anthropology and related fields questioned the very premises of ICDPs. These scholars have pointed out the coincidence of well-conserved lands, indigenous communities, and traditional or common regimes (Nigh and Rodriguez 1995), arguing that whether for cultural or structural reasons, indigenous communities have guaranteed the survival of forest lands. In light of this, it has been argued that conservation is a form of enclosure or land-grab, that conservation "appropriates" lands that are well preserved rather than actually preserving them, and that conservation actually introduces development projects that threaten to displace relatively benign traditional practices, including sustainable swidden agriculture (Chapin 2004; Brockington and Igoe 2006; West 2006; Dowie 2009; Doane 2012; Grandia 2012).

The coincidence of well-conserved forests with communally managed indigenous territories has not resulted in conservation models that reward communal management models. On the contrary, conservation has worked to dislodge this very model of governance. The heavy burden that conservation has placed on indigenous people is the central problematic of Grandia's (2012) book Enclosed: conservation, cattle, and commerce among the Q'eqchi Maya lowlanders. Citing Dowie (2009), she notes that the vast majority (80%) of protected lands worldwide were once occupied by indigenous groups, and as many as 14 million indigenous people have been displaced by protected areas. In light of growing critiques of both the equity and effectiveness of conservation, and growing local resistance to the creation of parks, in the mid-1990s, establishment conservation funders briefly turned to a model of conservation that was intended to be more consensual and democratic than traditional ICDPs. Under the new model of CBC, park creation was still funded and overseen by established conservation organisations such as the WWF, but it relied on local non-governmental organisations (NGOs) to broker the community-conservationist relationship, to generate consent for conservation, and to establish projects that were meaningful to local populations.

In this paper, I trace the development of environmental services programs in Chimalapas, a forest region located in Oaxaca, Mexico. I will show how PES developed in Chimalapas out of the "failure" of community-based conservation there and in the context of neo-liberalism, and the social movements opposed to it. In Chimalapas, a CBC project emerged that adopted a program of "productive autonomy" that echoed the Zapatista movement in nearby Chiapas. Using the community conservation model, NGOs and community leaders attempted to create a strong regional identity linked to a political program rooted in autonomy politics. However, the adoption of the productive autonomy program, as well as Zapatista rhetoric, was interpreted by local state agencies as a threat to their authority, and they became hostile to the conservation agenda. Therefore, in order to be able to operate effectively, conservation agencies had to abandon their commitment to community conservation, sever their ties to the activist NGO trying to implement it, and forge a stronger relationship with the state.

In contrast, an environmental services model of conservation obviated the need to organise communities to generate regional consensus for conservation initiatives. This was because it required the cooperation only of individual settlements rather than entire municipios or counties. Instead, it was managed directly by state and federal agencies, and it generated consent by the extension of patronage through employment of forest rangers by a federal agency. The payment for environmental services model of conservation fits into a broader political model generally referred to as neoliberalism-a decentralised market state-where authority is increasingly invested in decentralised agencies and within mechanisms of the market (Igoe and Brockington 2007). In this model, which I call "decentralized authoritarianism" (Doane 2012), the market is the ultimate rational actor, and conservation is a robust and growing strategy of accumulation. In the next section, I argue that the PES model fits into a neoliberal conservation strategy in which market freedom is stripped bare of any corollary democratic implications.

Decentralised authoritarianism: neoliberalism, markets, and the environment

In Mexico, the eighties were marked by the loosening of state control over many aspects of social life. Previously peasants and workers had been organised into unions controlled and sanctioned by the Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI; Party of the Institutionalised Revolution), which had ruled Mexico since 1934. By the 1980s, however, a plethora of independent unions and NGOs flourished (Harvey 1993, 1998; Fox1994). By the 1990s, the PRI itself was being seriously challenged by the new parties, the Partido de Acción Nacional (PAN; National Action Party) and the Partido de Revolución Democrática (PRD; Revolutionary Democratic Party), constituted by the former right and left wings, respectively, of the PRI.

In some social science literature, these developments were interpreted as a sign of a democratic opening precipitated by the death of centralised authoritarianism (Harvey 1993; Fox1994), a perspective clearly influenced by world events such as the fall of the Berlin Wall in November 1989. Much literature coming out of political science in the 1990s heralded a worldwide democratic opening broadly associated with the fall of the Soviet Union and the socialist ideology. This democratic opening was generally associated with "civil society," following Vaclav Havel's (1978) conception of the term as the arena of true democracy opposed to the totalitarian (Soviet) state (Hearn 2001; Doane 2001; Havel 2009). At the same time, scholars who were exploring economic development in Latin America were celebrating upward trends in the economies of Southern Cone economies like Chile, Brazil, and Argentina. The gross national product growth in these countries had been associated, in the mainstream press, with the demise of authoritarianism after decades of brutal dictatorship. In the 1990s, the idea that freedom was on the upswing and that capitalist markets and democracy traveled together was hegemonic.

