Environment

Peasants rescuing former paradise eroded into desert in southern Mexico

By Jose de Jesus Cortes

Oaxaca, Mexico, Dec 20 (efe-epa).- Peasants have rescued a paradise in the Mixtec area of southern Mexico, one of the country’s more heavily eroded zones with areas that resemble a lunar landscape where the green of growing things had been replaced with the red of the local soil dried out by drought.

In the region, where apparently nothing grows, the hand of local farmers can be seen re-greening the arid areas of Santo Domingo Yanhuitlan, a Mixtec Indian town known the world over for its 16th century Dominican church.

Julio Angel Miguel Ramirez lives here, a man who seems to have the strength of three men concentrated in the body of one.

A rural peasant teacher, with calloused hands, bright eyes and a restless mind, the 66-year-old over the past three decades has transformed what was almost a desert into a lush forest that he calls “The Paradise of the Arches.”

The “entrance” to the local piece of paradise is located amid the remains of an aqueduct that supplied water to Yanhuitlan during the Spanish colonial epoch and through which – during the rainy season – a stream rushes that continues to carry the red earth away from the area.

Don Julio walks along that dry arroyo to point out the difference in soils – on the left is his forest but on his right are the lifeless cracks, crevices and ravines.

He climbs up a red hillside, sits down and picks up a clump of dried soil and crushes it in his hand, almost without seeming to touch it.

“I’m here at the … highest part of the hill, but with no vegetation there’s a lot of erosion and so this ground … deteriorates very easily,” he tells EFE.

He says that the wind and sun dry out the ground, which breaks up easily and then is washed away by the rains, and the result is that many tons of earth are lost each year.

Julio gets up and walks along the red pathway that changes into green in just a few steps, entering into his paradise covering three-quarters of a hectare (about 2 acres) that he saved from erosion through his own efforts.

According to the CIIDIR regional development research center, the Mixtec region of Oaxaca state, with more than 100,000 hectares that have been desertified, is the zone in Latin America with the second largest eroded and deforested area.

The land here is losing soil, just like the Sahara Desert in Africa, Gabino Martinez, a horticulture expert with the federal institution, tells EFE.

The causes date from the 16th century, when the building of churches in the area wiped out a good portion of the forests, converting the land to the processing of lime.

Currently, livestock raising activities, mainly goats, are going further to eradicate the foliage.

But Julio’s personal forest starts at a pathway lined with jacaranda trees that he planted himself and which have grown over the past 30 years from just 5 cm (2 inches) high to more than 10 meters (33 feet).

He says he found very arid soil there, a lot of deforestation, but with considerable effort over the years he has managed to restore the forest that covered the hill when he was a little boy.

Some of the trees and bushes produce edible food – like dates, which he harvests himself.

“Here, you find whatever you want,” he says. “There are walnuts, different kinds of apples, avocadoes. Grapes, sugar cane, pomegranates, pears,” and many more.

Two decades ago, Juan was the man responsible for managing the waste from the Mixtec community here, and he began to recycle it to create organically grown crops.

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