Can Forests and Cities Coexist?

by Sebastian Africano, Executive Director

Happy International Day of Forests!

This year’s theme is “Forests and Sustainable Cities,” which brought to mind a revelation I had when I lived in the Aldea of Suyapa, east of Tegucigalpa, Honduras back in 2005. I had always assumed that when humans arrived anywhere, the general pattern that followed was of deforestation and natural resource degradation. I believed that the mango, citrus, jocote, avocado, allspice, nance, oak, acacia, guanacaste, and other gorgeous fruiting and flowering trees were merely what was left after human settlements expanded here.

But, the story is more complicated than that.

Suyapa has now been swallowed by the capital city but is populated by the descendants of indigenous laborers that worked in the silver mines outside of Tegucigalpa until the 20th century. The land was granted to the community by the Spanish crown, and as such, it is primarily made up of the same families who initially settled it. Because of its unique history, there is a rich historical record of the town, some of it captured in old, black and white photographs.

As I became more familiar with these photos, I noticed that the town and the hills around it were almost entirely stripped of trees in the early 1900s. While this may contribute to my initial point (that humans drive deforestation), the present day reality tells a different story. Looking down on the town from the hills above it, today the urban rooftops of Suyapa are almost completely hidden by a canopy of mature trees. Within one century, people living here wholly transformed their landscape.

Fire Prevention Suyapa 3
Residents of the Aldea of Suyapa in Honduras working together to keep their forest healthy and to prevent forest fires. Photo by Keisi Midence.

These trees were planted by local residents (and likely animals) to provide shade, fruit, timber, and firewood, to stabilize soil along ravines, and to color the town with their flowers. Secondary benefits include filtering some of the dust and soot from the city, providing habitat for migratory birds and other wildlife, and producing oxygen for all of us. These trees transformed what could have been just another concrete-covered suburb into what feels like a rural respite in an otherwise overcrowded city.

This revelation taught me two important things – 1. Urban development and tree-cover need not be mutually exclusive, and 2. Every tree we put in the ground TODAY will materially alter the landscape and produce benefits for future generations. Planting a tree is one of the easiest ways we can all leave a positive mark the planet.

Fire Prevention Suyapa 2
Suyapa’s youth volunteering as the fire brigade to plant new trees, cut firebreaks, deter poachers, and stabilize erosion trouble spots. Photo by Keisi Midence.

Today, Suyapa’s youth have formed a volunteer fire brigade that goes into the oak woodlands above town every spring to plant new trees, cut firebreaks, deter poachers, and stabilize erosion trouble spots. Threats to the local forests still exist, but teaching young people to value and protect trees and the services they provide is something that will ripple through generation upon generation. Cities in Central America have a long way to go before they can be considered truly sustainable, but I was grateful to walk away from Suyapa with my perspective changed about how humans, cities, and forests coexist.

Take some time today to think about the origins of the trees in your community, and about trees you could plant for those who come after you. And if you are passionate about getting trees into the ground, know that Trees, Water & People is always ready to turn your passion into trees for millions of people throughout the Americas.

Give here

TWP Launches New 100% Replanted Website

100 percent replanted

We are excited to announce the launch of our new and improved 100% Replanted website! The 100% Replanted Program offers businesses and individuals a way to easily and affordably offset their paper use by supporting Trees, Water & People’s Reforestation Programs in Latin America. We have designed simple-to-use paper calculators that will help you or your business determine your paper footprint. You can offset the paper from one event, one month of business, or your entire annual paper footprint. This innovative program allows you to reduce, reuse, recycle, and replant!

Trees Water & People and our local partners manage the planting and care for all the trees purchased through the 100% Replanted Program. The trees are planted on private and public lands throughout Central America. Since 1998, TWP has planted more than 5.6 million trees in Central America, Haiti, and the United States. Planting trees in Latin America has several important benefits: the cost of planting is low, the trees grow quickly in the tropical climate, and the tree nurseries create jobs for local people.

To learn more about how you or your business can become “100% Replanted” please visit www.replanttrees.org.

Notes from the Field: Guatemala’s Forest Guardians

Cultural exchange unites children from Guatemala with TWP supporters from the US.
Cultural exchange united children from Guatemala with Trees, Water & People supporters from the U.S. (Image by Jeff Lejann Abbott)

by Lucas Wolf, Assistant International Director

Earlier this month, Trees, Water & People (TWP) staff led a Work Tour to several locations in Guatemala, primarily in the southern region of the country. The focal point of this trip was a 4-day working visit to the rural community of La Bendición, located in the department of Escuintla. A total of 18 participants embarked on the special journey to gain an in-depth view into one of the key areas of TWP´s international focus: the agroforestry communities of Guatemala.

The history of La Bendición is as complex and compelling as that of Guatemala as a whole. Currently, the community consists of three distinct ethnic groups from the western side of the country who fled their homes in search of a more stable and hospitable place to settle. They were promised a fertile area with well-equipped infrastructure, but instead found a challenging mountainside with high winds, limited water, and very poor road access.

Rough roads
Rough roads and a harsh climate make La Bendición a tough place to live and work. (Image by Jeff Lejann Abbott)

La Bendición has been a key part of our overall presence in Guatemala since Sebastian Africano, TWP´s International Director, first began to cultivate the relationship with local partner Utz Che’ over four years ago. La Bendición is one of over 40 communities represented by Utz Che´, an umbrella organization that provides legal services and critical advocacy to underserved, mostly indigenous, communities. This was the first Work Tour experience to this community and, by all accounts, a very successful endeavor. In the future, TWP hopes to be able to bring groups here at least once a year.

