Francisco Remolina, known as Paco, is introducing the domestication of white-tailed deer for consumption, commerce, and eco-tourism in order to promote the long-term sustainability of the Mayan communities in Mexico.
The New Idea
As part of a regional sustainable development program in the Mayan communities of Quintana Roo, Paco Remolina has designed multiple strategies to better manage local wild flora and fauna. At the core of this program is his work to domesticate the white-tailed deer in the backyards of the indigenous Mayan families under the direct care of women and the elderly.
The importance of deer to the Mayan culture and to the region's development manifests itself on many levels. The deer have significant reproductive capacity and are in great demand as a source of food and for traditional ceremonies (in the Mayan wedding tradition, the deer is an important form of sacrifice). Moreover, the white-tailed deer have potential value for the local tourist trade.
For the first time in Mexico, Paco has achieved complete domestication of the white-tailed deer through simple economically viable animal husbandry methods appropriate to the conditions of rural Mayan communities and using the limited plots of land available to the families of these communities. In particular, Paco is using the deer domestication so that women (who make the economic decisions in the Mayan family) and the elderly (who are, economically, the most vulnerable) have alternative means for survival.
In the Yucatán, and throughout the southern states of Mexico where the Mayan communities are concentrated, there is an urgent need for development strategies that are economically viable, sustainable, and respectful of the Mayan culture.
Indigenous communities of the region lack subsistence strategies that meet their basic nutritional and economic needs. Meat products such as beef, pork, and veal are expensive but an important source of nutrition available to a small percent of the population. More than 60 percent of the population receives less than one minimum wage salary per day. As a result of the hardship encountered in the rural indigenous communities, immigration to tourist centers is frequent although it incurs only a minimal improvement in quality of life and breaks apart families and communities.
On the environmental front the Mayan communities face a severe problem of deforestation as more and more pastureland is cleared for cattle raising. This upsets the regional ecosystem and depletes the natural resource base. Furthermore, despite the limited profitability of cattle production, the government continues to fund and implement its slash and burn methods. Already, 20,000 hectares of jungle in the northern part of Quintana Roo has been cleared for grazing land, and an additional 200 hundred to 500 hundred hectares is razed each year.
Ruminants, on the other hand, are the most efficient consumers of all animals. Through his research, Paco has determined that a deer can consume 40 different types of the region's vegetation, making its natural feeding ground much more varied than that of most other domesticated animals. With deer domestication, production for local and family consumption is created, and an important source of protein is obtained without concomitant destructive environmental practices. Moreover, the venison can be sold to local markets and restaurants at a price more than double that of beef or veal.
In addition, the area of the Yucatán that Paco has used to begin the domestication of the deer is located within the tourist circuit called the Mayan Tourist Corridor. Deer domestication opens the possibility of eco-tourism activities with direct benefit for the communities involved. Rather than going to the tourist city centers to eke out a subsistence living, the Mayans can bring the tourists to them to eat in their restaurants, visit their farms, and hunt on their land.
Paco has developed a sophisticated, multipronged strategy for deer domestication in the Mayan communities in which he works. He is training people in animal husbandry techniques for implementation in their small farm plots, starting with nine families in five communities and adding breeding stables, managed by a group of elders, that will allow expansion to three more communities this year and many more in the years to come. As president of a regional network of fifteen of the most prominent community-based organizations, Paco is also directing and managing a sustainable development plan at the regional level. Through this network, he plans to spread his model for deer domestication to all parts of the Yucatán peninsula. He has already received countless requests for deer from other Mayan communities as well as from the majority of the nongovernmental organizations in the network. He is striving to obtain a major shipment of female deer from Louisiana, which will expand the breeding capacity of the ranch ten-fold and allow the expansion of the project well beyond the current five to eight communities.
On a broader level, Paco complements the deer domestication with strategies and workshops that teach adequate cultivation of the wild flora to increase the capacity for breeding of fauna. He also monitors animal breeders and helps them develop methods to cultivate the animals in the natural environment, avoiding unnecessary environmental degradation.
Paco has also designed and garnered support for a training center that brings academics to conduct field research related to the white-tailed deer project and contribute to the elaboration of other sustainable development projects of the regional flora and fauna. In addition, he hosts visits from other organizations and Mayan communities to facilitate replication of the project and provides technical assistance for projects already being implemented in other regions of Mexico. The training center, in turn, is providing a financing mechanism for the project's continuation.
Due to the dearth of research on the domestication of white-tailed deer, Paco is also compiling a manual that details the project work as well as the scientific research related to the appropriate animal husbandry techniques.
A veterinarian by training, Paco grew up in a large family. His father was a community doctor who instilled in him the value and importance of service to the community and the necessity of understanding one's natural environment in order to live productively, yet sustainably, in it.
Paco has lived in Mayan communities for eleven years, learning from the Mayans and sharing with them practices for subsistence living, economic development, and strategies that wed traditional practices with modern realities. Having begun his work with the Mayan communities by creating a nature reserve, he uncovered a key truth about environmental preservation: an element of economic profitability greatly helps. This realization, in turn, focused his attention not simply on environmental preservation and community development, but also on the complimentary uses of eco-tourism. Paco lives in awe of the experience and ingenuity the Mayans have acquired over thousands of years of living off the land. He sees his work as a small contribution to maintaining and strengthening historical practices in the modern setting while, at the same time, showing the world the value and ingenuity of the Mayan culture.