Scholars critical of this particular version of social progression, myself among them, refer to the political-economic period beginning roughly in the late 1970s as "neoliberalism," implying a return to an earlier liberal economic philosophy. Harvey (2006) defines the neoliberal era as a regime of accumulation characterised by "dispossession," in which new wealth is acquired not through production (as in Fordism) but through redistribution of social wealth-such as that invested in infrastructure-to individuals. The sale and privatisation of public assets are a main way to accomplish this, effectively transferring wealth potentially available to the bottom economic tiers to private interests at the top. In discussing how capitalism generates profit through the privatisation of non-market goods (e.g. public pensions), Harvey (2006) draws from Luxemburg's (1913) pioneering work The accumulation of capital. Luxemburg (1951: 416) argued that capitalist accumulation was dependent upon the continuous disintegration and assimilation of non-capitalist organisations: "Historically, the accumulation of capital is a kind of metabolism between capitalist economy and those pre-capitalist methods without which it cannot go on and which, in this light, it corrodes and assimilates". Luxemburg's formulation has been particularly inspiring and relevant to scholars working on the "agrarian question" in Latin America (e.g. De Janvry 1981; Barta 1985; Fitting 2010). Nash (1994) in particular has used Luxemburg's (1913) work as a frame for viewing the commodification of family labour and of indigenous communal lands and resources.

At the political level, accumulation through dispossession can only be accomplished with a compatible program of deregulation for industries and markets. Sassen (2006) looks at governance systems as constellations of rules organising territory, establishing (state) authority, and setting the limits of individual rights and benefits. She argues that in the past few decades, authority has gradually shifted from the public and legislative arena to the executive branch, and that private organisations and markets have taken on more regulatory authority as nation-states forgo these activities. Far from dismantling authoritarianism, neoliberalism has coincided with the increase in militarisation of everyday life, the codification and monitoring of local governance, and the extension of executive power into previously neglected regions.

These political and economic trends find their precise parallels in nature, where common and traditional lands and territory-including forests, rivers, and shoreline-become "neoliberal environments" subject to neoliberal forms of territorialisation and governance (Igoe and Brockington 2007; Büscher et al. 2012; Macip and Valencia 2012). At the heart of the neoliberal environment is the marriage of conservation to markets in such a way that conserved land and resources become fungible commodities. Because so many well-preserved environments around the world are traditional lands or common lands that cannot be commodified on the market, neoliberal conservation requires enclosure-the privatisation of public lands or goods. This may be accomplished by means of new territorial designations, such as national parks, or biosphere reserves, designed and governed in partnership with international conservation organisations (Brockington and Igoe 2006; West 2006; West et al. 2006; Nevins and Peluso 2008; Grandia 2012), or through private/public partnerships with business investors (Büscher and Dressler 2007). In their incarnation as parks or reserves, common lands became sites of dispossession as resident peoples are forced out of core conservation zones or as traditional land uses or the use of common resources is restricted or denied (Grandia 2012). They become new sources for accumulation directly through touristic development (West et al. 2006), indirectly as carbon sinks or forest reserves (Peluso 1996), or as a form of symbolic value for states, corporations, and organisations desirous of adding to their green portfolios (e.g. Conklin and Graham 1995; Doane 2005, 2007, 2012).

Smith (2008), in his classic work, Uneven development: nature, capital and the production of space, argues that if capitalism results in the widespread industrialisation and urbanisation of the countryside, it also gives rise to the reverence for unspoiled nature that characterises the "bourgeois ideology of nature." Under capitalism, the urban, industrialised landscape that is the backbone of our civilisation has as its cherished mirror opposite the pristine and unpeopled wilderness. If, under feudalism, the countryside was peopled, and the contrast between countryside and town was less stark, under capitalism the countryside is pristine and conceptualised as the polar opposite to the city. But nature only functions this way-as a respite-in its conquered and dominated form (free of indigenes and rattlesnakes as it were), at which point it becomes something that can be saved, protected, and enjoyed. Moreover, just as capitalist production rests on commodity fetishism-masking the real conditions and social relations of production required to produce profit-the production of nature as a leisure time commodity (e.g. as a weekend retreat or hike in the woods) requires a parallel ideology in which natural landscapes are unpeopled and unproductive.

Neoliberal environments, then, are transformed from productive rural spaces of work (Dupuis and Vandergeest 1996; White 1996) and revalued as global ecological assets (Doane 2012; Heatherington 2010). They are newly produced as unpeopled, as "offsets" for the urban infrastructure, and as remnants of a nature understood as separate and external to us. This vision of nature may seem commonsensical, "natural," or as Neil Smith (2008) would say "universal." However, it is truly a form specific to the dominant market culture. The universal models of nature conservation that have given rise to national parks-ICDPs, CBCs, and most recently markets in environmental services-reflect "bourgeois ideologies of nature", that is, models derived from practices and beliefs specific to the culture of capitalism. Heatherington (2010) refers to the imaginative and mythological engagement with nature-one often removed from its realities and to rural peoples-as the global ecological "dreamtime." Rather than rethink the terms of our own engagements with nature in our urbanised and industrialised spaces, we accelerate the logic of the nature/culture binary. Despite the documented failure of neoliberal conservation-from parks to carbon markets-to effect conservation, we continue to operate as though "capitalist markets are the answer to their own ecological contradictions" (Büscher 2012: 29).


The bulk of this article draws from my research in Chimalapas, a forest region in Oaxaca, Mexico. I carried out ethnographic fieldwork in Oaxaca for sixteen months between October 1996 and December 1997, and then returned for follow-up research for two months in July and August 2000 and August in 2005; I have kept up to date of local developments since that time. Fieldwork consisted of participant observation at NGO, community, and government events relevant to the founding of a campesino ecological reserve in Chimalapas. I made trips to various communities in Chimalapas as they carried out land-use mapping and planning projects, and supplemented participant observation with interviews with participants in the project (community leaders, NGO workers, government workers, and employees of environmental agencies and funder agencies). In addition, I carried out extensive archival research that included contemporary reports and articles as well older accounts of the region for a deeper historical context. I also draw on my current project concerning the markets in fair trade coffee. My field site is Tenejapa, Chiapas, where I have worked with coffee farmers since 2005. At the same time, I have carried out research on the consumer end of the fair trade market, including the coffee trade conference discussed above.


