WWOOF Latin America

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Saving Xochimilco

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Help us feed the next billion and reduce poverty by saving one of the oldest examples of truly sustainable indigenous ecosystem agriculture in the world.

SAVING XOCHIMILCO

The Xochimilco wetlands south of Mexico City are the last remanent of the "chinampa" agriculture system; a unique form of ecosystem-based agriculture that witnessed the foundation of Mexico nearly seven centuries ago, fed the Aztec empire, and has been in continuous production for perhaps well over a thousand years. Xochimilco is the source of one third of Mexico City's water, it is the habitat of the endemic and endangered axolotl salamander, It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, a FAO Globally Important Agricultural Heritage System, a Ramsar Wetlands Convention Site and the last remanent of the lake in which the Aztecs found the eagle perched on a cactus eating a snake: the sign given to them as the site of their promised land in their pilgrimage from legendary Aztlan.

However, Xochimilco is in grave danger of disappearing under the urban sprawl of Mexico City. Today, much of Xochimilco's water is polluted; much of its agriculture land is abandoned and being sold illegally for housing development; the axolotl is practically extinct in the wild, and the local farmers are poor and beset by the growing problems of the transformation of their once idilic land of canals and flowers, into a poor suburb of Mexico City. If we save Xochimilco, we will save the foundation myth of an entire nation; we will save a unique ecosystem in which humans have coexisted with Nature in a mutually-beneficial, sustainable and incredibly productive relationship for more than a millennium. We will save a way of life. We will create employment opportunities that will keep many Mexicans from having to seek low-paying jobs in Mexico City or in the U.S., and we will save the main source of water for over 20 million people. We will save one of the very few examples worldwide of truly sustainable agriculture, which by itself could nowadays feed perhaps as many as 8 million people. If we really intend to feed a peak population of 8 to 11 billion, the World desperately needs agricultural systems that are highly productive, profitable and sustainable. In Xochimilco we have a living example with a thousand years of track record.

 

Many people know Xochimilco as a tourist attraction where they can take a ride on a flat boat through the canals among the "floating gardens", serenaded by mariachi music while eating Mexican food. However, few know its true cultural, ecological and social value. The "chinampas" (what are often called "floating gardens" but are actually man-made islands) of Xochimilco give yields 3 to 10 times that of nearby farmland.

In the Chinampa agriculture system, humans are a Keystone Species that is essential for the ecosystem. Humans create habitat niches for biological processes and the biological processes power the nutrient cycle to give unparalleled agriculture productivity. Unfortunately, Xochimilco is threatened by irresponsible tourism, water pollution, excessive water extraction, urbanization, chemical agriculture, invasive species and abandonment. At the present rate of destruction, there might be nothing left in 10 years.

 

In the last 50 years, governments have tried unsuccessfully to revert the deterioration of Xochimilco. We believe that governments are simply not designed to solve truly complex problems. For solving persistent, complex problems, the whole system must be understood, redesigned and moved by the right incentives. Laws and government control are notoriously ineffective at moving complex systems. But private citizens and economic interests are much better at it. To this end, in 2016, Keystone, a think tank in Mexico, partnered with the Resiliency Agency of Mexico City (part of 100 Resilient Cities) and with Rebuild by Design, of New York, to develop a plan to rescue Xochimilco. The plan is based on key actions that generate large changes in the system. The main two actions are to provide clean water and to regenerate the agriculture of Xochimilco. Both of these actions are designed to be taken without government help, and largely immune to bureaucracy, politics and corruption. This is an effort to be operated by local people and which will result in a number of local businesses being developed to add value to agriculture production and hence gain access to high-value markets.

In the words of Keystone: "Our plan is simple and powerful: If we have clean water, we can have a healthy wetlands ecosystem. If we have a healthy ecosystem, the chinampa system thrives and we can have highly productive, organic produce. High quality, organic produce with a high cultural content in a city of over 20 million inevitably embodies a high value. Through the latest blockchain technologies, we will integrate the value chain that captures the inherent value of the chinampa produce and adds more value to it. To this end, we are partnering with local organizations with experience in integrating value chains and turning poor farmers into successful agriculture entrepreneurs. We are standing on the shoulders of giants in every aspect of this project. We are bringing together the best success stories to regenerate Xochimilco."

We believe this project truly has an exceptional chance at making a difference, and that is why WWOOF Latin America has decided to support Keystone in their efforts to restore the amazing wetlands in the south of Mexico City. The first stage of this project, a 4-acre pilot project, needs your help. The goal is to raise enough money to restore between 4 and 10 acres of chinampa land, build wetlands biological water treatment systems for them, train up to 20 local farmers and integrate a value chain that allows them to sell to high-value markets. Once the pilot project is operating and shows that the concept is sound, private investment will fund the next stages. This process can potentially restore and integrate 3,000 acres and over 6,000 local farmers. Everything is in place but the initial funds. Help us save Xochimilco and turn it into a success story in feeding the world, recovering key ecosystems and lifting farmers out of poverty and into the middle class.

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