It started with car parts, blossomed into geraniums, and now brings together an unlikely combination of environmentalists, politicians, members of the military, academics, and artists. Such has been the career of Hans Peter Doster.
Hans Doster was born in 1930 in Stuttgart, Germany to a farming family. His father also owned and drove a truck for hire. I did the math and realized Doster was young enough to not have been conscripted into the army but old enough to have experienced and to remember the ravages of war. Indeed his accounts of post-war Germany were harrowing,
In 1953 he received a scholarship to study economics in the United States. After four years there he drove from California to Mexico City to enroll in UNAM’s summer program for foreign students. He stayed on and worked as a parts and service manager for Mercedes Benz. Two years into his life in Mexico Doster met María de Lourdes Gómez Montero, a law student from Morelia, Michoacan; they married within months.
In 1959 Doster left his secure position at Mercedes, and with two friends founded an electro-mechanical parts factory. They took advantage of Mexico’s import substitution program which gave preference to Mexican-made parts. “We manufactured keyboards for IBM typewriters, channel selectors for television sets,” Hans told me.
As the import substitution program was phased out, the Dosters became Mexico representatives for European automobile parts manufacturers. They spent their weekends in rural Morelos where they purchased land and built a vacation home.
In 1972 Hans was offered the directorship of Hella Group’s floundering Mexico branch. He replied, “I’ll have to check with my wife because we work together.” Lourdes agreed and Hans became Hella Mexico’s General Manager, she became a working shareholder. Retiring 20 years later the Dosters turned over a Hella branch with 2,500 employees.
In 1986 Hans received a call from the German embassy requesting assistance in finding land – and partners -- for a German company wanting to set up a geranium nursery. Unable to find either – and tired of loafing around on weekends -- the Dosters set up the nursery themselves. Presently a highly successful business, Floraplant employs a thousand workers and exports cuttings of 650 different species of ornamental plants.
Their involvement with the land led to the Dosters' deep concern for the environment. They wanted to protect the rivers, ravines, forests, and climate of Morelos.
They set up the Doster Foundation whose objectives include working with other like-minded organizations to lobby in favor of state and local legislation to protect the biodiversity, environment, and natural resources of Morelos and Mexico.
Morelos is the second smallest state in Mexico yet it is one of the most biologically diverse. With seven of the nine great ecosystems of Mexico it only lacks mangroves and seashores. Sadly, Morelos is in second place (after Tabasco) in the percentage of its territory suffering the transformation of its original ecosystem.
Last weekend I attended the Doster Foundation’s annual awards ceremony at a 55-hectare (135 acres) nursery in rural Tetecalita, Morelos.
This year’s recipient of the Doster Foundation Prize for Outstanding Work in Favor of the Environment is Fernando Jaramillo Monroy.
Fernando is the director of the Biosphere of the Anahuac Foundation. With doctoral studies at the Pablo de Olavide of Seville he has specialized in setting up and managing protected natural reserves. He has been key in the creation of 12 Natural Protected Areas (NPA), including the country’s largest, the Vizcaino Biosphere NPA in Baja California.
Upon receiving the award Jaramillo didn’t just speak to environmentalists. His audience included Governor Graco Ramirez and state legislators who have successfully worked on environmental legislation.
The member of the audience I found most unexpected was General Fausto Bautista Ramos, commander of the Army’s 24th Military Zone (Morelos). In retrospect I shouldn’t have been surprised. Getting an RSVP from the General and his wife is an example of the respect the Dosters have achieved from all participants in the protection of the environment. Indeed the army carries out extensive reforestation programs and maintains a nursery of saplings of the state’s native forests’ trees.
The non-governmental portion of the audience included strong-willed environmental activists, some of whom have even been arrested and imprisoned over environmental issues by previous administrations.
Addressing the governor, Fernando recognized he has fulfilled most of his campaign promises on the environment. Some actions were politically risky, such as evicting squatters from environmentally protected reserves. Others were politically ambitious such as getting the governors of the states surrounding the Valley of Mexico as well as the chief of government of the Federal District to recognize that protecting the Forest of Water is a matter of national security. He stood with the defenders of the last of Cuernavaca’s forests by cancelling the planned Northwest Bypass Highway.
Nevertheless, Fernando pointed out that the successes carried out by one administration are at risk of being done away with by the stroke of a pen by the next governor. “An important next step is an autonomous state government commission -- with enforcement powers -- charged with setting environmentally sustainable policy.”