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Barra Sarstún Fisherfolk Recover after Fire

The fire in Barra Sarstún destroyed a new restaurant and damaged a fish processing facility

A fire in Barra Sarstún, Guatemala, has destroyed a new restaurant that local fisherfolk had been building in order to attract ecotourism to the area. As part of its Cross-Border Alliance for Healthy Fisheries project, EcoLogic has been working with a community organization of fisherfolk to construct the restaurant. This work was sponsored by Cell Signaling Technology, which has supported EcoLogic since 2009. In response to the fire, Cell Signaling Technology doubled a recent grant award to Ecologic which will be used to support recovery efforts.

The community of Barra Sarstún is located on the south bank of the Sarstún river in Guatemala, bordering Belize. Most people here rely on fish for sustenance and income, and a recent decline in local fish populations has brought the sustainability of their livelihoods into question. The committee of local fisherfolk was formed in 2008 to protect fish resources and serve the community’s interests. Since its founding, the committee has grown to include more than 500 members. The committee is currently headed by a fisherman from Barra Sarstún named Mario Francisco Til. EcoLogic’s coordinator for the binational project, Cleopatra Mendez, has worked with this group for many years to organize workshops in sustainable fisheries management and facilitate learning exchanges between Barra Sarstún and other small fishing communities.

To support its members financially, the committee coordinates cooperative trade. As a cooperative, they are able to market their harvests of róbalo (bass) and camarón (shrimp) to buyers in Livingston, the nearest coastal Guatemalan city, where they are able to sell their catch for more money. The committee also designates and patrols fish refuge areas, in which fishing is prohibited during certain seasons while populations replenish. They have observed a positive difference in fish populations since these refuges were organized.

Given new restrictions on fishing and the income it provides, many are looking for alternative ways to generate revenue. The committee of fisherfolk has been working to bring money to the community by encouraging “turismo comunitario”: community-based tourism as a means to secure a sustainable source of local revenue. Their first initiative to this end was to build a restaurant. EcoLogic has worked with local fisherfolk throughout the construction process. The fire represents a significant setback for this project. However, the community-based assets that enabled the restaurant’s construction in the first place—namely, the fisherfolk committee and its numerous members—remain intact. Moving forward, the committee will determine how it can move forward from this disaster. Technical support from EcoLogic and funding from Cell Signaling Technology will help the committee as they continue to pursue their goal of creating a sustainable eco-tourism infrastructure that attracts visitors and can cater to their needs.

After the restaurant, the committee had hoped to construct cabins for tourist lodgings so that people can stay in the community for an extended period of time. These plans may have to be delayed while the committee contends with the damage caused by the fire, and weighs different options for recovery. Eco-tourism remains a top priority for the committee, and local fisherfolk will continue to pursue their goal of diversifying Barra Sarstún’s sources of income, particularity as income from fishing become less reliable. 

Members of the Barra Sarstun community watch the fire from boats

Members of the Barra Sarstun community watch the fire from boats

AgroAmerica Supports EcoLogic Agroforestry in Guatemala

AgroAmerica is supporting EcoLogic's sustainable agroforestry work. In an agroforestry plot such as this, tree and crop species can be grown side-by side. Here, Inga trees help and cardamom plants to grow by fertilizing the soil and providing necessary shade.

AgroAmerica is supporting EcoLogic’s sustainable agroforestry work. In an agroforestry plot, tree and crop species can be grown side-by side. Here, Inga trees help cardamom plants to grow by fertilizing the soil and providing necessary shade.

AgroAmerica, a sustainable agriculture business with operations in Central and South America, has committed funds to support EcoLogic Development Fund’s agroforestry project Protecting Livelihoods for Rural Communities in Guatemala through the Sustainable Management of Forest and Water Resources. EcoLogic is a non-governmental organization that empowers rural and indigenous peoples to restore and protect tropical ecosystems in Central America and Mexico. The August 2017 donation of $10,000 is part of a larger commitment of $130,000 spread over a period of six years.

“We’re deeply committed to the preservation of the environment and assisting local people to learn better ways of using the land, so we’re pleased to be able to support EcoLogic’s work in this area,” said Fernando Bolaños, CEO of AgroAmerica.

The aim of EcoLogic’s project is to teach Guatemalan farmers about agroforestry—an agricultural production method that, stated simply, involves growing crops alongside trees. Agroforestry systems reconcile the dual necessities of environmental conservation and food production.  Agroforestry comes in many forms, and this flexibility enables rural communities to adopt approaches that are best suited for local conditions and cultural preferences.

“There are many ways this idea can be implemented: many different crop species can be planted and flourish together with leguminous trees, because trees such as Inga or Guama grow naturally from Mexico to South America,” explains agronomist engineer Mario Ardany de León, EcoLogic’s Program Officer for Guatemala.

These trees provide the nitrogen needed for the growth of crop plants and help avoid the need for chemical fertilizers. They also provide firewood for local communities and help to prevent soil erosion.

The Inga edulis tree is used in EcoLogic’s agroforestry projects in the Guatemalan municipalities of San Mateo Ixtatán, Santa Cruz, Ixcán, El Quiché, and Sarstún, Izabal. Agroforestry systems in these sites produce crops including coffee, cacao, and spices, such as cardamom.

