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Handing communities the management of a Guatemalan forest

As discussed in a recent article in The New York Times, on-going research in the Maya Biosphere Reserve in Guatemala’s northern Petén region demonstrates the effectiveness of forest management when it is in the hands of the people that already live there.

Ranchers, loggers and smugglers all threaten tropical forests, but in areas given to local communities, the deforestation rate is close to zero and threatened tree species have hope of surviving, a study finds.

As discussed in a recent article in The New York Times, on-going research in the Maya Biosphere Reserve in Guatemala’s northern Petén region demonstrates the effectiveness of forest management when it is in the hands of the people that already live there. The Guatemalan Maya Biosphere Reserve is the largest protected area in Central America as well as being home to globally important tree, plant and animal biodiversity and famous for its Mayan cultural heritage.

Much of the western Maya Biosphere Reserve is government-monitored parkland; this land has suffered high levels of deforestation, challenged by many powerful interests opposed to conservation. As described in the article, communities and two local companies manage almost a quarter of the territory  of the 5.2-million-acre reserve, in 11 concessions granted by the government that permit strictly monitored forestry. According to a study by the Rainforest Alliance, ‘Deforestation Trends in the Maya Biosphere Reserve’, since these concessions were awarded, the level of deforestation has dropped to zero and significant socioeconomic benefits have accrued to local communities.

In addition to preventing deforestation, local communities’ management practices have succeeded in preserving the most threatened tree species in the forest: the native bigleaf mahogany. “These practices represent the state of the art for conservation,” said Bryan Finegan, a forest ecologist at CATIE, a Costa Rica-based research organization that is a partner in the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry. “It’s a model for the world.”

The debate on the capacity  of rural communities to sustain their forests is on the table at the 2015 Conference of the Parties of the United Nations Convention on Climate Change, currently taking place in Paris, where international conservation groups are pushing to include forest communities’ rights and knowledge as a component of the negotiations.

Read the original article: In Guatemala, People Living Off Forests Are Tasked With Protecting Them

The CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry, Bioversity International, the University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences, Vienna (BOKU) and the Tropical Agricultural Research and Higher Education Center (CATIE) are carrying out a research project to support community management of concessions in the Maya Biosphere Reserve, entitled 'Forestry to enhance livelihoods and sustain forests in Mesoamerica: How institutional arrangements and value chains affect benefits and resources'. Learn more about it here.

Photo: Baudelio Chi Quixchan in a field at the Maya reserve that has been illegally cleared. He supports the idea that the most effective way to protect forests is to give control of them to the communities who already live there. Copyright: The New York Times/M. Kohut

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