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FCD alarmed by large clearings in Chiquibul

By Marion Ali
Assistant Editor

The intrusion into the Chiquibul National Forest by Guatemalan farmers has gotten increasingly worse over the years, with illegal clearing and farming now happening on such large scales that the lush flora and fauna is being destroyed by acres, compared to plots about a decade ago.

But through an existing partnership between Friends for Conservation (FCD), the local conservation group charged to jointly protect the Forest with the Belize Defense Force, and FCD’s Guatemalan counterpart, Asociacion Balam, efforts are being put in place to reduce those incidents.

Last Friday, the two conservation groups gave an update on how their combined efforts to carry out conservation initiatives have reduced the level of some of the illegal activities in the Chiquibul. FCD’s Executive Director, Rafael Manzanero shared with the Reporter on Wednesday that they have seen less Xate extraction, poaching and illegal logging in the Forest. On the other hand, Manzanero said there was notable degradation of the landscape, as well as evidence of increased gold panning and now even cattle ranching activities.

According to Byron Castellanos, Balam’s executive director, a Council for Land and the Environment has been formulated in southern Peten to address the socio-economic and environmental issues of the Guatemalans who live there and who are the likeliest ones to commit these offences in the Chiquibul. Castellanos explained that alternative sustainable livelihoods are being developed and enforced in 11 Guatemalan communities near the border with Belize. He added that more than 1,300 of those people have received seed funding to start their own farming on Guatemalan soil.

The two groups also produced a set of 13 recommendations, which include: that both the Belizean and Guatemalan governments resume bilateral talks; as well as to commit to implement 13 collaborative agreements both governments signed in 2014. FCD pointed out that to help reduce the incursions, several strategies have been implemented over the years, including environmental law and environmental education. The two non-government organizations also recommended that the Government of Belize continue financing FCD’s budget to monitor and protection the Chiquibul.

The two groups started collaborating on conservation projects in southern Peten, Guatemala in 2011, while the FCD started to monitor and protect the Chiquibul forest in 2007.

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