Community forestry concessions in Petn Guatemala Cuellar 2002 Cusack et al 2002 Montagnini pers observ

Community forestry concessions in Petén, Guatemala, are excellent examples of communal involvement in forestry project planning and execution. They are also an interesting example of how sustainable forestry practices can coexist with forest protection and preservation of cultural values.

The National System of Protected Areas in Guatemala includes 3 million -ha or 28% of the country. Of the protected areas, 80% is found in the Petén department, which is also the forest reserve of the country. The history of Petén dates back to the years 200-900 b.c. with the predominance of the Maya civilization. In colonial times and following the decline of the Maya civilization, Petén had a very low population and was ignored by the principal social, political, and commercial centers of the region. From the late 1800s until the mid-1950s, the extraction of gum from "chicle" (Manilkara zapota) and the harvest of mahogany (Swietenia macrophylla) were the main commercial activities. Colonization of the region was complete by 1960. Population has grown significantly over this period, from about 20,000 people in 1960 to over half a million by 2000. This population growth resulted in a loss of forest cover from 90% to less than 50%. Forest was replaced by shifting agriculture. Contracts for forest exploitation were granted to logging companies in 1970-1980 focusing on industrial extraction of mahogany and cedar (Cedrela spp.). These logging activities were carried out without using forest management plans and resulted in a substantial decrease in tree populations of both commercial species in the concession areas.

CONAP (the National Council of Protected Areas of Guatemala) was founded in 1989, and in 1990 the Mayan Biosphere Reserve (MBR) was designated, and covered 2.1 million ha (Fig. 7.1). CONAP was assigned the administration of the MBR. The restrictions posed by CONAP on the use of natural resources provoked a set of social conflicts and reaction from the population of Petén against CONAP. This motivated illegal extraction of forest resources (timber, palms, fauna), increase in immigration, and an advance in the agricultural frontier.

However, a master plan was started in 1992 for the management of the MBR with the objectives of protecting biodiversity and promoting sustainable use of natural resources. A zoning system delineated three sections: a nucleus (national parks, no use), a multiple-use zone (MUZ), and a buffer zone. Community concessions were assigned for management in the MUZ in management units (MU) that allowed use of natural resources and transformed the communities into allies of CONAP with respect to resource protection. In the community concessions, forest management, extraction of non-timber forest products, agricultural activities, and tourism are all supported. There are also industrial concessions where only timber extraction is allowed. In both types of concessions forest certification has to be obtained and maintained for the duration of the contract (25 years). The assignment of a concession is in three steps: definition of the MU, public offering, and granting the concession.

The first concession was granted in 1994. There was very high demand from the communities to obtain the concessions. As of 2002, a total of 16 forestry concessions had been granted (14 community concessions and two industrial concessions) over almost 600,000 ha in the MUZ. Forest cover in the concessions is over 98%, and the beneficiaries are about 7,000 people in about 1,300 families. Funding has come from USAID, and technical assistance has been provided by CATIE, local community groups, and non-government organizations (NGOs).

As of 2002, some of the main accomplishments were: greater control of forest fires; zoning and land management; better control of immigration and advance of the agricultural frontier; improved control of illegal extraction of natural and archaeological resources; higher employment; higher income and higher minimum salary in relation to the rest of the country; development of infrastructure; change in people's attitude from individualism to community organization; a more positive attitude towards the forest; and forest certification (317,000 ha certified under communal groups). However, some limitations were also identified. For example, there were some voids in technical information regarding forest management; too few commercial tree species were considered in forest management plans; there was a lack of effective organization; and conflicts of interest were apparent among people in the communities. Among their priorities, the communities agreed that they needed to increase their knowledge of techniques of sustainable forest management; increase their understanding of management of natural regeneration (silvicultural treatments); learn more about timber properties of commercial species; and assess the financial feasibility of the concessions.

Forest management can vary among the concessions. For example, with the Carmelita community forestry concession (granted in 1997), the General Management Plan indicated that the cutting cycle was 40 years with an annual area for cutting of 400 ha. Minimum diameters for cutting are 55 cm for primary species and 45 cm for lesser known species. Only about 1.5-2.5 trees of the most valuable species (mahogany) are extracted per hectare. (This is a very low volume for a profitable operation.) Most of the production is sawn timber that is exported to the USA. Profits from forest management tend to compensate the low profits that are obtained from the other extractive activities such as chicle, ornamental plants, and pepper (Fig. 7.2). The Carmelita Cooperative certified the MU with Smartwood in 1999 for 5 years. Certification has to be renewed for the total duration of the concession contract (25 years, renewable). Certification is expensive because qualified personnel have to be contracted. An alternative is to train local personnel who can help with the certification process. Other alternatives to increase the economic benefits of forest management involve using lesser known timber species apart from mahoganies and cedars, and selling the environmental services of forests.

Overall, the success of community forestry in Guatemala can be measured using economic parameters. For example, community foresters in Petén earn an income that is generally better than other professions in Guatemala (S. Ortiz in Cusack et al. 2002). It is also important to notice that with the increase in community forestry, deforestation rates in the country have dropped from 25,000 ha/year in 1989-1994 to 1,000 ha/year in 1995-2002. In addition, fire events have been fewer in locally managed forest concessions as compared with forested areas that are not in concessions and even in comparison with protected areas.

Fig. 7.1. The Mayan Biosphere Reserve, Peten, Guatemala. (Photo: F. Montagnini)

Fig. 7.1. The Mayan Biosphere Reserve, Peten, Guatemala. (Photo: F. Montagnini)

Fig. 7.2. Drying pepper that was collected in the forest, one of the extractive activities practiced by members of the Carmelita community forestry concession in Peten, Guatemala. (Photo: F. Montagnini)

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