Another benefit of agroforestry is that in Guatemala, property owners who engage in reforestation activities may qualify for government incentives through the National Institute of Forests (INAB). The program provides financial incentives to Guatemalans with less than 15 hectares of land who plant trees or manage forests through sustainable methods such as agroforestry. Over the last four years, EcoLogic and its local partners have helped 500 farmers and their families access a total of over $300,000 from these programs. So far in 2017, EcoLogic field technicians have helped 11 additional farmers to establish land management plans and complete the required paperwork to qualify for incentives payments under the national program.

In an effort to grow the impact of this initiative, and help additional farmers throughout Guatemala access these incentives, EcoLogic is planning a regional learning exchange in the department of Huehuetenango with our local partner Mancomunidad Frontera del Norte (MFN). Project staff experienced in the process will train EcoLogic field technicians in Guatemala as well as local municipal forest officials in ways that they can facilitate access to national incentives programs.

“We are extremely grateful to AgroAmerica for their generous support, which has been essential in making this work possible,” said Barbara Vallarino, EcoLogic Development Fund’s Executive Director.

Beekeeping Photos from Ixcán, Guatemala

In Ixcán, Guatemala, people have few livelihood options beyond growing maize. In order to create new economic opportunities, EcoLogic provides technical training in beekeeping to local community residents. See our work for yourself:

At EcoLogic's beekeeping trainings, community members learn how construct and monitor hives hives

At EcoLogic’s beekeeping trainings, community members learn how construct and monitor hives hives

Local farmers help to transport necessary materials to the hive construction sites

Local farmers help to transport necessary materials to the hive construction sites

Finished hives - many farmers host multiple hives to aid pollination and increase honey output

Finished hives – many farmers host multiple hives to aid pollination and increase honey output

Farmers use smoke to calm the bees before opening the hives

Farmers use smoke to calm the bees before opening the hives

Each hive contains several removable frames

Each hive contains several removable frames

A close-up of a frame taken out of a hive. The bees in this hive are using this frame as a nursery - the honey is stored elsewhere.

A close-up of a frame taken out of a hive. The bees in this hive are using this frame as a nursery – the honey is stored elsewhere.

This frame hold honey, which has been securely capped with wax for storage by the bees.

This frame holds honey, which the the bees have securely capped with wax for storage.

To access the honey in the frame, the wax caps must be removed by carefully slicing along both sides of the honeycomb structure.

To access the honey in the frame, the wax caps must be removed by carefully slicing along both sides of the honeycomb structure.

Once the honey and wax have been separated, the honey into containers for storage and transportation.

Once the honey and wax have been separated, the honey into containers for storage and transportation.

The finished product!

The finished product!

Beekeeping is a forest-friendly alternative to other kinds of food production. Unlike other products, honey can be harvested year-round, creating income stability for families. Beekeeping training also gives farmers the opportunity to diversify their harvest so they can be less reliant on a single source of income for financial and food security. This is especially important as climate conditions change and some crops are less reliable than they have been historically.

There are now more than 800 hives across communities in the Ixcán region. So far this year, the beekeepers have collected over 21,000 pounds of honey, and generated over $125,000 in income. EcoLogic is also working on connecting beekeepers to honey retailers so they can sell their product within a broader market.

Planting the Seeds of Change with Young Leaders in Honduras

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This past April in Honduras, EcoLogic staff, along with our local partner AJAASSPIB (Association of Water Committees of the Southern Sector of Pico Bonito National Park), delivered two silvopasture workshops to teach local agronomy students the importance of silvopasture—forest management systems that combine forestry with cattle grazing. Instead of barren lands and exposed soil sacrificed for short-term profit from cattle, multiple benefits can be derived: wood can be harvested for cooking fuel and household needs, cows can graze on more diverse forage crops, and the soil can maintain humidity even in the face of drought or intense sun so common to this region, the south side of Pico Bonito National Park.

Read more about the importance of this EcoLogic activity that connected these young leaders to their environment.

Bridging Local and Global Leadership: EcoLogic Field Technician Visits the US!

PSA UNIVERSIDAD DE DUKE (29) (1)This past April, we had the pleasure of hosting a special guest, conservationist and indigenous rights activist Fernando Recancoj, in the US!

Fernando joined us from Totonicapán, Guatemala, where he works for EcoLogic as a field technician. He coordinates with our local partner 48 Cantones, an indigenous-led, community-based organization, in a joint effort to conserve a 52,000-acre highland forest in Totonicapán.

Read more about the importance of connecting academics and supporters to Fernando and our work on the ground.

Roots & Shoots Fosters Youth Leadership on the Border of Belize and Guatemala

Celebración de la campaña de Roots Shoots (5)

On Wednesday, April 26, EcoLogic hosted a celebration of the Caribbean Roots and Shoots campaign in Livingston, Izabal, Guatemala. The celebration included rural communities whose livelihoods depend on the careful management of the Amatique Bay, particularly its protected areas and fisheries, which are stewarded for and by local people. This includes the Sarstun River Multiple Use Area and the Punta Manabique Wildlife Refuge in Guatemala.

Read more about the importance of connecting local groups to a global initiative.

5 Composting Latrines for La Chinantla

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Country: Mexico

Project Region: La Chinantla, Oaxaca

Project Page: Conservation of the Papaloapan River Watershed in La Chinantla, Oaxaca

This March in La Chinantla EcoLogic constructed 5 composting latrines with local community members from the community El Naranjal. 4 more latrines are due to be completed this month, but the rainy season and increased precipitation in tropical La Chinantla have caused delays. Such latrines help to reduce water pollution, improve community health, and even more importantly for EcoLogic—latrines serve as symbols and demonstrations of how to change habits and have pride in one’s community.

Read more about our impact this past month.