Planting for Future

By Judy Baehr

Lake Chapala Issues from the Ground Up


Masthead-PlantingFor many years Wendee Hill and Marie Pruden, founders and directors of ACÁ, have worked on issues that threaten Lake Chapala and the people who live around it.

At the Living Lakes Conference this March, Wendee spoke of the need to address the issues of chemical pollution of the watershed and urged support of existing local projects as part of the Ramsar site management program for the Lake. The Ramsar Convention is an intergovernmental treaty that embodies the commitments of its member countries to maintain the ecological character of their Wetlands of International Importance and to plan for the “wise use,” or sustainable use, of all of the wetlands in their territories. Lake Chapala was designated as a Ramsar site in 2008.

The majority of toxins going into Lake Chapala from the Lerma River Basin are created by chemical runoff from agricultural farms and corporate disposal, directly exposing inhabitants who use lake water and those who work near or with pesticides. A survey of area villages that ACÁ conducted with Erica Gwynn in 2008 reveals that native people around the Lake are aware of the health issues related to toxic agricultural chemical use and natural resource depletion. Large-scale non-organic commercial farming operations often render the land sterile in their wake, putting local farmers out of business and damaging a historically rich farming culture.

“We need to empower the families in the villages around the Lake,” said Wendee, “giving them the tools and understanding to protect the Lake and teach their children to do so. At the same time, we need to teach them organic farming methods including chemical avoidance and sustainable use of water, because by learning how to grow crops and raise livestock in a safe way, they will be able to feed their families and have income, thus sustaining the native population around the Lake, who are the best future caretakers of the Lake.”

Wendee urged:

a) Continued research on local agricultural workers, particularly women and children, who are exposed to unregulated toxic agricultural spraying every 4 to 7 days using toxic chemicals, most of which are no longer used in other countries due to their toxicity, which is often of long-term duration.

b) Support of people already doing the work. ACÁ conservation and organic agriculture models are already in place, but need to be integrated into an educational initiative in communities around the Lake.

c) Support of projects for women, who suffer the most from high agricultural exposure and lack of training. By working in schools and communities, ACÁ programs reach out to women.

d) Emphasis on education as an integral part of the management plan, rather than an adjunct.

Official Mexico is now intensely interested in the potential market opportunities in agro-ecology, but very little support trickles down to the resource-poor farmers. Governmental program funds are tied to red tape and the complexities of them effectively exclude the resource poor, who need them the most.

Wendee said, “The need now is to develop effective and relevant community solutions that resolve the contradiction between ecological conservation and economic prosperity.”

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