The flourishing community nursery now has 35,000 plants growing.
The flourishing community nursery now has 35,000 plants growing. Work tour participants had the pleasure of working with local youth to do some weeding. (Image by Jeff Lejann Abbott)

It is important to include a note of gratitude here to the participants of the work trip for their exceptional energy, engagement, patience and dedication to learning as much as possible about La Bendición, TWP´s work in the region and the reality of Guatemala.

“Outstanding cultural experience and wonderful people. You should continue to offer it and other similar trips. Nice mix of work and “tourist” activities. Thanks!” – 2015 Work Tour Participant

In terms of learning and engagement, the primary focus of the trip included:

  • Overview of community history and economic development realities and challenges
  • Agroforestry crops and production
  • Apiculture (bee keeping) best practices
  • Cultural and social exchange with community members

Some notable highlights were the tours of the honey production and beekeeping project, which included a visit to the colonies and sampling of the honey straight off the honeycomb.  We also enjoyed visiting the tree nursery and pineapple fields, which have expanded seven-fold in just the last couple of years, from an original total of 5,000 plants to over 35,000 total plants. The expansion of the pineapple project has grown to include the use of more organic methods with help from one of the community´s younger members, who studied organic agricultural practices at University before returning to share his expertise with fellow campesinos. This type of engagement from the youth is critical to insure the creation of economic opportunities that allow them to remain part of the community´s present and future development plans and resist the urges of immigration.

David (left) and myself on our cloud forest hike.
Community leader, David (left), and myself on our cloud forest hike. (Image by Jeff Lejann Abbott)

Perhaps the most striking observations about the history and struggle of La Bendición were broached on a group hike to the community’s water source, the imposing mountain that forms their scenic backdrop. David, one of the youth group leaders and a champion for agricultural and economic empowerment, highlighted the struggles to develop and work their land with less than ideal infrastructure and climate. Another challenge is the external interest groups, especially agribusiness and timber agents, who eye the exceptionally well preserved forest that forms the backbone of their watershed and agroforestry existence. The forest is made up of rare hard and softwoods and old growth trees that are critical to the ecosystem and habitat, but also a prized commodity for selective cutting by the timber industry.

The forest provides resources and bidoversity, such as honey bees, that are critical to survival.
The forest provides resources and bi0diversity, such as honey bee habitat, that are critical to survival. (Image by Jeff Lejann Abbott)

Through education and public awareness, David and his fellow community members remain committed and dedicated guardians of the forest. With hard work and perseverance, they have managed to improve their quality of life through the design and implementation of critical projects, like apiculture and pineapple production, as well as the installation of clean cookstoves, solar lighting systems, and improved water infrastructure.

Through these forest conservation and community development efforts, and continued support from TWP and Utz Che’ staff and donors, David and other local leaders hope to continue educating their community on the importance of the land and forest while working to improve livelihoods. Their is much hope and opportunity for a brighter future in La Bendición, and we hope you will join us in supporting these efforts!

The 2014 Year in Review

We are proud of all that we accomplished over the past 12 months with our local partners throughout Latin America and on tribal lands of the United States. Together, we are helping communities conserve their natural resources and create more sustainable livelihoods. Thank you for supporting our mission and programs. We look forward to a New Year with new possibilities!

year in review 2014

Notes from the Field: Guatemalan Youth Discover a Love for Community-Based Conservation

youth farmers Guatemala

by Sebastian Africano, International Director

Migration from Central America to the United States has been in the news more than usual these days. It is accelerating due to the difficulties that come with rapid population growth, rising energy demand, massive crop losses from the effects of climate change, and organized crime and violence reaching alarming levels along this tiny string of countries.

Even if migration is just to the nearest city, the actual movement of family members is really a means to an end. These families only seek to provide a better future for their children: keeping them fed, educated, safe, and healthy. At Trees, Water & People (TWP), we have learned that there are many opportunities to create sustainable livelihoods in rural areas, and that often these opportunities can be paired with better natural resource management.

To modify an old adage – this is akin to getting two plants from one seed. Recently, I had this conversation with a group of young men from a rural village near Escuintla, Guatemala. They have formed a youth group in their community that is taking on migration by seeking new, local income generating opportunities. David Bautista, 26 and Osvin Gomez, 25, are the de facto leaders of the group, and together have been pitching their projects to TWP since we first began working in their community, La Bendición, in 2011.

“At first, there were many in the community who didn’t believe in us – they’d say that it was a passing fad,” says David, referring to their plans several years ago of starting an entrepreneurial youth movement in the community.

Guatemala tree nursery

Today, the ambitious young group has a plantation of 5,000 organic pineapples that produce a continuous, mouth-watering harvest, a few dozen bee hives from which they are bottling and selling honey, and plots of shade-grown coffee. In addition, the group also runs a 15,000 tree nursery, which they use almost exclusively for fruit trees. These high-value crops, including coconuts, cashews, citrus, coffee, and cacao, are providing an important source of income to young farmers while promoting natural resource conservation.

The youth group’s mission, which TWP continues to support, is simple: find approaches that allow them to develop their community from within, so they never have to migrate to the city, or to the U.S., to work for someone else. “An old tree can’t be straightened out,” says the sitting President of the town council Oscar, who still bears the memories of his time laboring in the U.S., “It has to be trained while it’s young.”

Trees, Water & People 2013 Annual Report

The year 2013 was a powerful time for making new commitments, but also for completing some of our most needed and ambitious projects. It was a time when our nation was struggling still, but slowly improving from a period of fiscal instability.

We send a special heartfelt thank you to all of our donors and supporters that have provided their generous financial support, but also for the wisdom and advice that makes all of our projects possible!

Please click here to see our 2013 audited financial statements and 990s. For questions regarding our financials please email Diane Vella, Finance Director, at diane@treeswaterpeople.org or call 970-484-3678 ext. 22.