Mexico's Small-Scale Farmers Gain Entry to Global Carbon Markets

When Mexico's Bosque Sustentable AC sold the first voluntary carbon credits from its Sierra Gorda Biosphere Reserve in 2006, the Verified Carbon Standard (VCS) didn't yet exist, and the Climate, Community & Biodiversity Alliance (CCBA) hadn't yet approved a single forestry project under its CCB Standard.

Since then, however, standards have become de rigueur, and buyers have grown leery of any project that doesn't conform to one. That leaves early movers like Sierra Gorda at risk of being left behind by the very markets they helped to create.

To avoid that trap -- and also to blaze a path for similar projects -- Sierra Gorda this month wrapped up three years of validation to become the first Mexican forest carbon project recognized under the VCS, which is the most widely-accepted standard among buyers for determining the amount of carbon storage that can be attributed to human action. The project also earned "Gold" validation under the CCB Standard, which focuses on benefits beyond carbon such as job creation and habitat conservation.

"Validation under these standards demonstrates the integrity of Sierra Gorda's offsets and the overall value of the efforts to restore ecosystems, preserve biodiversity, alleviate poverty and sequester carbon in the Reserve," said Timothy E. Wirth, president of the United Nations Foundation, which purchased the first tranche of offsets in 2006.

The validation is especially significant because Mexico is likely to be the first country encompassed for offsets under any US state or federal system, and because there is rapidly growing interest within Mexico in carbon offsets as part of its own climate commitments and from an increasingly active domestic voluntary market.

"We did this in part to 'ground' the global markets in local capacity by finding ways for small landowners to get certified," says Martha Isabel "Pati" Ruiz Corzo, general director of Grupo Ecológico Sierra Gorda IAP. "Our success is a step in the right direction, but there is a long way to go."

Small Farmers United

Ruiz founded Grupo Ecológico Sierra Gorda IAP in 1989 to promote conservation in Sierra Gorda. As a result of the organization's efforts, the Mexican government delineated the Sierra Gorda Biosphere Reserve in 1997, and the reserve is now part of the UNESCO World Network of Biosphere Reserves and the most ecosystem-diverse protected area in Mexico. It ranks second in the country in terms of overall biodiversity.