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Guatemala's Maya Biosphere Reserve
Published: January 2011
Thanks to the Rainforest Alliance, xate collectors living in Uaxactún, a community in Guatemala's Maya Biosphere Reserve, have learned efficient techniques for managing xate, a type of palm that provides them with a means to earning a sustainable livelihood. To allow for faster regeneration, xateros now cut only quality leaves so that more fronds remain on the palm, and they sell their leaves for twice as much as they did previously.
The Maya Biosphere Reserve is Central America's most biologically diverse ecosystem. Extending from Guatemala through Belize and into Mexico, it is the largest uninterrupted tropical forest north of the Amazon and provides habitat for species such as this toucan.
The Guatemalan government established the Maya Biosphere Reserve in 1990, and divided into three zones: a protected area, a buffer zone and a multiple-use zone, where the sustainable harvesting of wood and other forest products is permitted.
The Rainforest Alliance has helped Uaxactún xateros find United States markets for their sustainably harvested palm leaves. Texas-based Continental Floral Greens now buys one shipment of xate palms per week, which has provided community members with a significant and reliable source of income.
Benedin Garcia Rodriguez, president of the Management and Conservation Organization in Uaxactún, is optimistic about the new environmental services project. As he says, "First, there are economic benefits. Second, if we meet the objectives that we have proposed as a community, we will become relevant at a global level. And last, we would contribute to halting climate change by maintaining the equilibrium of this forest."
The Rainforest Alliance has worked with the children of Uaxactún for three years, helping them to develop a xate plantation on the outskirts of their village.
The illegal and irresponsible harvesting of xate is threatening the stablility of the rainforest ecosystem in Central. Demand for the palm fronds is particularly high in the United States and Europe, where it is used in churches on Palm Sunday.
A Rainforest Alliance study shows that the deforestation rate in the Peten is lowest among the eleven FSC-certified forestry concessions that lie within the multiple-use zone of the Maya Biosphere Reserve.
Through a series of workshops, the Rainforest Alliance education team has provided Maya Biosphere Reserve-based teachers with the resources they need to bring an understanding and appreciation of the surrounding environment into their classrooms.