Professor Timothy Randhir of the department of environmental conservation was recognized last month as a distinguished visitor by the mayor of Tuxtla-Gutierrez, the capital of the state of Chiapas, Mexico.
Randhir led an expert delegation of environmental professionals from western Massachusetts that visited Chiapas from Jan. 14-24 as a part of a professional exchange program funded by the U.S. Department of State.
The delegation included representatives from the Hitchcock Center in Amherst, Neustras Raices in Holyoke, ReGreen Springfield and SWCA, a private environmental consulting firm in Amherst. The group visited various projects in the Grijalva-Usumacinta watershed covered by the states of Chiapas and Tabasco, with an aim of sharing experiences from the Connecticut River Watershed.
The Professional Exchange Program involved more than 27 professional fellows from Mexico who participated in a five-week program in the U.S. over the past three years. Fellows developed action plans to address environmental sustainability problems facing southern Mexico that include deforestation, water quality, city planning, loss of green space, urbanization, solid waste, coffee production, ecotourism, habitat protection, protected area management, watershed management and governance.
The projects use stakeholder collaboration and watershed-scale integration for the Grijalva-Usumacinta watershed. The watershed is undergoing severe environmental degradation from deforestation, soil waste disposal, and flooding issues that is affecting livelihoods of several communities in the watershed. Cecropia, a nonprofit directed by Juan Carlos, one of the professional fellows, predicts that climate change is expected to severely impact river flows, biodiversity and ecosystems of the watershed. The delegation visited Sumidero Canyon, a key tourist attraction in the region and home to several endangered species like river crocodiles, spider monkeys and ocelots. The national park is affected by pollution runoff from neighboring land and habitat loss. The delegation met with local leaders and park managers to discuss participatory methods involving stakeholders to address these issues.
The professional exchange program is organized by the Institute of Training and Development (ITD) in South Amherst with funding from the U.S. Department of State's Bureau of Education and Cultural Affairs for professional exchange on environmental sustainability in Uruguay, Peru and Mexico.