Honduran Communities Organizing for Watersheds Partnership Honored by the International Society of Tropical Foresters

Zumilda Duarte Sandoval

Doña Zumilda Duarte Sandoval, a leader of EcoLogic’s local partner AJAASSPIB, will accept the ISTF Innovation Award on AJAASSPIB’s behalf at Yale University on January 30

EcoLogic is proud to announce that the Yale University chapter of the International Society of Tropical Foresters (ISTF) honored our local partner in northern Honduras, the Association of Water Councils of Pico Bonito National Park’s Southern Sector (AJAASSPIB in Spanish), as the winner of the 2015 ISTF Innovation Prize. For “outstanding initiatives in biodiversity conservation at the landscape level,” the prize recognizes the collaborative effort between AJAASSPIB, EcoLogic, and the Municipality of Olanchito to scale up AJAASSPIB’s successful model of rural community-led conservation to a larger watershed that feeds an urban area. Doña Zumilda Duarte Sandoval, a founding leader of AJAASSPIB who has been instrumental in MACO’s progress, traveled to Yale University for the ISTF Conference to receive the Innovation Award on January 30th.

AJAASSPIB is our partner with the Communities Organizing for Watersheds project in Honduras. EcoLogic helped establish AJAASSPIB in 2006. It is an association of water councils from rural villages near Honduras’s Pico Bonito National Park. In partnership with EcoLogic, AJAASSPIB organizes grassroots environmental education, reforestation, watershed management, and water purification programs in a region of Honduras that faces high levels of poverty and social turmoil. AJAASSPIB’s work primarily focuses on ensuring local access to clean drinking water in a drought-prone area.

The Association’s main source of funding is an environmental fund of voluntary payments for water services made by community members who have learned about the connection between declining freshwater supply, deforestation, and unsustainable cattle grazing and agriculture. They enthusiastically support AJAASSPIB’s efforts to protect both the environment and the well-being of local families.

The joint project between AJAASSPIB, EcoLogic, and the Municipality of Olanchito-a city of 40,000 people-is called the Agreement on Joint Environmental Management of the Municipality of Olanchito (MACO), and focuses on establishing an environmental fund similar to AJAASSPIB’s for the city. The agreement was signed in March 2011 after the Mayor of Olanchito’s office approached AJAASSPIB, seeking to leverage its experience on a larger scale-transferring rural innovation and know-how to a watershed depended on by an urban area. “The city of Olanchito was not able to provide clean water for its inhabitants. We saw that we could offer the city the opportunity to learn from our experience, and that our model could be replicated in an urban area,” said Duarte after accepting the award. “We signed the agreement three years ago, and we feel that our work has been very, very successful so far.”

EcoLogic’s Executive Director, Barbara Vallarino, said, “The fact that a municipality took the initiative in establishing a partnership with AJAASSPIB, a rural organization, testifies to the Association’s unique reputation in the region for honesty, technical rigor, and capacity to resolve conflict and build connections between disparate interests.” Working closely with AJAASSPIB and EcoLogic under the MACO agreement, Olanchito is now establishing an environmental fund collected from residents to support locally-driven conservation of the 16,000-acre watershed that supplies water to the city’s inhabitants. As MACO’s success shows, AJAASSPIB’s community-powered, grassroots approach to conservation is a model for communities across Honduras and beyond.

AJAASSPIB and EcoLogic’s partnership also has been honored with several international awards, including the 2014 Energy Globe National Award Honduras, the 2012 United Nations Equator Prize, and second place for the 2011 Swiss Re International ReSource Award. At EcoLogic, we are grateful that this award offers recognition for our local Honduran partners, and allows them to share their experiences to inspire others, not only in their home communities, but around the world.

“I want to dedicate my life to serving my community,” Duarte said. “My greatest dream is to spend my life improving the well-being of those around me.”

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