Chimalapas is among the well-preserved forests in Latin America administered as Indian lands (Nigh and Rodriguez 1995) or communal property. Chimalapas covers 5100 sq. km of the larger Uxpanapa-Chimalapa region, its granite hills a northwestern extension of the Sierra Madre of Chiapas. Strong southerly winds moving from the Gulf of Mexico combine with the warm temperatures and moderate altitudes to produce the rainforest ecology. Chimalapas harbors a full range of forest vegetation, including evergreen, semi-evergreen, and semi-deciduous tropical forests; montane rainforests (cloud forests); and pine and pine-oak forests; and is home to endemic species of flora, such as orchids, and endangered fauna, such as jaguars, tapirs, possibly the extremely rare quetzal bird, and spider monkeys. Two major river systems, the Grijalva and Coatzacoalcos, originate in northeastern Chimalapas (Wendt 1993).

In colonial times, densely forested, mountainous areas unsuitable for agriculture were considered wastelands and as such were reserved for the establishment of Indian communities. As Wolf (1959) argued, the isolation and remoteness of these "Indian republics" were also a source of autonomy and cultural strength. Campesinos living on communal lands have subsequently resisted all attempts by the state to retract this relative privilege. They resisted the nineteenth century liberalisation policies that privatised some of these commonly held lands, logging operations licensed by the federal government that took a toll in the mid twentieth century, and the indemnification of communal lands for modernising projects such as roads, dams, and cattle ranches (Piñon-Jiménez 1988; Segura 1988; Bray 1995).

Environmentalists began paying attention to the area after a spectacular campesino uprising in the late 1970s, when indigenous communities dependent on forest products began to rebel against large-scale timber firms and to form community logging operations. A large corporate timber firm with political ties had begun logging in Chimalapas in the 1950s, encroaching from the border with Chiapas. To appropriate the land, the firm applied for small property allotments under the individual names of its workers, and established some new ejidos in their names. The company then logged on these allotments, making it look like deforestation was the work of individual campesinos who had happened to migrate into the area. In 1977, the workers went on strikes after the company refused to grant them land for milpas (gardens). Community members from Chimalapas, seeing an opportunity to destabilise the timber company, joined the striking workers, and together they seized and burned the company equipment. The timber company ceased operations and left the area.

Subsequently, the municipal authorities of Santa María Chimalapa granted the strikers official community status, and they formed several legal communities. New trouble erupted in 1985 when campesinos from Santa María Chimalapa kidnapped the brother of the governor of Chiapas, imprisoning him in the town hall. His family had financial interests in the timber firm implicated in the events mentioned above and was now accused of appropriating and burning forest land in Chimalapas to graze cattle (del Carpio Penagos 2004). The efficient practices of large scale timber and cattle operations were a threat to communal lands-a source of timber, wildlife, and rotational swidden plots for the community. The interests of affected communities converged with those of activists critical of the ecologically devastating development practices that prevailed in the 1970s, when Mexico and other Latin American countries pursued deforestation in the name of agricultural expansion and nation-building (Bray 1995), and continued it in the name of economic development.

In the mid-1980s, plans for major transportation and hydrological projects that would have affected the area further sparked the interest of the ecological NGO community. An alliance of NGOs-the Pact of Ecological Groups-began to lobby for a ban on development in Chimalapas. Two major environmental projects subsequently emerged out of this convergence-the Vocalía (The Council) and the campesino ecological reserve.

The Vocalía: integrated conservation and development program

The first project that emerged-the Vocalía (the council)-was funded by the MacArthur Foundation's Man and Biosphere Program beginning in 1989 and was essentially an ICDP. It generated a conservation management plan for the area, and proposed a series of local development projects (e.g. sawmills) to be undertaken with the support of various government development agencies, intended to spur economic development and generate consent for the project. It failed in 1990 as a result of political machinations by a local political leader and perhaps a lack of broad community support. The director of the Vocalía, Gustavo Esteva, had several years earlier been recruited by the state governor to facilitate during a difficult community event-the impeachment of a local leader accused of corruption. This earlier involvement in the region came back to bite him when that same deposed leader orchestrated a smear campaign against Esteva, accusing him of trying to "impose" an unwanted federal biosphere reserve on the community, and-more seriously for the fate of the project-of incompetence and mismanagement of funds. The MacArthur Foundation rescinded its funding in light of the controversy. The quick demise of the Vocalía may have been a fluke of circumstances, but its failure was used by the project that followed to highlight the political sensitivity of conservation projects, and to suggest that such projects required deep social and political knowledge as well as extensive groundwork.

Maderas del Pueblo: community-based conservation

The second project that emerged-the campesino ecological reserve-was the project of a Mexican NGO called Maderas del Pueblo (Woods for the People) that had also coalesced out of the earlier Pact of Ecological Groups. Between 1991 and 2000 it made a serious and sustained efforts to integrate local demands into a conservation program that would nevertheless be legible to its financial sponsors. In 1991, Maderas del Pueblo won its first major grant to establish a campesino ecological reserve in Chimalapas. In the initial proposal, Maderas del Pueblo laid out a thorough and convincing political-ecological argument for a campesino ecological reserve. In anthropology, political ecology refers to an analytical approach to the environment linked to political economy, a perspective that relates environmental degradation to the capitalist development of space (Downing et al. 1992; Peet and Watts 1996). From this approach, capital intensive development of oil, timber, and infrastructure appear as significant and efficient degraders linked to a reduction in forest cover that leads to pressure on land.

