Forestry Communities in Petén, Guatemala
- General Issues
- Agriculture, Forestry, Fishing & Mining Industries
- Specific Topics
- Environmental Conservation
- UA Clinton School of Public Service Students
- Scope of Influence
- Time Limited or Repeated?
- A single, defined period of time
- Spectrum of Public Participation
- Total Number of Participants
- Open to All or Limited to Some?
- Open to All
- Face-to-Face, Online, or Both
- Types of Interaction Among Participants
- Discussion, Dialogue, or Deliberation
- Information & Learning Resources
- Participant Presentations
- Decision Methods
- General Agreement/Consensus
- Communication of Insights & Outcomes
- Word of Mouth
- Type of Organizer/Manager
- Regional Government
- Grants coming from ACOFOP, or Asociación de Comunidades Forestales de Petén among others
- Type of Funder
- Non-Governmental Organization
- Evidence of Impact
The Forestry Communities governance program began in 1997 in Petén, Guatemala, and continues today. This was made possible by indigenous and peasant organizations. There had been a complete takeover of the forests by industry and smugglers, and the villagers were at their mercy.
Problems and Purpose
The purpose of forestry communities is to have villagers share the workload and spoils of the forest as an asset. Industrialists come in as invaders, claiming the forests for themselves as if they were unclaimed in the first place. The association of Forest Communities of Petén consists of community-based organizations in the Maya Biosphere Reserve. There are 23 of these organizations, with a majority located in the Multiple Use Zone and Sierra de Lacandón National Park. This movement began when it was clear that industrial groups were trying to infiltrate the protected area in Petén, where rare species of birds and other endangered animals live. The industrial threats have come from logging companies that want to extract enough timber in the cheapest way possible.
Background History and Context
The coalition was founded in 1997, and continues to this day. Due to the presence of industrialists snatching up power and influence to this largely defenseless group of villagers, the coalition was established to protect these communities from further damage. They are based in the Maya Biosphere Reserve, located in Petén’s Multiple Use Zone. A key partnership was made with the Rainforest Alliance in 1999. This alliance has focused on the forestry business, which involves the selling of goods such as nuts and extracted timber. This would return the power to the villagers whose voice had been usurped. Drug trafficking and illegal logging have defined the Petén region for decades, and it was time to rid the region of self-serving industrialists.
Organizing, Supporting, and Funding Entities
Throughout the coalition’s existence, eight communities have been proponents of the Guatecarbon project. The word “Guatecarbon” is a portmanteau, combining the country of Guatemala with the element carbon. This means that the investment is being made in the carbon produced by the forests. By replenishing the byproducts of the forest, the bird populations which had become endangered, could repopulate, and restore the ecotourism that had floundered.
The eight organizations have partnered with the National Council for Protected Areas. The Community Organizations of the Petén region have collected small grants from 12 organizations totaling 391,767 Guatemalan Quetzales, and have had community contributions of 253,687 Quetzales. Combining these totals equals about $80,700 USD for projects in economic diversification. Approximately 14,000 people directly benefit in the Maya Biosphere Reserve. There has also been financing that has been provided by ACOFOP, or Asociación de Comunidades Forestales de Petén.
Participant Recruitment and Selection
There are 15,000 people living in these communities. Of these 15,000, one or two thousand find work in other areas, seasonally. Of the remaining 13,000+ that live there year-round, recruitment is open to every able adult. There was little ambiguity because traditionally, the men worked as loggers, and the women worked as homemakers with limited knowledge and experience working in other trades. There were more jobs available than people living in the community, so it was pretty well telegraphed. Recruits were enamored with the process, and would earn a better wage, with benefits, so there was little effort needed in convincing the villagers.
Methods and Tools Used
Community forestry was the principal method used, as it was something with which all stakeholders were familiar. 11 cooperatives in the 1990s were given title to concessions. They wanted to see if having communities manage the forests would lead to a more prosperous economic outlook. The cooperatives divided the work among community members, considering that private companies would corrupt and eventually ruin the forests of the Petén.
