How a wood stove saves trees

How a wood stove saves trees

A travelogue by Thies Geertz

Finally, the time has come: after the pandemic-related travel restrictions were lifted, I can travel to Mexico to visit our community-based forest conservation project. After a twelve-hour flight: Arrival in Mexico City, jet lag, meeting with our partner organisation Cooperación Comunitaria. The next morning: onward journey to the project area in the state of Guerrero by car, a twelve-hour drive. I quickly realise: Mexico is a huge country. Due to the different eco-zones that this Central American state of 130 million inhabitants encompasses, Mexico is counted among the 17 megadiverse countries on the planet. In addition, the country is also an ethnic mosaic. Countless indigenous peoples live in Mexico, especially in the south. In the state of Guerrero, where we are implementing our project, a particularly large number of people belong to indigenous communities. Here, violent conflicts over land use rights occur time and again. Large mining companies and drug cartels - the so-called "narcos" - have been trying to establish themselves here for many years - against the will of the indigenous people. The German Foreign Office therefore strongly advises against travelling to the state of Guerrero. We travel in a convoy of vehicles for safety.

Since 2013, the GNF partner organisation Cooperación Comunitaria has been working in the mountainous, inaccessible Montaña region of the state of Guerrero. After the region was first shaken by a violent earthquake, a short time later a hurricane raged and caused great destruction. In the aftermath of these natural disasters, what was initially intended as a relief project to rebuild the houses in the villages in an earthquake-resistant manner quickly developed into a comprehensive development programme together with the indigenous Me'phaa community.

The natural disasters made it clear that the increasing deforestation and unsustainable use of the mountain forests are increasingly leading to landslides, which are burying farmland, roads and houses. In addition, deforestation significantly exacerbates the problem of water scarcity in the drought months. The focus of the project that GNF, funded by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), is therefore the sustainable use and reforestation of the red oak - a key species of the extremely species-rich mountain forest of the Montaña. Due to its enormous energy density, the red oak is highly sought after as firewood in the wood stoves of the Me'phaa. Together with the women, the Cooperación Comunitaria is addressing precisely this issue and has developed a wood-saving stove in the course of numerous workshops. The new model was named "Juana" and is exactly tailored to the women's needs because they developed it themselves. Working together, the women have already built 40 wood-saving stoves. All the women agree that the new stoves are much more comfortable and save about 50 per cent of firewood. There is also a smoke outlet, so the women no longer have to stand in the smoke while baking the tortillas. With 40 families now using these stoves, many tonnes of firewood are saved over the year. Since the Juana stove is a model of success, many other families have already asked whether they can receive support in building this stove themselves. We, therefore, intend to expand the programme in the future. If every Me'phaa family in the area had a "Juana", entire forests could be spared from deforestation.

Our project also aims to strengthen the twelve-member indigenous self-government committee, which is elected for three years at a time. Since the Me'phaa do not have private land ownership, all landmark decisions on forest management are made by the self-governing committee. Through participatory workshops, the committee's awareness of sustainable use practices and management skills are specifically strengthened. The Cooperación Comunitaria acts with great skill here and enjoys great trust due to years of work in the communities. It also helps that parts of the team themselves come from the Me'phaa community. During the workshops, Spanish is translated into the language of the Me'phaa so that all residents can follow and participate.


After an eventful week with many workshops and the inauguration of numerous new kitchens, I, unfortunately, have to leave Mexico again. Time is pressing and it is now my task to work with Cooperación Comunitaria to secure follow-up funding so that many more wood-saving cooking stoves can be built in the coming years and community forest management can be improved.


Then, hopefully, I will be able to return to this mega-diverse, fascinating country soon and further deepen the partnership with Cooperación Comunitaria and the Me'phaa communities and inspect many new cooking stoves.