The Maderas del Pueblo proposal pointed out that the areas of highest conservation in Chimalapas, excluding the two head towns or cabeceras themselves, were located in areas controlled only by community members. They argued that the main threat to the forest was the illegal incursion of state-subsidised cattle ranchers, illegal communities tacitly formed by the government of Chiapas to hold their overflowing campesino population, and the state sanctioned creation of fruit plantations and cattle ranches on lands once belonging to Chimalapas. Maderas del Pueblo relied on archival documents, copies of official complaints, and scholarly works to support their arguments. According to one of the founding members of Maderas del Pueblo, the organisation had gained credibility as a proper representative of Chimalapas when three of the founders walked on foot from village to village interviewing campesinos and staying with them in their houses. Partly on the basis of their credibilty within the community, the WWF extended a five year grant (1991-1996) to Maderas del Pueblo for the establishment of a campesino ecological reserve in Chimalapas. In turn, the WWF received funding from the USAID through its Biodiversity Support Program. Maderas del Pueblo also won a small grant from the Rockefeller Foundation for organic agriculture projects in Chimalapas. In 1995, they received another major grant (1995-2000) to support "social development" from the WWF, this time via the UK Overseas Development Agency (now the Department for International Development; DFID).

As a CBC project, the campesino ecological reserve represented the new shape that environmental projects took in the mid-1990s. It was selected to be funded by the WWF because its proposal made a compelling case for the integration of the NGO with the community, enhancing its ability to work with, and through, the community, to generate consent, and to accurately represent the community will. Maderas del Pueblo employed a large campesino staff, including members of the generally intractable local ruling elite, and made the pursuit of local agrarian claims its primary aim, arguing that conservation would not be possible without the enforcement of communal land claims. Its emergence coincided with a paradigm shift in environmental development from ICDPs to CBCs, and reflected the dominant neoliberal vision of decentralised democracy. In this vision, private NGOs reflecting local community values would replace government agencies-devolving (authoritarian) state rule to (democratic) civil society. In other words, the one-size fits all state would be replaced by flexible, individual organisations that respond to local needs.

In the case of CBC in Chimalapas, NGO personnel attempted to use the potential of democratic decentralisation to implement an ecological reserve designed and managed by community members-a "campesino ecological reserve." There was no exisitng model in Mexico for such a rubric. Maderas del Pueblo rejected the "sawmills" that were the hallmarks of ICDPs and that relied on the "first-world" common-sense of entrepreuneurial development detonated by capital investment. Instead, Maderas del Pueblo followed a four-pronged strategy: 1) to strengthen local livelihoods by encouraging a program of productive autonomy; 2) to create and encode environmental land-use and planning in local land-use plans created and registered by the communities; 3) to institutionalise a campesino ecological reserve within local traditional statutes written and approved by the communities; and 4) to advocate on behalf of the territorial rights of the residents of Chimalapas. This last point is beyond the scope of this article, but which I have discussed extensively elsewhere (Doane 2007, 2012). The first three strategies reflected the changing tools available to activists as a result of the decentralising forces of the neoliberal "democratic" opening, a political context I discuss in more detail in the following sections.

Productive autonomy

The NGO invoked the nearby revolution of the Zapatistas and their politics of autonomy to describe their own CBC project based on productive autonomy and a community alliance against corporate/governmental oligarchy. Productive autonomy calls for sustainable agricultural systems, a reduction in agricultural expenditures to avoid debt and chemicals, and the maintenance of indigenous political-economic autonomy. Autonomy is also one of the principles of the organic coffee movement that emerged after the deregulation of that global commodity in the late 1980s. Beginning in the 1970s, coffee, already a major plantation crop, was introduced to small holding peasants in Mexico. Seeds, plants, chemicals, and technical assistance were extended to communities in the hopes that peasants would convert from laborers to entrepreneurs. Coffee cash cropping did raise peasant incomes. But in 1989 when global markets were deregulated, prices crashed. Peasant incomes fell, and the green revolution technologies that created good harvests became prohibitively expensive. Organic coffee (and increasingly, fair-trade organic coffee) presented a fix to the broken system. It provided a cheap alternative method of growing coffee, and accessed a consumer niche willing to pay higher prices for a natural product. For peasants, it provided a buffer from debt and from mercurial global markets that respond to frost in Brazil, overproduction in Vietnam, and the manipulations of the commodities exchange (Martínez-Torres 2006; Jaffee 2007; Raynolds et al. 2007; Bacon 2008; Doane 2010).

Productive autonomy has become a tool in rural social movements at the nexus of theory and practice (Moguel 1992; Bray 1995; Toledo 1995). It links the exigencies of peasant producers to the preferences of elite consumers in such a way that peasants, once viewed as the scourge of the forest for their slash-and-burn practices, are now responsible for "the permanent reconstruction of nature" (Bray 1995). It builds on peasant strengths, which include a subsistence farming system that allows for a measure of self-provisioning and has historically been very flexible, combining traditional subsistence crops of corn and beans with global cash crops that change with the decades.

