Monday, August 1, 2011

UN Habitat lists SATIIM community forestry among promising practices

2010 Best Practices Database

Building Q'eqchi' Maya Capacity, Flexibility, and Adaption to Climate 

The Toledo District in southern Belize is home to the indigenous Maya, living in a region characterized as one of the few primary tropical rainforests in the country.  The Maya, with a strong connection to the land, have acted as guardians of the forest for centuries and have developed extensive knowledge of the forest flora and fauna, sophisticated farming techniques, and complex land management systems.  

The Sarstoon Temash Institute for Indigenous Management (SATIIM) was founded in 1997 by indigenous communities (the Garifuna & Maya) to safeguard the ecological and cultural integrity of this region for the economic, social and spiritual wellbeing of its indigenous people. Although there are conservation efforts seeking to protect the Sarstoon Temash National Park, which SATIIM co-manages with the Forestry Department, little has been done in relation to sustainable forest management with communities along the buffer zone.

As such, the main purpose of the initiative was to promote Community-Based Forest Management with Q’eqchi’ communities in the buffer zone of the Sarstoon Temash National Park, dissuading industrial logging while building environmental awareness, sustainable livelihoods, and community management of natural resources.

The project works to diminish the effects of poverty and environmental degradation within the rural indigenous communities and habitats in the Toledo District.  The initiative encompasses three elements, including conservation, sustainable-development and income generation.  The communities, Santa Teresa and Conejo (with a project in Crique Sarco currently underway), are participating directly in the management and sustainable use of their natural resources and rainforests, reducing large-scale logging, preserving the natural ecosystem and protecting species depleted to near-extinction. It provides an alternative to large-scale deforestation, promoting community-based conservation, autonomy and sovereignty for local decision-making, and the use and management of resources with the view to fulfill the needs of the communities and all of its members.

Key Dates:
March 2008 – Development of comprehensive work and procurement plan approved by the Conseration of Central America Watershed Program (USAID)

March – May 2008 – Development of a Community-based Forest Management Enterprise with two indigenous communities in southern Belize

March – October 2008 – Development and establishment of the first commercial census of community forests

March – October 2008 – Training of community members in Reduced Impact Logging (RIL)

The Toledo District is the poorest in Belize, with a 77% incidence of poverty among the Maya.  Thus the main problems and issues addressed were poverty and environmental destruction.  

Santa Teresa:  260;  M:  142  F:  118

Crique Sarco: 293; M:  156; F:  137

Conejo (project currently underway): 196; M:  104  F:  92

·        To promote development of a model of community-based sustainable forest management inSouthern Belize as a conservation and sustainable-development strategy.
·        Strengthening of traditional institutions (social, political and economic) of the Maya community to cultivate their awareness of the effects and capacity to adapt to climate change through a Community-Based Sustainable Forest Management and Enterprise development (CBSFME) in the communities of Santa Teresa, Conejo and Crique Sarco.
The Sarstoon Temash Institute for Indigenous Management, as an organization which represents five indigenous communities, worked with traditional leaders (Alcaldes) and other community members in the prioritization of the project.

Communities trained in Sustainable Forest Management (SFM):
·        On site training workshops in sustainable management practices
·        Standards and regulations developed
·        Incorporation of the Community-Based Sustainable Forest Management Enterprises (CBSFME)
Training in technical/administrative issues:
·        Training in accounting and financial systems.
·        On site workshops on harvesting (includes direct felling, hauling, trails/timber yards construction and transportation).
·        On site workshops on primary industrialization (includes timber processing, grading and measurement).
Development of sustainable forest management plan and annual operational plans following reduced-impact logging principles and SFM criteria:
·        Inventory of all tree species within the harvest area

Financial and technical assistance were obtained through USAID, WWF (provided technical assistance through USAID), the Finnish Embassy, and the World Bank.  SATIIM has a full time Development Officer whose primary responsibility is the mobilization of resources for programs and projects.  SATIIM is responsible and accountable for managing all resources on behalf of the communities, and has a full-time Financial Officer on staff.

The initiative is a Maya community-based sustainable forest management and development enterprise: the first and only one of its kind in Belize.  The project/enterprise is completely owned and operated by the Maya communiries of Santa Teresa and Conejo. The enterprises have a business plan, articles of incorporation and by-laws that are registered with the Government of Belize. SATIIM provided the initial management and business trainings and continues to work with the enterprise in an advisory capacity. All community members are shareholders of the enterprise, holding equal shares. Income from the sale of products produced from the harvesting of timber will pay the salaries of those individuals involved in the harvesting of the timber and transformation to lumber products. Profits from the sale of harvested timber and other timber products are reinvested into the enterprise for new or replacement equipment, twenty five percent is held in trust for community development projects and any additional funds are distributed to the share holders as a dividend. The dividends are anticipated to continue for the life of the enterprise and grow in size as the enterprise becomes more efficient and known throughout Belize for it products.

