Notes from the Field: Partnering to Protect Guatemalan Forests

by Sebastian Africano, International Director

guatemalan tree nursery
A community tree nursery in Central Guatemala that produces tens of thousands of tree seedlings each year.

It’s amazing to say that I’m writing this post from a tropical country where it snowed last week, and tomorrow I’ll be returning to my home in Colorado, where it’s been in the 50’s and dry for what seems like weeks.  Guatemala is a country I am just getting acquainted with after eight years working in Central America, and with which I’ve become fascinated, thanks to our budding relationship with La Asociación de Forestería Comunitaria de Guatemala Ut’z Che’.

Ut’z Ché (“Good Tree” in the indigenous Quiché dialect) was formed five years ago to advocate for the broad and permanent involvement of civil society in preserving the forests of Guatemala.  There are a number of incentives at work in Guatemala to protect the country’s remaining forests; most of these incentives are accessible only at the macro level – in other words, inaccessible to the hundreds of community-based organizations (CBOs) that engage in reforestation or forest preservation in their areas of operation.

Ut’z Ché acts as an umbrella group to 32 of these CBOs, helping them access funds, incentives, or programs for which they are clearly eligible, but which remain out of reach.  My favorite expression of their efforts is the re-definition of the internationally known mechanism REDD, to read: Reducing Exclusion in the Discussion of Deforestation.

clean cookstove guatemala
A two-burner, clean cookstove built by TWP and Ut’z Che’ in a rural community of Central Guatemala.

Trees, Water & People began working with Ut’z Ché in 2011 to support several community nurseries, livelihood projects and cookstove improvements within Ut’z Ché’s network. Through this partnership, we’ve started a working relationship with four of Ut’z Ché’s CBO members in Central Guatemala, and have begun to deepen our support for their reforestation and clean-energy goals.  Last year alone, TWP supported the planting of 50,000 trees and built 25 clean cookstoves within the Ut’z Che’ network.

As I sit at Ut’z Ché’s yearly board meeting, I am particularly impressed that two-thirds of the more than 30 people here are leaders from the very communities Ut’z Ché serves, largely women and youth, and that all are given space to speak, present, and comment on organizational budgets, strategic plans, fundraising objectives and progress of ongoing projects. This is a stellar example of involving “el pueblo” in its own development, and creating leadership capacity from within to reach a common goal.

I am thrilled with the progress of this partnership so far, and see great collaborations to come.  We hope you will support our growing work with Ut’z Ché and the communities they serve in 2013 and beyond.

Community members in La Benedicion, Guatemala work together at the mill
Community members in La Bendición, Guatemala bring maize (corn) to the mill to be ground for flour.

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Trees, Water & People is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization committed to developing sustainable community-based conservation solutions.

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