Organic technologies allow peasant farmers to build on their wide agricultural experiences to master technologies that reduce their dependence on expensive agricultural chemicals. Typically, peasants learn to make and apply natural composts. Composts reintroduce organic matter to the soil, thus not only fertilising but also replacing soil lost by erosion. They also learn additional erosion control techniques, such as terracing and planting live barriers or hedges, the root systems of which keep soil on hilly areas from washing away. Soil conservation is crucial to protecting peasant land holdings in mountainous areas where deforested and tilled areas can literally wash away, leaving barren and rocky plots that can no longer be farmed, and forcing peasants to move deeper and higher into heavily forested lands. Other strategies include sustainable forestry, focussing on replanting harvested trees, planting and maintaining renewable sources of timber and firewood, and establishing nurseries for these varieties as well as for fruit trees and coffee bushes.

Maderas del Pueblo workers believed that the low impact, organic farming methods and the sustainable forest management plan envisioned for the reserve were not only appropriate technologies, but also reflected actual campesino technologies. New methods, however, were being taught to some campesinos-migrants to the area and had never farmed forest soils, or those raised with the green revolution's chemical regimen had lost knowledge of less expensive technologies used by an older generation. Workshops organised by Maderas del Pueblo in organic agriculture and animal husbandry were popular and well attended, since farmers working in forest soils were interested in methods that were both sustainable and cheap. Most workshops were informal and took place on the plots of the farmers themselves. The WWF, as a funder of the project since its inception, was aware of the popularity of the informal workshops, but it was primarily concerned with the rapid and verifiable implementation of the campesino ecological reserve project itself. This meant having a comprehensive land management plan in hand and tangible proof of environmental expertise among the campesinos.

Local environmental land-use mapping and planning

The Ley General del Equilibrio Ecológico y la Protección al Ambiente (LGEEPA; General Law of Ecology and Environmental Protection), passed in 1988 but significantly modified in 1995, ushered in a new era of environmental planning in Mexico. The Instituto Nacional de Ecología (INE; National Institute of Ecology), newly minted in 1995, proposed a grand scheme of geographical mapping and land-use planning. Eco-regions were envisioned as a series of nested levels. The first level was North America, and included, perhaps not surprisingly, Canada, the United States, and Mexico-the North American Free Trade Agreement's original signatories. Mexico and its various internal regions comprised the next levels. Finally, land-use and planning was permitted at the municipal and sub-municipal level. The new law was careful to state that this land-use planning could be carried out by qualified non-governmental and community technicians.

The sub-municipal level of planning was what interested Maderas del Pueblo. They envisioned their campesino ecological reserve not as a federally demarcated zone subject to federal oversight but as the natural outcome of many small land-use plans carried out by the 40-odd communities in Chimalapas. These land-use plans would be binding once registered through Secretaria del Medio Ambiente, Recursos Naturales y Pesca (SEMERNAP; México Secretariat of the Environment, Natural Resources, and Fisheries). In Mexico, under Article 27 of the Constitution, municipios have the ultimate jurisdiction over development in their own territories. Thus, communities can develop their own land-use plans, using the technical criteria required by the federal and state governments. These plans might include prohibitions on certain types of development that are being actively promoted in the region, such as agribusiness projects and plantation forestry.

In accordance with the methodology favored by the WWF, Maderas del Pueblo conducted land-use mapping and planning sessions for the reserve using Participatory Rural Appraisal (PRA) between 1995 and 2000. PRA is an adaptation of Pablo Freire's vision of participatory rural development in which technicians-through conversations with, and participation of, campesinos with deep local knowledge-craft appropriate technologies. In practice, PRA has become highly professionalised; it relies on a series of previously conceptualised diagnostic tools such as surveys and questionnaires, and conceptual exercises such as maps and Venn diagrams. The goal of the methodology is to elicit local understandings of particular problems and to encourage grassroots participation in whatever project is being implemented. These abstract exercises-meant to direct campesinos to most appropriately preserve, conserve, and use-were not as well received as the organic agriculture workshops. Campesinos nodded off to sleep in the classroom-like environment as NGO members droned on about the meaning of terms. More to the point, even after land-use plans were drafted and completed by communities and registered with the federal environmental agency Secretaria del Medio Ambiente, Recursos Naturales (SEMERNAT; México Secretariat of the Environment and Natural Resources), nothing whatsoever came of them.

Community statutes

The decentralised land-use mapping and planning processes allowed by the 1995 environmental statute LGEEPA, had their corollary in new state laws decentralising indigenous affairs. In 1995, the Oaxaca State Constitution was modified to allow indigenous communities to administer local-level affairs through using their traditional practices and customs, or usos y costumbres. This was significant because it formally released indigenous communities from electing party-affiliated candidates, ideally allowing them to operate on traditional principles such as the authority of community elders. It also required that each community that opted for usos y costumbres complete a community statute to specify and regularise community practice. These local statutes would be registered with the Agrarian Tribunal and thus become law. Many activists and progressives hailed this new law as a victory for indigenous rights.

For Maderas del Pueblo, the new law provided another strategic opening. In 1995 and 1996, the WWF provided financial support to Maderas del Pueblo to work toward encoding the campesino ecological reserve within the community statues of Santa María Chimalapa. Maderas del Pueblo helped to draft a community statute, which referred to a campesino ecological reserve. According to Maderas del Pueblo informants, this statute was drafted after a series of workshops and discussions with campesinos, who laid out the fundamentals of their usos y costumbres. However, on the eve of its passage by the community assembly in Santa María, a new set of community authorities took office. They struck down the statute and expelled Maderas del Pueblo, accusing them of meddling in internal community affairs.

