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Community Forestry in the Petén Region of Guatemala

Throughout the Department of the Petén -- from the Izabel region in the south to the Maya Biosphere Reserve in the north -- we are promoting sustainable forestry and helping small and medium enterprises (SMEs) locate markets for responsibly harvested forest products. In Southern Petén, where reforestation is an increasingly attractive economic option for small landowners, we are working to move land management practices toward compliance with Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) standards that safeguard and enhance native forests and biodiversity. In addition, we are delivering basic business development support to emerging SMEs involved in reforestation projects.

Our focus in the Petén has historically been the Maya Biosphere Reserve. The five million-acre (2.1 million-hectare) reserve is the greatest expanse of natural rainforest in Guatemala, and home to rich biodiversity and cultural monuments including the Tikal National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Created in 1990, the reserve was established to combat alarming deforestation rates, illegal logging and the pillage of archeological resources in the region. Managed by Guatemala's National Council of Protected Areas, the reserve is divided into a protected zone, a multiple use zone (for controlled resource extraction) and a buffer zone. Forest concessions within the reserve's multiple use zones are legally required to undergo FSC certification, ensuring that they are extracting resources responsibly and protecting biodiversity.

The Rainforest Alliance has been active in the Maya Biosphere from the outset, issuing the first FSC certifications and providing support, training and marketing assistance to concession holders. Our TREES program works with government agencies, local groups, international NGOs, businesses and communities alike to...

  • Improve livelihoods for certified forest community members
  • Ensure responsible forest management
  • Halt invasions, deforestation and illegal wood extraction

Boy Poses by Ramón Nuts Drying in the Sun

We are also working to improve the extraction and marketing process for two non-timber forest products, the ramón nut and the xaté palm. The decorative leaves of the xaté are collected by members of communities located in Central America and sold to florists in North America. In the past, traditional harvesting techniques were sustainable; however, a changing focus on quantity rather than quality led to over-harvesting and forest degradation. The Rainforest Alliance is working to transform the way xaté is harvested in the Petén.

Our efforts to organize supply and improve value-added processing in the region led to the creation of a second-tier, community-owned organization, FORESCOM. The enterprise plays an increasingly important role in improving efficiency and organizing supplies. We also coordinate directly with purchasing companies, connecting them to certified suppliers and creating a market pull for new suppliers to seek certification.

Some of our achievements in the Maya Biosphere Reserve include:

Rainforest Alliance Certified™ Xaté (Jade Palm)

  • The FSC / Rainforest Alliance certification of over 1,205,000 acres (488,000 hectares) of forestland.
  • Improved control over illegal logging, deforestation and forest fires in the region, demonstrated in a recent Rainforest Alliance study.
  • The sale of certified, value-added products from SMEs to certified buyers.
  • The enhancement of employment opportunities at certified SMEs.
  • Many SMEs can now afford to finance their own certifications.
  • Locals have been trained in best management practices, business skills, organization structure and value-added processing.

Last updated May, 2011

3 things you can do to make a difference:

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