The project is designed as a sustainable reduced-impact forest management enterprise. GPS mapping determined the size of the harvesting area to be involved in the project and how best to section (harvesting blocks) to obtain the longest harvesting period and greatest yield per harvesting season (during the dry season). A Forest inventory and management plan were created with the assistance of community members and consultants. A tree inventory includes species and size and its GPS location within the harvesting area. Participants were trained in conducting the inventory. Maps were created and printed to be used in the educational process and for inclusion in the plan.

Community members were trained in Reduced-Impact Logging (RIL). Care is taken to include all trees within each harvest block (regardless of size or species). An annual census will be taken after each harvesting season to assess the health of the rainforest and reforest.

·        The communities have a heightened environmental awareness of climate change and its connection to sustainable forest management
·        The project is predicated on the sustainable extraction of timber products through the introduction of FSC standards and criteria, processes which are designed to minimize ecological impacts, and encourage the improvement of habitat quality by dissuading large-scale logging, or the pursuit slash-and-burn techniques that are precursors to climate change
·        Social benefits accrued in terms of strengthened livelihoods and community management capacities of the CBSFME
·        Reduction of deforestation due to the CBSFME
·        Direct increases in household income amongst project participants and indirect increases in the overall well being of the community
·        Active reforestation programs ensure that for each tree extracted, seedlings will be planted in its place; a practice without precedence in the history of logging in Toledo.

Measured through: 
·        Recorded attendance and participation at workshops.
·        GIS Mapping of (Santa Teresa and Conejo) community managed forest area.
·        Registration documents of community-based forest enterprise with the Belize Government
·        Management Plans from each community presented to the Belize Forest Department
·        Environmental Impact Assessment presented to the Belize Environmental Department
·        Implementation of operating plans
·        Administrative and accounting system operating
·        Financial reports, timber harvesting report, annual operating plan and labor and income report
·        Inventory of equipment purchased
·        Reports and receipts on sales of timber products and contracts negotiated

The Q’eqchi Maya of southern Belize have sustained an intimate relationship, centuries long, with the rainforests they inhabit, acting as guardians of the forest.  To them, the forest’s significance goes beyond the confines of economy and the maximization of individual profit, and is closely linked with their cultural identity and local self-determination.  The forest represents ways of getting food and shelter, preserving and transmitting knowledge, of conceiving cycles, of relating to the environment and of conducting spiritual, family and community life.  The consequences of uncontrolled development and large-scale logging have compromised their cultural heritage and natural resources. 

As such, SATIIM believes that empowering communities in community-based sustainable enterprises, links conservation, indigenous knowledge, and sustainable livelihoods, providing long-term solutions for communities addressing poverty, environmental destruction and climate change. The use of reduced-impact logging techniques, seldom if ever used in Belize, is one of the key elements of sustainable forest management. Conservation and sustainability are ensured through select species harvesting and sylviculture techniques, protecting endangered plants, seeded trees and seedlings.  Rotational cycles guarantee forest recovery and growth, conserving rainforests, which regulate climate and provide a range of other ecosystem services to humanity.

The project has unlimited potential to be replicated by other indigenous groups who have access (through logging concessions) or communal titles to forested areas.  Other indigenous villages have been contacted to gauge interest in obtaining land titles and developing similar community enterprises.  SATIIM’s Community-based Forest Management Project acts as a pilot project, and demonstrates best practices in developing reduced-impact logging in other areas of Belize.  The community enterprise has by-laws, internal rules, administrative manuals and a strategic plan, in order to guarantee long-term permanence.

The lessons learned through the community-based forest management and enterprise development project piloted/pioneered by SATIIM in southern Belize include the following:
1. It is possible to reconcile Indigenous and forest dependent peoples social, cultural, economic and spiritual needs with sustainable forest management and strengthens their stewarship in both a traditional and contemporary manner;
2.  Indigenous People Land tenure security is fundamental to sustaining progress made to safeguard natural forests;
3.  Traditional knowledge enhances the management effectiveness of forests.

Lessons from other initiative, including guidelines regarding successful community forest projectsGuatemala, outline a five plliar approach:
1)      Community organizing;

2)      Technical and administrative training;

3)      Development of Forest management Plans;
4)      Reduced Impact logging, and;

5)      Traning in negotiating equitable contracts.

While the legal and political environment differs among countries, SATIIM has been able to modify the approach to suit our communities realities.

Related Policies:
Despite not having legal framwork in Belize, SATIIM and our communities have been taking the moral high ground by developing comprehensive community forest management plans which has been used as a nogotiating/lobbying tool by SATIIM and the communities to convince and influence government forestry policies.  Forestry is currently developing a new forest policy and no doubt the convincing alternatives offered by SATIIM and the communities have been a major impetus for policy change.  The Director of SATIIM, Gregory Ch’oc, is currently advising the Government of Belize on how to integrate sustainable forest management into a revised national forest policy.

SATIIM has been at the forefront in promoting responsible forest management with indigenous Q’eqchi’ villages, and established the two community enterprises, which have acted as pilot projects for other indigenous communities in the area.  The Maya community of Conejo is currently in the project planning stages.

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