El Triunfo: A Land Before Time

By Todd Caspersen, Director of Purchasing
Photos by Joe Driscoll, Equipment Guru

El Triunfo Biosphere Reserve protects cloud forests on the upper slopes of the Sierra Madre, as well as the wet tropical rainforests of the Soconusco on the Mexican Pacific. It is also home to 15,000-18,000 people who grow coffee, much of which is exported to the United States, and is the basis for the regional economy.

El Triunfo is a federally protected natural area in the Mexican state of Chiapas; it was the first reserve to enroll in the UNESCO Man and Biosphere (MAB) program in 1993. Today it is joined by 580 reserves in 114 countries in the World Network of Biosphere Reserves, and is recognized as one of the most biologically diverse parks in Mexico.

The general objective of El Triunfo is to contribute to the conservation of the natural heritage of Mexico through the promotion of a culture of preservation and sustainable development of the communities in the biosphere. It also seeks to maintain the biological and ecological functions of the ecosystems of the reserve and to engage the active participation of the population and institutions involved in conservation activities.

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The majority of the reserve is a working landscape including community forestry, coffee cultivation, cattle ranching, corn and bean farming, in an area of 119,177 hectares (460 sq. miles). The nucleus areas total 25,763 hectares (99.5 sq. miles) divided into five polygons.

Here is where Equal Exchange and your daily dose of coffee come in. El Triunfo is committed to the MAB goal to combine the three functions described below and be a place of excellence for the testing and demonstration of methods of conservation and sustainable development on a regional scale.

  1. Conservation: Contribute to the conservation of landscapes, ecosystems, species and genetic diversity
     
  2. Development: Promote sustainable human and economic development from the socio-cultural and ecological point of view
     
  3. Logistics: Provide support to demonstration projects, environmental education, research and the permanent observation of conservations issues at a local, regional, regional and global level

My farm visits over the years have taken me over hill and dale throughout the region and my recent trip cemented it as one of the most special and beautiful places I have ever visited. People have been living in this area for a long time creating a rich human history; the mountains have been around since the Pleistocene era and sport amazing tree ferns, provide habitat to uncounted species of animals, amphibians, reptiles, insects and birds. In the nucleus area it feels like you just walked into "The Land Before Time"; I was certain there could be dinosaurs around the next corner. I don't think I can yell loud enough, write enough stories, show enough pictures to explain how important the continued conservation of this area is for the people, the animals, the plants and the regional ecological health.

Take a breath, close your eyes and think of the places you know that give you that divine sensation of our interconnected universe. El Triunfo is one of those places. You can support El Triunfo in a variety of ways but let me emphasize two. One, buy Mexican coffee from the coffee farmers Equal Exchange has partnered with. Two, change your consumption habits to reduce your ecological footprint. Climate change is a real force in the reserve today with real economic and ecological impacts. Increased intensity of storms has caused massive landslides killing people and destroying farms; changing or variable rains influenced by the temperature of the Pacific Ocean currents change the fruiting pattern of the forest and endanger many animal species. Support small farmers and ride your bike.

Fast Facts on El Triunfo Biosphere

  • Largest remaining tropical rainforest on the Mexican Pacific coast
  • One of the largest cloud forests in Mesoamerica
  • 548 species of terrestrial vertebrates
  • 369 species of birds
  • 80 bird species on the endangered species list
  • Captures 10% of the rainfall in all of Mexico
  • Lowland watershed dammed to create the Angostura dam, which provides 30% of the electricity to all of Mexico
  • 15,000-18,000 people
  • 29 Ejidos
  • 108 private properties (Finca Prussia was taken by the EZLN in 1994, it remains semi-abandoned)
  • Indigenous populations: Tzotzil, Tzeltal, Mame
  • Large temporary population of Guatemalan coffee pickers