Welcome to our archive of our news publications. Below you will find stories from our monthly EcoLogic eNews, as well as our Interviews with EcoLogicians. You can also read archived copies of The EcoLogical Landscape, our print newsletter, by clicking the links in the right sidebar.
Help us reach more rural families to conserve and restore tropical ecosystems
EcoLogic works with community-based organizations in Mexico and Central America to support four interrelated and complementary pathways:
Community-led Forest Restoration and Reforestation: EcoLogic undertakes reforestation by planting native seedlings and saplings in places where forests have been lost or degraded. We work with local communities to build nurseries and greenhouses, harvest or buy native tree seeds, and other materials needed. We train communities on appropriate care of seedlings, effective transplanting techniques, and monitoring after planting.
Sustainable Agriculture: Integrating trees within agricultural lands (agroforestry) has remarkable ecological and economic advantages. Agroforestry systems can: replenish soil nutrients and help retain moisture; reduce erosion; increase crop yields; create habitat buffers; and limit pressure on standing forests. EcoLogic trains subsistence farmers in these techniques to reduce slash-and-burn agriculture and improve their food security. Agroforestry practices are considered one of the key strategies for the development of climate-smart agriculture.
Fuel-efficient stoves: EcoLogic uses fuel-efficient cookstoves as a tool to replace open-pit fires and other inefficient cooking techniques, which are the norm throughout rural areas in Mexico and Central America. Open-pit stoves, including the common “three-stone” model in Central America, can lose as much as 90% of their energy before heat reaches the cooking surface.
Environmental Education: EcoLogic develops and supports environmental education activities to promote knowledge, understanding, and action on the part of adults and children alike. We work with our local partners to devise ways to help people understand how the local ecosystem works and why its many different elements are all interdependent.
Taking on illegal logging in Guatemala’s Western highlands has not been easy, but a series of communication tactics are starting to grab people’s attention
In the Communal Forest of Los Altos de San Miguel in Totonicapán, Guatemala, EcoLogic partners with a local Maya Q’iché indigenous governance body, the Association of Communal Mayors of the 48 Cantones, to conserve and protect the 21,000 hectare forest.
This forest includes the largest old-growth stand of Guatemalan Fir (Abies guatemalensis) in the country and is home to significant biodiversity. The Communal Forest also has deep cultural significance to the Maya Q’iché. However, numerous pressures threaten the forest’s health. Our joint project, generously supported by the US Fish and Wildlife Service Neotropical Migratory Bird Conservation Act, aims to: 1) restore degraded habitat, 2) build upon and strengthen local capacity to sustainably manage the Communal Forest, and 3) reduce pressure on the forest caused by human consumption.
The Association of the 48 Cantones is an extremely well respected and revered local authority. It has a commitment to and focus on small communities that fall outside the reach of the official state government. Through our staff in Guatemala and the project’s technician, Fernando Recancoj, EcoLogic has partnered with theJunta de Bienes Naturalesto build and maintain ninetree nurseries, produce and plant seedlings for reforestation, manage watersheds, and monitor the forest with community patrols. However, the issue of illegal logging had increasingly become an urgent concern that needed to be incorporated into our holistic approach to conserve the forest.
Forested areas (green) and the communal forest (purple) actively managed by the 48 Cantones
The upper reaches of the surrounding valleys are the most threatened by illegal logging. These include the communities of Chomazán, Chuipachec, and Casablanca. While the communities have long recognized that a problem exists, making this problem visible and diagnosing it, in order to fix it, has been another challenge altogether. In a recent global report, the International Union of Forest Research Organization concluded that:
Understanding the drivers of illegal forest activities is necessary to identify effective governance responses. Often, the drivers for illegal logging, forest degradation and deforestation overlap. Forest lands in rural regions are modified by complex interactions of social, economic, political, cultural and technological processes at the local, national and global levels. At the core lie land users influenced by the economic and cultural contexts in which they live, fostered by poor governance. Power imbalances among economic actors lie behind many decisions for illegal land uses, and frequently it is economic and political elites that reap the most benefits.
