Forestry activity in the Tabasco State, Mexico

There are high and medium evergreen forests, oak groves, and mangroves in the wooded forest area; other important wooded areas are covered by cocoa, coffee, rubber, citrus, and coconut trees due to their extension.

Forestry activity in the Tabasco State, Mexico
Photo by Antonio Grosz / Unsplash

The tropical region is one of the least developed in the country, however, it has agricultural and livestock potential that can be summarized as follows: It represents approximately 15 million hectares distributed in the states of Oaxaca, Chiapas, Veracruz, Tabasco, Campeche, Yucatan, and Quintana Roo, with varying degrees of utilization and technification, and is considered to have high and medium agricultural potential, These include cocoa, coffee, rubber, bananas, and sugar cane, as well as a wide variety of fruit trees such as mango, papaya, pineapple, orange, and grapefruit, which are produced, with few exceptions, only in this region of the country.

Mexico's humid tropics contribute to the production of corn, rice, beans, sugar, cacao, banana and henequen, tropical and subtropical fruits, honey, and timber production. The region's cattle population, mostly beef cattle, is one-third of the national total, but this figure could easily be increased if management and maintenance practices were improved. The swine and poultry population together represent one-fifth of the national total.

History of forestry in Tabasco

There is a history of forestry since pre-Hispanic and colonial times, such as the development of cacao plantations with shade trees in the Chontalpa. However, timber exploitation became increasingly important, until it became the region's main export activity. The wood was transported through the rivers. Dyewood and other precious woods, mahogany, and cedar, were cut in Huimanguillo and other areas of the Chontalpa, but the profits were not reinvested in the jungle. Selective looting does not destroy the ecosystem, but when the precious woods are extracted, the forest is uncovered and devalued.

In the 19th century, a large part of the forest was affected by over-cutting. Towards the end of the century, a large-scale boom in the cultivation of bananas for export purposes began, and as traditional agriculture expanded, clearing continued in the form of slash-and-burn logging. Thus, the production of precious and dyed woods in the areas of easy access is reduced, concluding the boom in timber exploitation. 1934 forestry exploitation reports production of 150 thousand kg of chicozapote gum in the Balancán area and 23 thousand pieces of guano palm. Around 1935-1940, banana cultivation entered a crisis, after which the banana-growing territory was still largely covered by jungle and continued to be very unpopulated.

The endowment of jungle lands to the ejidos in 1935 led to an increase in land clearing. At that time, the role of Tabasco in the national economy was reconsidered and the intention was to turn it into a grain producer with a surplus for the rest of the country. To this end, communication routes were improved, hydraulic control works were carried out and the jungle began to be massively eliminated, which was not seen as a resource, but as a nuisance with no economic value. There is no single forest policy for the economic and sustainable use of the forest, not only of precious species but of all, soft or hard. Furthermore, there is no technological package for their utilization and there are no markets for their commercialization.

Destructive logging and burning of the rainforest to expand the agricultural frontier took place during this period. This period saw the first massive loss of the forest and the most visible impact on the region's natural resources: not even the commercial timber from the slashed and burned forest, which covered at least an estimated area of 250,000 hectares, representing a minimum of 25 million cubic meters of round wood, was harvested. In the 1940s, 2 million kg of corozo oil were obtained, especially in Cárdenas, Huimanguillo, and Balancán, from 1,000 to 5,000 m' of precious wood logs and 1,000 to 3,000 sleepers.

After the failure of the agricultural emporium approach, there was a shift towards cattle ranching, with a spectacular boom in this activity, which was extensive, low productivity, low investment, and generated few jobs. Cattle ranching not only stays in the plains, but also moves up into the highlands, towards less suitable areas, and cattle ranching expands thanks to official water policies and road infrastructure works.

Federal and state policies support livestock specialization, providing the conditions for it to take off: laws and institutional mechanisms, agricultural policy to expand the frontier based on land clearing and financing, as well as an agrarian law that favors cattle ranching, since it considers that keeping the land does not mean working it, but rather keeping it idle. The Chontalpa and Balancán-Tenosique plans emerged, the first with an apparent agricultural orientation; however, both ended up being predominantly cattle raising.

Current situation

Agricultural activity in Tabasco covers approximately 220,000 hectares, which represents 9% of the state's surface area. Of the wooded forest area, there are high and medium evergreen forests, oak groves, and mangroves; other important wooded areas due to their extension are covered by cocoa, coffee, rubber, citrus, and coconut trees.

Deforestation has caused problems for the sawmill industry, as sources of supply have diminished and raw material has become more expensive, to the point that today it is almost inactive. Commercial forestry plantations have been identified in the following areas - Las Sabanas de Balancán and Huimanguillo, the Cacaotera zone, and the Balancán-Tenosique Plan.

Mexico, like any developing country, is currently facing a large number of demographic, social, economic, and political problems that require urgent solutions to ensure its harmonious and continuous progress. Such solutions, however, must be sufficiently sensible and prudent to ensure not only the present, but also the future of the country, and the proper management and planning of the optimal use and conservation of biotic resources are one of the core elements of this policy.

It is therefore urgent to find new ways to obtain food and other products in the humid tropics. New sources of natural products could be developed through the intensive evaluation of current procedures for using leaves, flowers, and fruits, as well as products that could be commercially harvested (medicinal products, gums, resins, tannins, colorants, ornamental plants, precious and semiprecious woods, etc.).

The state of Tabasco, located in the humid tropics and possessing a great diversity of ecosystems, with a wide economic potential of natural materials and diverse industries, such as food, agro-food, pharmaceuticals, perfumery, and handicrafts, makes its efforts a reason for a general socioeconomic analysis. The application of eco-technologies to increase the cultivable area with useful species to be used in any of the activities of man leads us to think of the great possibilities of management of cultivated wild vegetation.

In this way, management would be implemented for better use of these resources and, at the same time, their preservation would be encouraged. Based on the fact that the state is divided into four regions (Central, Sierra, Chontalpa, and Ríos), each with well-defined characteristics in terms of their main vegetation systems, an analysis is made of the Chontalpa and Sierra Zones of the state of Tabasco.

Highland region

Chamedoras (palmaceae)
The chamedoras and their products
Multiple ornamental species of the undergrowth
Timber species such as boxwood
Cedar and mahogany from forest relicts
The macules, the willow, and the redwood.

Chontalpa region

Plants for cosmetics (cacao fat and achiote colorant)
Spice plants (Pinuenta gorda, achiote, castilla pepper)
Dyes (for high durability dead poles and hematoxylin as colorant and varnishes)
Tulares and carrizales (raw material for the weaving of mats, toys, and other domestic utensils)
Dead poles, beams, sill props (mangrove and tatuan).

By José del Carmen Morales Rebolledo