Benjamin Hodgdon's project takes him to Oaxaca State, Mexico. There, he will work with a local Mexican non-governmental organization to coordinate the initiation of community forestry with a group of Zapotec indigenous villages in the Sierra Sur area of the state. Hodgdon's Wall Award will fund his role as project coordinator. Hodgdon is passionate about the project. "[I am] convinced that community forestry offers one of the best ways to meet a range of social, environmental, and economic objectives in rural areas."
An anthropology major at Grinnell, Hodgdon credits his commitment to social action to his experiences as a student. "It all started at Grinnell," he says. "Grinnell helped me start to conceptualize the complex and interconnected problems of the world and, more important, to believe that I could and should go out and do something about it."
Hodgdon has done just that. Since graduating, he has worked in Southeast Asia to establish community-based forestry projects that balance environmental conservation with the economic needs of forest-dependent indigenous groups. Most recently, he served as the World Wildlife Fund's chief technical adviser for the Xekong Sustainable Forestry Project in a remote province in southern Laos. When Hodgdon decided to leave Asia for a new part of the world, he searched for a small grassroots group with which to collaborate. He found the Autonomous Group for Environmental Research (GAIA in Spanish). Operating out of Oaxaca City, GAIA is a non-governmental organization dedicated to coordinating sustainable development strategies together with communities. Its operations focus on "maintaining identities, natural resources, and ecological processes."
Hodgdon was drawn to Oaxaca because of its strong tradition of successful community forestry, and to the work with GAIA because the communities themselves have identified the need for sustainable community forestry on their lands. "In many places, development initiatives are brought to communities by outsiders who have devised solutions ... with no community input. Such projects typically fail to deliver many benefits to communities," Hodgdon points out. "The situation here is different. Encouraged by neighboring communities' success with sustainable forestry, these Zapotec villages approached GAIA themselves for financial and technical help to build up their own enterprise."
Hodgdon sees community forestry as a way to mitigate the negative effects of large-scale commercial logging while providing a vehicle for community livelihood improvement. "Timber and other forest products represent one of the most important untapped renewable resources for development in rural areas," Hodgdon says. "The huge potential that a community forestry enterprise could bring is being forgone." Working with GAIA, Hodgdon hopes to initiate community forestry in these communities. By the end of the year, they plan to have a locally owned forest management plan in place. "Real success, however," says Hodgdon, " ... [means] that a functioning community forestry enterprise is still up and running and providing benefits to locals in 50 or 100 years."
Read Ben's Ben Hodgdon's final report.doc