Who? Lei van Haperen (24), MSc student of International Land and Water Management
What? Thesis research on farmers’ appreciation of nature
Where? Marqués de Comillas, Chiapas, Mexico
‘When I arrived in a village, I had no idea where I would sleep. You couldn’t arrange that in advance, because there is hardly any internet or telephone coverage in that part of Mexico. Every village has a mayor who is elected every four years. The mayors are responsible for the reception of guests. So as soon as I arrived I called on the mayor to ask where I could sleep, as well as to ask permission to do my research.
Insulted by money
It happened several times that the people who put me up and fed me wouldn’t take any money for it. That really bothered me, and once I secretly put some money under my plate. Later a boy told me his mother had seen that as an insult. She had given me the food out of love, but giving her money for it turned her hospitality from a favour to a service. That was a valuable insight for me. The Dutch don’t like being indebted to anyone, whereas society there is built to a far greater extent on favours. I learned just to say thank you. Now I try it the other way round too: doing someone a favour even if it doesn’t pay off.
People in that region mainly live off local produce. Most of them only buy salt, sugar and oil at the shop. I ate maize tortillas with beans every day, actually. There, the tortilla is like the potato in the Netherlands. Just as we see a big difference between boiled, roast or deep-fried potatoes, they think burritos, quesadillas and tacos are totally different things.
For my thesis I looked at how local farmers appreciate their land, or to be more precise, ‘Nature’s Contributions to People’ (NCP). Nature provides a lot of benefits such as clean water, food and a place for animals to live. Those are all examples of NCP. I looked at whether there is a link between appreciation of NCP and the choices those farmers make.
I visited 40 farmers in six villages who moved to this part of the jungle about 60 years ago. Sixty per cent of the forest in the region has disappeared over that period. That has made the local climate much drier, because forests retain water. The residents of one of the villages have already experienced the detrimental effects of deforestation on the local climate. And they have preserved more forest than the other villages. They saw a clear connection between the importance of NCP and the choices they make.’