Adapting to Climate Change


Watersheds, Food Sovereignty, and Agroecology

Chiapas, Mexico


6-quarter credits course through Portland State University

Divided by the Sierra Madre mountains and framed by coastal mangroves on one side and the Lacandona jungle on the other, Chiapas, Mexico boasts an complex cultural, historical and ecological landscape. This fertile and productive region is home to the modern Maya, the socialist Zapatistas and traditional Mexican mestizo cultures. Coastal Chiapas and the Chiapanecan lowlands offer a unique living classroom for students to learn about climate change and sustainable agricultural production systems.

The coastal mountain peaks and cloud forests, marked by traditional milpa agriculture and coffee production, quickly drop to coastal plains that have been largely deforested for conventional ranching, which then give way to coastal mangroves that serve as key habitat for local fisheries.  Inadequate land management and deforestation throughout the watershed have resulted in erosion that threatens downstream agriculture. Such challenges have been compounded by the increased frequency and intensity of drought, floods, landslides, intense winds, increased pests and changing pollination cycles that are associated with climate change.

Students will learn firsthand about the daily reality of climate change and witness solutions in action. Integrated watershed management and community development programs are having a positive impact in the upper watershed. In the coastal plains, community ranching groups are planting trees in their pastures to reduce the risks they face from flooding, drought, and winds, while increasing productivity. In the Lacandona jungle, students will meet with indigenous groups to discuss the linkages between the global economy, deforestation and palm oil plantations, compare traditional versus conventional productions systems, and explore the ancient Mayan heritage of the region.

Throughout our journey, students will explore real world solutions to local and global issues and how to bring these lessons back home.