Category Archives: Climate Change

Coordination and collective action to mitigate the impact of climate change: the case of the regional project CamBIO

Coordination and collective action to mitigate the impact of climate change: the case of the regional project CamBIO

René Mendoza Vidaurre

 “if you think one year ahead, you will plant a seed…if you think 10 years ahead, you will plant a tree “. Chinese poet, 500 AC

 In response to the question about what practices contribute to the climate, in the previous article “Coordination and collective action to mitigate climate change” we listed the recommendations laid out by different studies and organizations for forestry and agriculture. Then we pondered the implementation within the coordination between science, conservation and economics through the case of the Galapagos Islands of Ecuador. Now we will study the CamBIO project (Central American Markets for Biodiversity) within this same framework.

This project (2007-2013) was a tripartite GEF initiative (Global Environment Fund)-UNDP United Nations Program for Development with the financial support of the GEF (Global Environmental Facility), and the CABEI (Central American Bank for Economic Integration). This project sought to ”ensure that the micro, small and medium enterprises of Central America increase their contribution to sustainable development and environmental protection, incorporating biodiversity in their businesses, products and services” ( This project was implemented by CABEI through intermediary financial institutions (IFIs) in Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Guatemala and El Salvador. In Nicaragua CABEI worked with the LDF (Local Development Fund), Lafise-Bancentro, the 20th of May Cooperative and FUNDESER.

According to the report of the UNDP-GEF-CABEI 2011 the most innovative case was that done by the LDF and the Research and Development Institute, Nitlapan in Nicaragua. As such, this case was systematized among the most innovative experiences of Latin America (see: Mendoza, Dávila, Fonseca y Cheaz, 2011, “Modelo de Adaptación al Cambio Climático a través de la Reconversión Productiva y transformación territorial, Proyecto CAMBio en Nicaragua”, en RIMISP, The LDF and Nitlapan promoted four systems: silvo-pastoral, agroforestry, sustainable tourism and sustainable wood system in 22 municipalities in the buffer zones of interconnected protected areas: San Cristóbal, Tisay, Quiabú, Miraflores, Cerro Yalí, Kilambé, Peñas Blancas, Bosawás; Cerro Colorado, Quiragua, Musún; Juan Venado, Casitas; La Flor, Mombacho, Guatusos, and Indio Maiz. The rules were: the LDF provided credit to its best clients, and Nitlapan provided them with technical assistance; a contract was signed with the producer who chose a system (e.g. silvo-pastoral system) and chose an indicator (e.g. “establish native trees on pasture lands”, “riverbank forests”, “native foraging bushes” or “living fences with native species”). Then they defined the area to be reforested in a year, and at the end of the year CABEI would verify whether the producer complied. If he did, the producer paid only 86% of the amount of the loan, with the policies on term and interest rates remaining the same. This compliance enabled the LDF to claim 6% of the loan given to that producer, and Nitlapan 10% of the amount lent in the portfolio to cover the costs of technical assistance.

Looking at the environmental projects that generally failed in Central America, the results of this case were commendable for slightly more than 1500 producers with around 2,500 hectares reforested, springs (and creeks) recovered or protected, living fences and honey waters decontaminated. What explains this innovation? There is a shared vision among the actors: if the producers with a good credit record transform their farms, their success generates a “snowball effect” of economic and environmental improvement. Then the innovative part is that what the families do and know gets recognized, correspondingly the technical assistance has a systems-approach and not a crop-approach (trees); the myth is broken that the agricultural frontier is advancing felling the trees, they can transform their farms; a credit institutional setup that rewards the good payer with an environmental sense of responsibility; and an approach of combining ecology and economics from the perspective of  “farm trees” instead of forest plantations or compact forests. These innovations remind us of Heraclitus some 2500 years ago: “when there is no sun we can see the stars at night”. The stars in this case are the innovations, while the sun is the approach of an ecology divorced from the economy, reduced to the economy, or seen only as compact forests, a vision of credit and technical assistance that only responds to the market from the logic of crops…

