Agriculture and Human Values

, Volume 24, Issue 1, pp 17–28 | Cite as

Conserving copalillo: The creation of sustainable Oaxacan wood carvings

Article

Abstract

Most accounts of the effect of the global marketplace on deforestation in Africa, Asia, and Latin America emphasize the demand for timber used in industrial processes and the conversion of tropical forests to pastures for beef cattle. In recent years, numerous scholars and policymakers have suggested that developing a market for non-timber forest products (NTFPs) might slow the pace of habitat destruction. Although increased demand for NTFPs rarely results in massive deforestation, the depletion of the raw materials needed to make particular products is common.

Many rural households in the Mexican state of Oaxaca have prospered over the past three decades through the sale of brightly-painted, whimsical wood carvings (alebrijes) to international tourists and the owners of ethnic arts shops in the United States, Canada, and Europe. This paper examines a promising project aimed at providing Oaxacan alebrije-makers with a reliable, legal, and sustainable supply of wood. The ecologists, artisans, merchants, and forest owners involved in the project face formidable obstacles. Gaining permission to harvest wood from land belonging to Oaxacan communities requires the negotiation of a complex social, legal, economic, and political landscape. Artisans’ decisions about where to obtain wood rest largely on price, quality, and reliability of the supplier; they are willing to pay a premium for ecologically sustainable wood only if the additional cost can be passed on to consumers. Nonetheless, a group of carvers has begun to buy sustainably harvested wood. This arrangement has economic advantages for both the alebrije-makers and the owners of the forests where the wood is produced.

Keywords

Alebrijes Conservation Mexico Non-timber forest products Oaxaca Sustainable forestry Wood carvings 

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Notes

Acknowledgments

Purata’s research was supported by the Mexican Nature Conservation Fund, the Ford Foundation, the Kleinhans Fellowship from the Rainforest Alliance, the Overbook Foundation, and the Center for International Forestry Research. Chibnik’s research was supported by International Programs, the Obermann Center for Advanced Studies and the Office of the Vice-President for Research at the University of Iowa, the University of Iowa-Grinnell College Bridging Project, and the Oaxacan Summer Institute in History. The authors thank Heriberto Aguirre, Myrna Ambrosio, Berry Brosi, Ana María López, Charles Peters, Cerisa Reynolds, the people of Jayacatlán, and the members of the ecoalebrijes cooperative in Arrazola for their help with this project.

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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, Inc. 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of AnthropologyUniversity of IowaIowa CityUSA
  2. 2.People and Plants InternationalXalapaMexico

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