By 1997, the WWF was funneling its funds into federal- and state-level environmental agencies working in the area, which were now the only actors in a position to build community support for a codified ecological reserve. At the same time, the Procuraduría Agraria (PA; Agrarian Attorney), an agrarian agency created in 1992 along with the new Agrarian Law, helped write and implement a community statute in Santa María Chimalapa, also with WWF funding. PA officials described their role as merely auxiliary; they said that they had facilitated completing the statute by writing down its various clauses according to the wishes of the community.

In a subsequent formal interview, Diego, a lawyer for the PA, explained what the PA thought about the process of ratifying the Communal Statute in Santa María. The PA objected to the 1995 provision for a campesino ecological reserve, saying that this was not traditional and therefore a violation of the intention of this kind of statute. But he and his colleague also told me that traditional law was always subordinate to federal law. That is, communities could not encode illegal practices into law, e.g. although it was customary for women not to vote in community assemblies, under federal law women were entitled to this right. Thus, their role was to oversee the statute, make sure it conformed to federal guidelines and submit it to the Agrarian Tribunal for review and implementation. He also told me that communities that adopt usos y costumbres have the mistaken idea that this type of internal arrangement signifies autonomy. He said "they want to use the statutes to exclude the government or diminish its authority. But the idea of law based on usos y costumbres is actually a convention which comes down through Roman law."

The traditional local political system of usos y costumbres-which relies on the cargo system, political and religious duties that must be undertaken without payment, and community assemblies where the community meets, usually outdoors, and discusses community matters-was imposed in the sixteenth century by the Spanish. Although usos y costumbres is much romanticised in activist literature in the service of supporting indigenous rights and strengths, anthropologists have long seen it as a mixed blessing. The traditional cargo system was a source of identity, as well as a locus for the exercise and maintenance of communal values. However, the cargo system, which imposes a heavy burden on office holders who have to host festivals and distribute gifts, also works as an economic leveling system (Wolf 1955), making it hard for individuals in indigenous communities to accumulate personal wealth. At the same time, the privileges conferred on local leaders by the PRI helped in establishing and maintaining a class of caciques who-although by general standards are poor people-live at the top of a class system within their impoverished communities (Cancian 1972).

Usos y costumbres has also been criticised for maintaining religious homogeneity, for discouraging the participation of women in community affairs, and for violating individual rights in the service of communal practice (Carlsen 1999). Nevertheless, the 1995 changes that made it possible for the community electoral system to go forward without interference from national political parties suggested that a community would not be punished for failing to vote for the dominant party of their state. This has been viewed as an opportunity by activists to extend democracy within indigenous communities. In Chimalapas and elsewhere in Oaxaca, usos y costumbres is a contest over interpretation and tactics. For activists, it affirmed the rights of indigenous communities to encode their own practices. For agents of the PA, it provided a previously unlooked-for entree into the community assembly itself and meant that the formerly messy system of indigenous law could now be overseen and codified in an orderly way. The process of writing an estatuto comunal went slowly and eventually stalled in Santa María. At each meeting, fewer campesinos came out to express their opinions than earlier, and government agents heavily dominated the meetings. As of this writing, Santa María Chimalapa had no estatuto comunal. No campesino ecological reserve was ever encoded.

In the course of attempting to encode a campesino ecological law by means of new decentralised and ostensibly more democratic kinds of procedures, Maderas del Pueblo was branded as "left" and "political." It was targeted for harrassment by state agencies acting in the interests of the governor of the state of Oaxaca. The state government marshalled its forces to effect political coups in the two prinicpal municipalities of Chimalapas to undermine local support for the NGO. Interestingly, this was done by establishing a local "development" office near Chimalapas from whence its personnel fanned out into the small hamlets of Chimalapas discouraging cooperation with the NGO-an exercise in decentralised governance or 'decentralized authoritarianism' (Doane 2012).

Ultimately, the NGO found itself estranged from powerful segments of the communities, the WWF, and the formerly sympathetic federal agency charged with implementing conservation (SEMERNAT). In 1996, the WWF declined to renew its "campesino ecological reserve" grant (funded by USAID). In 2000, the WWF declined to renew its "social development" grant (funded by the DFID). In light of the political nature of conservation, the WWF was forced to abandon its "community" partner and make an alliance with the authroitarian local state government in the hopes of getting its ecological regulations in place. Between 1997 and 2000, the WWF continued to push for ecological language in the community statutes, but now working with the government instead of the NGO. This effort also backfired, and between 2000 and 2003 the WWF had largely abandoned its efforts in the area. These events demonstrate the dual nature of early neoliberal conservation. If neoliberalism meant free markets, it also meant decentralised authority. Activists and some government officials tried to use the democratic possibilities of decentralised regulation to implement more local and representative forms of governance as well as CBC based on democratic principles. However, what ultimately ocurred was quite different. Local state agencies seeking to contain any expression of Zapatista-like autonomy politics in their own domain increased their own presence in the communities, and worked to discredit and undermine the NGO and the CBC project. Decentralised democracy gave way to decentralised authoritarianism.

