By Julie Etra
Sembrando Vida in Mexico
On October 8, 2018, President Andrés Manual López Obrador (AMLO) kicked off a new program, Sembrando Vida (Sowing Life), in the hope that it would achieve two parallel purposes. The program encourages sustainable communities through cultivating trees with commercial value – fruit-producing (mango, cinnamon, soursop) and timber (mahogany, cedar, rubber, cocoa) trees. It also combats rural poverty and environmental degradation; planting trees combats environmental degradation because they uptake carbon, a greenhouse gas, thus fighting climate change.
By paying residents of rural areas to plant the trees, along with garden crops for their own use, the government hopes to “rescue” rural areas, reactivate local economies and regenerate the social fabric in communities. The program works by turning communal land into a strategic tool for developing the countryside, increasing the productivity of rural areas, and thus reducing the economic and social vulnerability of farm families in remote areas. Inaugurated in 2019, Sembrando Vida has been adopted in 20 of Mexico’s 32 states.
Sembrando Vida will end up costing the Mexican government between 12 and 15 billion pesos; growers receive 4,500 pesos a month in addition to the value of what they grow. Many of these people participated in a program fielded by the previous administration, through which communities were paid to protect and maintain the jungle and its ecosystems. Sembrando Vida replaces that program, with the unfortunate result that, in order to provide land to qualify for Sembrando Vida, farmers have chopped down or burned the same jungles they had been protecting. This is not encouraged by Sembrando Vida, of course, which intended to reforest/replant “degraded land.”
Sembrando Vida and the World
But this unintended consequence (among others) is not why Sembrando Vida is in the news in 2021. In April, at U.S. President Biden’s virtual Leaders Summit on Climate, AMLO promoted Sembrando Vida as a tool to resolve the dual continuing crises of Central American migration north to the United States through Mexico, and climate change. AMLO claimed that planting three billion trees in southern Mexico and Central America would create 1.2 million jobs, which in turn would cut down on northward migration to the U.S.
The U.S. would pay for the expansion from Mexico into Central America. Reuters reported that AMLO also suggested that the “U.S. government could offer those who participate in this program that after sowing their lands for three consecutive years, they would have the possibility to obtain a temporary work visa” to the U.S., followed by U.S. residency or citizenship.
Most analysts consider the Sembrando Vida program to be naïve, simplistic and unlikely to substantially curb the violence and poverty that has fueled immigration from Central America. According to the Mexican newspaper Reforma, the U.S. responded a little more clearly: “The United States is not interested in President Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s proposal to link an extension of the Sembrando Vida program to Central America with a plan that offers work visas to Central Americans.”
If you check out the official government webpage for Sembrando Vida, it makes no mention of Central America (www.gob.mx/bienestar/acciones-y-programas/programa-sembrando-vida). It’s been suggested by Carolina Herrera, a writer for the U.S. nonprofit Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), that AMLO was “attempting to distract from Mexico’s failure to advance a clean energy transition.”
In his presentation at the Leaders Summit, AMLO offered two other proposals – first, Mexico would limit crude oil production to domestic use and refine it locally, and second, Mexico would modernize existing hydroelectric plants to displace the use of fossil fuels. Given that Mexico has made few efforts on the federal level to curb greenhouse gases and encourage renewable resources, the first proposal demonstrates AMLO’s intention to support PEMEX, the state-owned petroleum company, over working on renewable energy options. Modernizing hydro plants supports the state-owned electric company CFE at the expense of solar and wind.
AMLO’s proposals, Herrera argues, will “essentially ensure that Mexico will not meet its international climate commitments and clean energy targets” for the international Sustainable Development Goals set for 2030.