The sun moves, and also can keep us from seeing the most important stars in the CamBIO project: the collective action. Part of it comes from the coordination between financial institutions (LDF, CABEI), technical assistance (NITLAPAN) and production (producer families), within a framework of incentives contributing to environmental and economic sustainability, but this is not enough. Another part of the collective action is left truncated, because of the need for science and collaboration with local organizations. The limited research that there was came from other organizations; it was assumed that those who are doing credit and technical assistance “already knew” the reality. Forcella (2012, Payments for Environmental Services and Microfinance: Proyecto Cambio in Nicaragua, Belgium), studying the project, found that the largest clients with the most cattle tended to invest the difference of the credit more in activities at odds with the environment (purchase of cattle, pastureland without trees, …), while the smaller ones tended to invest the different of the loan more in environmentally friendly activities (shaded cacao and coffee, etc.), which in addition shows that places and organizations are political arenas, that no policy is implemented as planned. The project ignored the local organizations, under the assumption that the producers are isolated individuals, thus losing opportunities to multiply the positive externalities, and undermining in part the sustainability of the project post-2013. This mutual exclusion between institutions that provide services and local organizations tends to be a common pattern, likewise the execution of projects without research. The country lost the opportunity to see more stars, and maybe more interesting stars.

In conclusion: the synergy between ecological, economic and scientific communities within an institutional framework of coordination with incentives is a key path for reducing the crisis of climate change. Science makes a difference, but in CamBIO, CABEI-UNDP-GEF they fell into the mistake of other projects, not studying their own experiences in the region in a comparative manner. Rather they adhered to the custom of providing resources and forgetting about the impact of their actions. The participation of local organizations is essential in any measure to reduce the crisis of climate change; if the local organization is weak and “coopt able”, it has to be strengthened, so that it might be an autonomous counterpart and capable of negotiating, representing the interests of the families. The individual farm is not the motor of change, but the entire local and global infrastructure. Instead of believing that “more market is better for the environment” and “there are only trees in the forest”, we should turn our attention to the reality of the country: there are more trees on farms than in protected areas! The ones who can contribute more to the climate are the small producers!

A producer of San José del Bocay said: “If I take care of a tree from the time it was planted, I will think twice before cutting it down.” If we recognize this, if the financial institutions and technical service organizations expand on these capacities, if the state and the international organizations support this infrastructure, we would understand that the success of the entire chain of institutions passes through the success of the producer families, who, with social, economic and political incentives, can think 10 years ahead and plant a tree, and can think 100 years ahead and take care of that tree. That would make a difference.

* René Mendoza V. ( has a PhD in development studies and is a collaborator of the Winds of Peace Foundation (


Coordination and collective action for mitigating the impact of climate change: the case of the Galapagos Islands of Ecuador

Coordination and collective action for mitigating the impact of climate change: the case of the Galapagos Islands of Ecuador

René Mendoza V. *


What practices contribute to the climate given the crisis of climate change? Apart from measures concerning the use and supply of energy related to construction, transport and industry, and the elimination of solid waste from garbage dumps, in what follows we list some measures recommended by different studies and organizations on forestry and agriculture. For the former, decrease deforestation, regeneration and repopulation of the forests and agro-silviculture, and carbon capturing. For the latter, change the management of water, intensification and agricultural technological innovation including value adding in a sustainable manner, less and more efficient use of nitrogen fertilizers, no-till agricultural technology, increase in soil capacity, improvement of rice technology, better management of ruminant animals (sheep, goats, larger livestock), and better use of manure in combination with agriculture.

To try to implement these measures we propose a framework of synergy between science, conservation, economics and coordination. In the first section of the first article (“The importance of peasant agriculture for Climate Change”), we looked at the big contribution of science on climate change, the progress of international coordination in the United Nations, the indifference of the economy to the climate, and its effect on environmental deterioration. In the second section of the same article, we saw that science, to the extent that it requires knowledge more specific to different geographies, contributes less; other actors like the FAO and IICA raise their voice without any progress on coordination, maintaining the separation between economy and ecology. To illustrate alternatives to this challenge, this article and the following ones will show cases about how synergy happens or does not happen between science, economics, ecology and coordination. We start with the Galapagos Islands of Ecuador that has mostly aquatic biodiversity.