In 2003, the WWF began a new five-year project based on PES-'certifying' particular communities and areas as conservation zones. Certified communities received payment for environmental stewardship activities, which were verified by forest rangers on the WWF payroll. By 2005, a small section of Chimalapas that had been devastated by forest fires in 1998 had been certified. Certification gives campesinos access to the services of the federal environmental agency, Comisión Nacional de Áreas Naturales Protegidas (CONANP; Commission for Natural Protected Areas). CONANP established a physical presence in Chimalapas in the form of a conservation corps of rangers, some of whom were hired from within the communities. Two rangers, both former employees of Maderas del Pueblo, were assassinated in 2005-possibly by drug traffickers resisting this governmental intrusion. In Cerro Azul, campesinos received assistance for reforestation projects and payment for watershed management. Certification did not require that municipalities accept a federal protected designation for all of their lands. However, it did allow federal jurisdiction over areas of land within the municipios that they had agreed to certify. By not addressing long-standing grievances against loggers and ranchers that affected livelihoods as well as the environment, PES freed individuals to engage in market-based conservation without addressing any of the larger concerns for local control, real economic democracy, or actual conservation in the area.


Environmental services and market culture

Gómez-Baggethun et al. (2010) have traced the development of ecosystem services in relation to broader trends in economic thinking. In concert with the rising ecological awareness of the 1970s, an emerging field of environmental economics attempted to value the "non-economic" aspects of the environment-including the benefits and services it provides, and thus to internalise benefits and costs generally seen as externalities. Building on Schumacher's (1973) concept of natural capital, a new terminology concerning nature "services" eventually emerged, coming together in Ehrlich and Ehrlich's (1981) work as "ecosystem services" (Gómez-Baggethun et al. 2010: 1213).

Thus, PES emerged out of attempts to count the ecological effects of economic growth-to make the market accountable for pollution and other external costs of production generally absorbed by society at large. Like most neo-liberal developments, environmental services are a double-edged sword. On one hand, they bring attention to the environmental effects of economic growth that previously could not be counted, and therefore could not be accounted for within economic models. They provide a mechanism for taxing users of "free" resources like clean air, pure water, and carbon sinks while providing payment to individuals or communities that preserve those resources. On the other, environmental services transform these resources into commodities and "sell nature to save it" (McAfee 1999). They bring nature squarely into a market system and its ever more encompassing logic. Just as the neoliberal political discourse assumes a natural affinity between democracy and free markets (Harvey 2005) despite much evidence for the co-existence of free markets and authoritarian regimes (Harvey 2005; Klein 2007), the ecosystem services discourse assumes that market measures can achieve a sustainable equilibrium between growth and conservation. It thus blunts its own implicit critique of the capitalist industrial model, and recasts the market from destroyer to conserver of nature.

But what is wrong with paying poor people to plant trees around streams in order to prevent runoff and stream siltation? Why not pay people to plant trees? The trouble is not that people are subsidised, or that ecosystem services are carried out. During the Q and A following the presentation at the Specialty Coffee Association of America, a coffee farmer from Mexico addressed the speaker from Conservation International with exasperated vehemence:

"Why is it that development people consistently blame us, the poorest people who consume the least energy and resources, for the problems of the world? Are you serious that small farmers are more responsible for environmental problems than all of your cities and industries? Why is it that you make us responsible for fixing the problems that you in the global north have created?"

As this coffee farmer pointed out, the trouble is in the model itself-the discourse and practices it denounces and does not denounce. With environmental services models, solutions to environmental problems come to be envisioned through the market and following the terms of the market (McAfee and Shapiro 2010; Sullivan 2013). The market ideology of comparative advantage tells us the global south has a surplus of clean air, water, and forests to meet the deficit in the global north. Furthermore, the market is envisioned not as a field of power-for example, the collective action of actors representing powerful interests through institutionalised capital-but rather as a much more equitable and consensual social space where individual "stakeholders" exercise their choices based on rational and good criteria.

Carrier (1997) argues that the market is best understood as a "cultural model" in which markets are believed to be a fundamental part of human nature rather than a creation of human political economies. Since markets in reality, do not function freely but rather are subject to myriad regulations that are the outcome of political negotiation, the free market can exist only as an ideal. However, this ideal is frequently treated as an a priori assumption, informing and underlying real world policy decisions. We act as though our reality is the free market of Smith when the market is in fact highly constructed and regulated. Thus, our very culture is a kind of "virtual" reality, a game with arbitrary rules that we cannot win. The dissonance between ideology, practice, and outcomes is not unique to market culture.

In Envisioning power, Wolf (1999) develops a theory of power that recognises the centrality of ideology, belief, and everyday practice in the construction and maintenance of political power. Looking at three polities that have generally been regarded as exemplary of irrational cultures-the Aztec, the Kwakiutl, and the National Socialists or Nazis-Wolf explores how central ideological tenets acted as powerfully cohesive cultural arguments as well as sowed the seeds of cultural destruction. Wolf chose "extreme" and unsympathetic cultures to allow readers to distance themselves from the cases, and to develop his point that cultures are not-as we who live in them in our given times and places tend to think-the most logical, best, fair, or practical responses to organising human life. They are rather, historically and culturally constituted strategies for organising relations of power and production that emerge in a given time or place; and that they produce their own unique logics. The logic of the market dominates our conceptual models, including those developed for environmental problem solving.

