As we drive along the windy highway between Yalumá and González de León, it is evident just how much deforestation has occurred. Vast swaths of land beside the road have been clear cut to make way for brown and green coloured cornfields, beans, and squash plantations, particularly near the towns situated between our destinations. For an area of less than 100 000 residents, the amount of farmland is astounding. But that is their livelihood, their way of life. For generations, the Indigenous, Mestizo and Spanish descendants of the area have lived off the land, farming for sustenance. So how do these communities adapt to the current realities of climate change, while maintaining their way of life?
With just under 1000 residents, Gonzalez de Leon is a tight-knit community. The majority of the population identifies as Tojolabal, an indigenous group descending from the Mayan civilization. Tojolabal is the most commonly spoken language, with mostly the men, young, and educated women also speaking Spanish. Most of the women still wear the traditional clothing, a long striped dress with a white blouse, adorned with colourful patterns and weaves. And as with Yaluma and many other rural communities in Chiapas, farming is the main source of income.
We met with Rogelio Jiménez Jiménez, a stocky man with broad shoulders and a contagious smile. Rogelio has worked this land most of his life, and understands the farming traditions and values passed down from previous generations. We accompany Rogelio and his family to a cornfield, where they are in the process of harvesting corn.
We walk with Jiménez Jiménez and his family to another plot, where they have begun the process of reforestation with the help of Cooperativa AMBIO. For a long time, they weren't aware that these types of reforestation projects existed, even though they had thought about bringing some forest land back to their plots. After speaking with a friend from Yalumá who participates in the project, they learned more about the potential benefits of planting trees. In 2015, together with his brothers and brothers-in-law, they started reforesting 10 hectares of land, hoping that the new forest will help improve their agricultural plot output.