What Went On: Process, Interaction, and Participation
Arbol Verde’s (a village in the Petén) president, Joel Pacheco, feels that the communities are happy to bear the burden of protecting the forests. The work can be dangerous as the illegal loggers and smugglers still have easy access to the forests. Fires also break out, but the community members know how to tame them.
The deliberation process has come to fruition as a result of the cooperatives collaborating with the villagers. The cooperatives had leaders facilitate the meetings with villagers, many of whom had never participated in a formal meeting such as this in their lives. Because of the villagers lack of experience, there was a disparity of their roles in the deliberation, compared with those of the facilitators. However, the facilitators proposed scenarios in which each villager could feel useful, which resonated heavily. Villagers felt that they were given back the voice that had been stolen by the industrialists. The villagers saw how tourism would become viable again with the bird populations repopulating, including the prized Quetzal.
Influence, Outcomes, and Effects
Contributions have given community workers more financial security. 26,000 jobs have been generated due to reforestation projects. Job growth doesn’t come that easily in other regions of the country. They earn a wage closer to $12.00 USD per day, which is about 3 times what the national average salary is in Guatemala. There has also been an increase of women hired to work on these projects. The ratio of men to women is about 5:1, up from over 10:1 in the last few years. As a result, migration has ebbed, particularly to the United States. Satellites have confirmed a decrease in illegal logging activities. The World Resources Institute estimates that the value of sustainable forest production is anywhere from $650 million to $860 million over 20 years. Many endangered species of birds are improving their numbers because of this intervention.
Participants had a positive shift in attitude. Previously, due to the industrialist invaders, participants had an attitude of hopelessness due to the control relinquished to the industrialists, and the dictated agenda they commissioned. After the coalition stepped in, the participants feel hope for their future, and that of future generations. Their voice has been restored, and women have been inspired to have a career outside of the house. Participants will also want to continue to let their previously suppressed voices be heard after this platform of amplification. They will be more attuned to the political climate, and aware of issues or groups that could be detrimental to their positive momentum. They are also, financially-speaking, steps closer to what is considered the Guatemalan middle class.
Analysis and Lessons Learned
Social and economic development has surged with this program. Schools have been funded and scholarships have been endowed. Medical services have been provided in the communities where they have lacked them in the past. The hiring of women has given them an opportunity to step out of their traditional gender roles. Giving the power back to the people has proved invaluable for both the people and the community. Trust and pride have never been higher in the region, and in a country known for its corrupt politicians, it is nice for the people to have reclaimed something just for themselves. Community members feel empowered and have become self-reliant.
Community forestry has been shown to alleviate poverty by investing in the forest as a renewable resource. Tourists, particularly those from Guatemalan neighbors to the South and in neighboring Central American countries, know the Petén as the definitive regional hub that inhabits rare and beautiful species of birds. Residents that were previously employed leading nature walks can resume their trade.
The long-term success of forestry projects requires a commitment from the government and the coalition to continue employing these villagers and sharing the successes with them. While this has been a noted positive for the region, Petén is still unstable and susceptible to political upheaval. If the level of stability in the region continues on its current relative course, there will be job security and continued eco-tourism.
 The Maya. (2011). The Guatemala Reader, 11-12. doi:10.1215/9780822394679-002
 Community Forestry in the Maya Biosphere Reserve | ICCO International. (n.d.). Retrieved December 03, 2018, from https://www.icco-cooperation.org/en/project/community-forestry-in-the-maya-biosphere-reserve/
 GuateCarbon. (n.d.). Retrieved December 03, 2018, from https://theredddesk.org/countries/initiatives/guatecarbon
 Securing Rights. (2018). World Resource Institute, 1. Retrieved from: https://www.wri.org/our-work/project/securing-rights
 (2018, June 29). Retrieved December 03, 2018, from https://participedia.xyz/method/5289
The original submission of this case entry was written by Adam Kleinerman, a Master of Public Service candidate at the University of Arkansas Clinton School of Public Service. The views expressed in the current version are those of the authors, editors, or cited sources, and are not necessarily those of the University of Arkansas Clinton School of Public Service.