Market logic assumes trade or communication among individuals, and is predicated on the continual and benign growth and outward expansion of these relationships. Trade in carbon, or payment for watershed management, would represent the next demand-based service governed by the market, and would create a relationship between forest stewards and urban dwellers or industrialists. The commodification of such resources would represent a new source of wealth for the people able to capture and market it, and one that, in a win-win scenario, can expand infinitely without harm to the environment (Grandia 2007; Igoe and Brockington 2007).

From a critical perspective, these benign trades in nature can be seen as an aspect of cultural acceleration and a form of dispossession. Recent literature on PES schemes has engaged the concept of accumulation by dispossession and substantially developed the idea that the marketing of environmental services accelerates the commodification of nature by attempting to put prices on natural processes like carbon sequestration and water filtration (Kelly 2011). It can "dispossess" rural workers by employing them to perform these services at a lower cost than would be born by a corporation receiving that filtered water down the stream (Kelly 2011). It fetishises nature as a commodity, promising a transparent relationship between consumers and producers while hiding the larger social problems that cause environmental degradation, and obscuring the potential problems of evaluating ecosystems in a piecemeal way. For example, a forest area "sold" for carbon sequestration may be reforested with trees that grow quickly, at the expense of the diverse species of trees that are being replaced (Rico et al. 2011). Because the development of widespread and diverse carbon markets would require enforceable standards and practices-contracts-the marketing of environmental services would also benefit from the privatisation of land.

In Mexico, environmental NGOs interested in developing these markets see communal lands and community politics as an impediment to the development of real markets in these services. Contracts would have to be made with community rather than individuals, and as happened in Santa María, might be canceled when a new set of communal authorities take office. Communal lands are thus seen as an impediment to the development of environmental services (Corbera and Brown 2008). Thus, agrarian communities and ejidos that retain communal lands, and are the very people who have stewarded resources and the very places that have been most able to "bank" natural resources, who now resist new forms of territorialisation, are viewed as impediments to the market and to conservation itself.

Elyacher's (2005) work on local markets in Egypt looks at how international NGOs promoting self-development through small markets successfully "introduced" entreupreneurialism to successful local merchants. Elyacher looks at this as an instance of "accumulation by dispossession"-where the very idea and fact of successful business activities is appropriated by neoliberal agents. Here what is being appropriated is not a commodity, a resource or a service, but an alternative pathway to success. I increasingly see mainstream environmentalism as effecting a similiar appropriation. Accumulation by conservation happens when environmental organisations from the global north appropriate land that is already well preserved. Once an area is represented as wilderness, its biodiversity becomes the symbolic property of the conserving institution. Many things get elided with this appropriation: the fact that well-preserved lands appear where alternative land regimes, such as common property, dominate over the private property systems in which conservation agencies are embedded; the history of struggle against state-led development in communities like Chimalapas; and the serious threats to ecology, such as global climate change, that neither start nor stop at the borders of a park enclosure.

PES to coffee growers and forest-based communities have become a significant component of conservation efforts in Mexico. In their discussion of Mexico's PES model, established in 2003 and administered through CONANP, Corbera and Brown (2008: 1962) note:

Mexico's current advocacy for market-based instruments for forest conservation can be explained by the need to create new instruments which can reduce the country's rate of deforestation, estimated at around 70,000 ha per year… Deforestation has been considered a consequence of the State's failure to regulate the activities of private and state-led logging companies… to address the problem of dispossessed peasants migrating into areas of high biodiversity value… and rural communities' failure to establish sustainable forestry management plans and arrest clandestine logging.

That rates of deforestation by small rural communities are treated as the central problem in discussions of carbon-forestry is a point of tension within Mexico's activist NGO community. Some activists maintain that this formulation of the problem allows the largest consumer countries to "buy" their way out of their own responsibilities for climate change (Corbera and Brown 2008: 1964). Indeed, the new discourse of the "green economy"-sustainable and green consumption, new energy technologies, and the like-keeps any discussion of the sustainability of current economic growth and current consumption practices at arms length. As markets for carbon-forestry are created, we do not question how markets in wood products and beef have historically driven, and continue to drive, deforestation. In the case of Chimalapas, the role of timber companies and politically connected ranchers, and the potential impact of major development projects like the Plan Puebla Panama, remained external to any official conservation solutions.

While the trading of environmental commodities or services, the enclosure of value rather than space per se, is coming to be a common environmental strategy, in the 1990s USAID already understood the environment as a fungible commodity when they supported environmental conservation as part of its "green portfolio,"-a small set of investments within an agency that had investments in development projects in the same area, and which could potentially have very negative ecological effects. It targeted Chimalapas as an investment because its trees constituted a carbon sequestration sink, thus offsetting industrial pollution nearby. In this way, the environmental value of Chimalapas was constructed within a particular ideological framework about risks and offsets, and market values. Likewise, the certification strategy of the WWF is being pursued in concert with state and federal efforts to build infrastructure for roads, water, and cattle ranching.

PES threatens to accelerate accumulation by conservation, and in the process, to undermine actual conservation. Corbera and Brown (2008) point out that companies working in carbon markets avoid Mexico and other countries that still have significant communal land holdings. Carbon marketers ask communities to sign long-term contracts-usually 25 years-during which they plant and maintain trees as carbon sinks. Investors see these markets as unstable in communal settings, where changes in municipal authority might result in the voiding of such a contract. Under market logic, communal lands are a barrier to trade. As ecosystems are increasingly linked to markets, it is easy to see how common lands will come to be seen as a barrier to conservation. In fact, interviews with conservation officials indicate that this is already the prevailing view, and PES discourse and practice will only reinforce it.[70]


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