Raúl Murguía (KILP 1), GEF SGP National Coordinator, United Nations Development Program, Yucatan, Mexico.
This article originally appeared in the August 2008 issue of the KFLA Newsletter.
For more than 14 years, Raúl Murguía has overseen the GEF Small Grants Program, sponsored by the United Nations Development Program, on the Yucatan Peninsula in southern Mexico. The intent of the program is to conserve natural resources and increase the quality of life in communities. To date, 170 communities have received funds, and more than 2,000 people are now involved in sustainable and income-generating enterprises.
Communities have utilized the grants to generate local employment in a variety of areas, from beekeeping, to fighting forest fires, to organic agriculture, so that community members do not have to leave the region to find work. They have also helped instill an ethic of conservation, reducing, for example, the slash-and-burn agricultural practices that have resulted in problems of deforestation on the peninsula.
Of the burgeoning beekeeping industry, Raúl notes, ”Ninety percent of the producers are Mayan people, some of the most impoverished people in the region. And,” he notes, ”they produce the best tasting organic honey in the world!”
Grants have also supported the establishment of a school of Maya medicine, supporting traditional healers and the cultivation of medicinal plants. Linking conservation practices with income-generating ventures that also help to preserve native cultures has been an important outcome of the program, according to Raúl.
”Some of the procedures from the Mexican SGP are being replicated in at least 24 countries,” he states.
A former professor of science and anthropology, Raúl’s Kellogg Fellowship inspired him to work more intentionally in communities. He considers himself a partner, rather than a leader, working alongside community members.
”The people themselves know what to do; I am here to support them. We work together to reach a goal,” says Raúl. His approach is: ”Be honest, hear them, and support them. I want them to feel free to express their views and recommend changes where they’re needed.”
Raúl points out the particular challenges of working in this Mexican state where, he says, ”We are familiar with crises, environmental crises, political crises, and economic crises.” By way of example, he describes the hurricanes and tropical storms that ravage the peninsula each year. In particular, damage done to crops and structures from hurricanes Dean (2007), Wilma (2005), and Isadore (2002) meant that several of the programs in place had to be refunded and re-established.
”It’s important to be responsive to the issues in communities, and to help the community members themselves to be responsive,” says Raúl. Still, he is inspired by what he sees happening. ”It’s exciting to help people to have a better life,” he says.