Illegal Logging and Related Timber Trade – Dimensions, Drivers, Impacts and Responses. A Global Scientific Rapid Response Assessment Report. Editors: Daniela Kleinschmit, Stephanie Mansourian, Christoph Wildburger, Andre Purret (2016).
Enter the Multi-Stakeholder Illegal Logging Technical Board of Totonicapán, which was established in 2016 and has since been meeting on a monthly basis. The Technical Board includes the active participation of 14 institutions, with the front-and-center leadership of 48 Cantones, government agencies such as INAB and CONANP, as well as the Totonicapán University Center (CUNTOTO). EcoLogic and the Technical Board wanted to target the illegal logging issue, which tends to undermine other natural resource management strides, yet is something that generates embarrassment and reticence from community members otherwise inclined to work together on local development concerns.
One of the activities identified by the Technical Board was to conduct an awareness raising campaign. To this end, in 2017, we partnered with the Guatemalan Center for Communication for Development (CECODE) to develop an initial diagnostic of how using C4D approaches could surface some solutions to this seemingly intractable challenge. The goal was to begin to unseat conventional acceptance of illegal logging, shift public opinion, and open up discussion of people’s feelings about the issue.
Local participants at a CECODE meeting
After a series of consultations and interviews, CECODE developed a communications campaign that included public service announcement-style spots on TV, radio, and social media specifically targeted to the media most relevant to communities with high levels of illegal tree harvesting. Outreach with communities helped to ensure that media content was grassroots-sourced and locally-approved. However, the delicate nature of this topic made even those first steps difficult—the project team had to change their strategy and find completely new participants when they realized that whole communities were not interested in sharing any information about this sensitive issue. Nevertheless, the media strategy has begun to permeate the public consciousness in this area. This is manifest in the increased willingness of community members (additional to ones where video or audio was initially recorded) to sit down and have a dialogue about logging practices and forest resources. TV and radio spots have touched on sub-themes as diverse as medicinal plant harvest and forest law, to using propane gas for energy instead of biomass, to alternative livelihoods.
Monthly meeting of the Anit-Illegal Logging Technical Board
The communication strategy pursued doesn’t just include direct media promotion, but also more personalized strategies. Workshops with local communities are a starting point, and training sessions with extractors of lumber and firewood are centered on pointing out the costs and benefits of changing how they go about their subsistence activities, and the importance of bringing their practices into compliance with legal bounds and licenses. Part of the expected result is that workshops and a more continual education approach will have a multiplier effect in terms of bringing the necessary environmental awareness to a larger audience. This is why the program is working directly with users and producers of these forest resources.
Some next steps to expand the C4D strategy are underway, building from one campaign to a more in-depth process that leverages the inter-institutional space created by the Technical Board and the initial interest and awareness at the community level. The Technical Board and EcoLogic look forward to taking advantage of these communications opportunities as part of a multi-pronged approach to halt and reverse deforestation in the Communal Forest.
We will be monitoring the results including change in illegal logging and net change in forest cover over time and look forward to keeping you updated.
From left to right: EcoLogic Ixcán Field Technician Elmer Urizar; Jorge Luis López; EcoLogic Guatemala Program Officer Mario Ardany de Leon.
In Jorge Luis López’s community of San Juan Ixcán, Guatemala, agroforestry systems introduced by EcoLogic Development Fund are helping local farmers to improve their crop yields without damaging the environment.
“Thanks to EcoLogic, I’ve had the opportunity to learn new farming practices—how to establish nurseries, plant grafting, proper crop spacing, species diversification, and more. After three years, I have already planted four parcels of land that now produce corn, cacao, and cardamom.”
