Community First: A Bottom-Up Approach to Sustainability


Purepecha women

Purepecha women

Thirty years later, it has become one of the best organized and managed communities in Latin America. A conglomerate of 20 different companies was created to exploit 12,000 ha of forest, employing 950 Purepecha people: in sawmill, office furniture manufacturing, resin production, spring water bottling, community supermarket, CBET project, etc. They received the international FSC certification (Forest Stewardship Council) for the responsible management of their forests.

The Pantzingo CBET project (www. started in 2002 with the academic support of the National Autonomous University of Mexico and the financial help of the National Commission for the Development of Indigenous Peoples (CDI). They built comfortable cabins, implemented eco-technologies, designed nature-based activities such as trekking expeditions to the Paricutin volcano and San Juan ruins, games of skills, zip-lining, and a white-tail deers ecological reserve.

Twelve jobs were created to run the Pantzingo center. Today, they welcome about 400 visitors a month and 60 communities a year which come from all over Mexico to learn about their experience.

How has the bottom-up approach to sustainability worked in this project?

The starting point for this community was to recognize their forest as its most important asset. Then, the idea of regaining control of their land planning was decisive to implement a sustainable forestry management plan following FSC guidelines. Entrepreneurship spirit obviously played a key role with the creation of twenty companies.

From a social perspective, a strong community organization and the collaboration with academic institutions and NGOs helped them to better implement their project.

From an environmental perspective, the adoption of eco-technologies, the achievement of the FSC certification and the Mexican ecotourism certification program allowed them to preserve their natural environment and comply with international and national standards.

From a social perspective, a strong community organization and the collaboration with academic institutions and NGOs helped them to better implement their project.

Finally, from an economic perspective, the access to national and international funds, the benchmarking of other similar CBET projects, their client diversification strategy and the reinvestment of their benefits into the touristic infrastructure insured the competitiveness of their ecotourism destination. As these examples demonstrate, a bottom-up approach with the ‘Community First’ approach is the best way to guarantee the long-term sustainability of communities, generating the triple bottom line benefits: social, environmental and economic, that not only affect their lives but also those of future generations. In other words, community-based ecotourism clearly follows the guiding principles for Responsible Tourism as stated in the Cape Town Declaration of 2002 ( CapeTown.html). It should be encouraged and supported by the public and private sector organizations, and decision-makers in the tourism industry.

Manuel Miroglio Gouin is consultant, international speaker and professor at the Technological University of Leon (UTL) in Mexico. He is an expert on sustainable and responsible tourism issues. He is a member of The International Ecotourism Society and the ATES (French Fair and Solidarity-Based Tourism Association).