The Galapagos islands, known worldwide because it was the basis for Darwin to develop his theory of natural evolution by natural selection, were designated in 1934 as a Wildlife Sanctuary, in 1959 97% of its territory was declared a National Park, in 1978 they were declared the Natural Patrimony of Humanity and in 1984 a Biosphere Reserve, in 1986 the Marine Reserve of Galapagos was created, in 1998 the Special Law for the Galapagos Islands was passed, and in 2001 the Marine Reserve was declared the Natural Patrimony of Humanity. The islands have attracted the immigration of Ecuadorian families and tourism; between 1960 and 2007 tourism increased from around 2,000 to 160,000 visitors per year. This growth and the associated economic opportunities created tensions between ecology and economics, the local citizens and the foreigners. How have they been resolving them?

What follows is based on a conversation with the biologist Milton Yacelga, who stayed on the Galapagos Islands for years as part of his scientific work. The accompanying Figure illustrates the solution framework that three communities implemented: scientific community (square shape), the community of the local inhabitants (circle shape) and the community of the tourists (triangle shape).  The management plan involved the three communities: 1) to know what to conserve you have to know what there is, likewise science has to identify which species are in danger and how to manage them; 2) the local inhabitants fish to feed their families and sell to tourists, for that reason they learn from science what species to use, at what ages, and what sex (2-1=0 “if you eliminate the female you have done away with the species”), in which places and at what times (e.g. not in the prolific moment for the fish; 3) the tourists need to feed themselves from the fish, contribute to their conservation, walk around and learn.

The challenge has been the three actors coordinating in the midst of their conflicts; the same figure above shows how difficult their combination can be, between something square, triangular and round. There were times in which the local inhabitants rejected the findings of science, arguing that there always had fish and that the number of fish had never gone down, that the foreigners with science were affecting the traditional culture of Ecuador; certainly in times of low demand for fish, the fishing was less, but with the increase in tourism and the growing demand for fish, the fish population changed. The tensions with the tourists increased, and because they had to follow rules agreed upon by the scientific community and the local community (restaurants, hotels, tourist guides, transportation) that meant knowing at what moments which places could be visited, how to treat the animals and how to connect with the local population. These tensions revealed differences between economics and ecology. In the end the three communities agreed upon experimenting on one island, whose results would allow them to recognize one another and reach a framework for agreement, even with tensions within each community, like the growing exclusion of small businesses, the debate between traditional ecology and new ecology (see Mendoza, 2002, “Nicaragua: ¿Cómo salvar el bosque? Haciendo fincas, cortando árboles,” en: Revista Envío,, the type of tourism and its effects on the human and aquatic populations.

This agreement allowed the fish and tourism to increase, the ecology and economy to understand one another, and consequently they were able to draw up a Management Plan that provided institutionality to the coordination. Within this framework, for example, corridors were defined so that the species can migrate and immigrate, preventing them from falling into genetic degeneration from reproducing among themselves in isolated patches; they worked because there are various trails so that the tourists rotate their use without overburdening any trail, scaring away animals and birds, which in the long run would also affect tourism itself; and they agreed upon mechanisms for protecting  collective rights like water (“the water is for everyone”) in contrast to the logic of the large businesses and private tourism (“the water is mine”).

From this unique experience we can get some inspiration for the country. Having a long term perspective is the basis for seeking synergy between the economy and the ecology, while the control  of one group affects the other. It makes a big difference to produce crops, cattle and biodiversity as the basis for life, while the degradation of one affects everyone. A common effect of dispossession processes is doing away with the humus (layer of leaves) of the soil and move to where there is humus. When a management plan results from the coordination of the affected actors, it tends to be an effective framework for coordinating and resolving conflicts. If the science functions like the scientific community, outside the control of the elites, it contributes; if it is complemented by the wisdom of the population (e.g. in order to discern the impact of climate change by zones, following up on the amphibians that are indicators of global warming because of their sensitive and humid skin that in the face of heat gets filled with fungi that kills them, and the snakes that decrease in number with the deterioration of the forest and human superstition – “if the worker kills a snake he gets the day off” says the large estate owner), and responds to the actors in the territories (instead of responding only to international aid), its contribution makes a difference.

Each community if fundamental to solving the crisis of climate change. Even more fundamental is the synergy among the communities: the most important knowledge is not knowing that 1+2=3, but understanding what “+” means. And even more so if that synergy is the basis for building lasting alliances within an institutional framework of coordination between ecology, economy and science, so 1+2 is more than 3.

* René Mendoza V. ( has a PhD in development studies, and is a collaborator of the Winds of Peace Foundation (