Escaping the frigid, air-conditioned corridors of the Moon Palace and Cancunmesse convention rooms, I had the rare opportunity to visit the site of a pilot forest carbon project managed by local Mayan campesinos or farmers.

Called Reserva Ejidal, this 1,230 hectare patch of forest reserve is located about a 2-hour drive from Cancun and 15 kilometers west of the Sian Ka’an UNESCO site. The project Much Kana K’aax, which means “together we take care of the jungle” in Mayan, was initiated in 2006 and is an example of a community-managed forest carbon project.

Source: http://muchkanankaax.com/

Source: http://muchkanankaax.com/

Community management of this project is based on an ejido system in Mexico that allows for communal ownership of the land.  Instead of parceling land into individual plots, the members of the ejido for Reserva Ejidal have decided to use the land to grow forest for the purpose of eventually selling the carbon credits in the voluntary carbon market.

The local ejideros have worked with the NGO U’yo’olché, who have provided them with technical training on biomass and carbon measurements, as well as on forest management.  Other partners in the project include UNDP and USAID, who have provided seed funding for the cost of materials and technical training, and five other local organizations.

Currently, the local ejideros do not receive any compensation for their forest management work, although they hope to eventually after the project receives certification.  This is a significant longer term investment for local farmers, who could easily use the land for agricultural purposes or sell it to developers. However, the ejideros seem to recognize the value of the project and its role in helping to solve climate change, particularly through mechanisms such as REDD, which is being discussed as a way to incentivize and reward communities in developing countries for reforestation and avoided deforestation projects.

We ended the field trip at the Siijil Noh Ha, an ecotourism center run by local Mayan villagers.  It is a beautiful spot to absorb the natural scenery, take a kayak for a spin in a freshwater lake, or swim in a cenote.  Plus, the local Mayan food is to die for.