efe-epaMexico City

President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador announced Friday the start of a program to revive Mexico's rural economy and protect the environment with an initial investment of 240 billion pesos ($12.55 billion) in 2019.

The plan, he said, "means rescuing the countryside, it means creating jobs, many jobs - more than 200,000 jobs in the countryside this year - and it means reforestation," he said.

The goal of "Sembrando Vida" (sowing life) is to plant 1 million hectares (2.46 million acres) with fruit-bearing and timber-yielding trees.

"And this action has already begun. This year, we will plant on more than 500,000 hectares, and there will be 200,000 permanent jobs, paying wages to peasants. We will strengthen production in communities, in ejidos (communal land holdings). We will strengthen small farms," Lopez Obrador said.

"The aim is to give Mexicans roots in their places of origin so migration is optional, not forced. And today we begin on the ground. We will be in Tabasco (the president's home state) tomorrow, and the day after in Veracruz, to propel this action," he said.

He pointed to the existence of 100 million hectares of publicly owned land in Mexico that had been allowed to lie unproductive "during the neoliberal period," a reference to his predecessors going back to the 1980s, who followed policies recommended by the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank.

"The countryside is Mexico's most important factory, yet it was paralyzed, shut down, abandoned. Now we are going to bolster the countryside, and the benefits are many," Lopez Obrador said.

Besides creating employment, the project will benefit the environment, "because there are resources destined for reforestation, for re-establishing the ecosystem, to produce water, to produce oxygen, to avoid soil degradation," he said.

Revitalizing rural Mexico will aid economic growth, the president said.

"With all due respect, the technocrats don't know this, because they didn't learn this in the schools. They learned the formulas that say if you maintain macroeconomic equilibrium, you don't need to do anything, since the market does everything," he said.

"And we have seen that that formula doesn't work," the president added. "It only produces economic stagnation, unemployment, migration, poverty, insecurity and violence. We are going for the promotion of development."