A new report published by the World Agroforestry Center (ICRAF) suggests that many tropical tree species including Inga are likely to suffer as a result of climate change over the coming decades. The report, which can be viewed online, shows large swaths of Mexico and Central America becoming unsuitable habitat for Inga and other trees as rising temperatures, changing precipitation patterns, and other climate-related stress factors constrain trees’ ability to grow in the region.
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
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 projectProtecting 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.
TheInga edulistree 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,EcoLogicis 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.
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
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
Farmers use smoke to calm the bees before opening the hives
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.
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.
Once the honey and wax have been separated, the honey into containers for storage and transportation.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
This past March in Totonicapán, the site of Guatemala’s best conserved highland oak-pine forest, EcoLogic provided the financial support for an assembly between the Natural Resources Council of the 48 Cantons and community leaders from the local area. This provided space for elected community delegates to speak on behalf of their particular community’s needs, share knowledge on the conservation efforts they’ve undertaken, and revisit previous project activities to ensure continued progress with EcoLogic and 48 Cantons leadership, who serve as community conservation allies. This assembly had 33 participants from local communities in total, 33 men and 3 women.
This past March in Honduras, EcoLogic staff along with our local partner the Association of Water Committees of the Southern Sector of Pico Bonito National Park (AJAASSPIB), completed 4 community-led forest monitoring visits to monitor illegal logging activity, gather data on insect outbreaks, and prevent fires in the standing forests critical to the Uchapa-Pimienta watershed. Volunteers and field staff conducted visits in the communities of Agalteca, La Gloria, California, Suyatal. In total, these visits included 10 men and 2 women from local communities and brought these local monitoring groups together with representatives from the Honduran Institute of Forestry Conservation (ICF).
In this map produced by EcoLogic intern Christine Gregory, you can see the state of Oaxaca highlighted in the inset map and the small green area showing the precise location of La Chinantla in Oaxaca’s northeast corner.
La Chinantla, a region located in the Northern part of the State of Oaxaca—which itself is nestled in the Southwestern corner of Mexico, is a highly biodiverse, mountainous landscape—considered one of the most ecologically complex regions of Oaxaca, and even the entire country. It is one of the few regions in Mexico where so many distinct ecosystems coexist in such proximity—vast, sprawling expanses of oak forest, lowland tropical humid forests, scrub and dry forests, cloud forests, and high evergreen forests cover this lush, humid land. La Chinantla is also the place the Chinantec and Mazatec people (whose total population numbers over 100,000) call home.
In order to get more stories directly from the field to you—our kind readers, supporters, allies, and friends—we have started implementing and experimenting with communications techniques. We aim to give EcoLogic field technicians an easy method to create consistent streams of stories and photos that will allow us to analyze, communicate, monitor, and evaluate the human elements of our conservation work—like empowerment and social change.
While we are still in the pilot stage of this process, these two stories were collected by Oaxaca Field Technician Severiana Domínguez González, whose brilliant work you’ve read about of before. Severiana, as usual, went above and beyond—providing us with short journalistic accounts of local beneficiaries who are involved in our fuel-efficient stove initiative in La Chinantla.
We hope you enjoy this close-up view of Severiana’s work and insights from two local women who partner with EcoLogic.
Basilio Martinez and Warren Darrell of Ecologic with AJAASSPIB technician Roberto at the water source on the Coyoles river.
Last week, EcoLogic sat down with Warren Darrell, an EcoLogic Ambassador. Warren had previously spent time journeying around Honduras to places like Copán, Lempira, and Colón where he observed the prevalence of hillside agriculture and soil degradation, as well as emerging conservation strategies such as soil-conserving agroforestry. Warren told EcoLogic that over the years, through his travels and interests, he learned that the key to successful development and conservation projects is involving local people and their community organizations and helping them enact the change they want to see. In his own words, Warren supports organizations that have an approach to their work that align with his international aid mantra that “supporting the right people and organizations is more important than the amount of support,” and after visiting Honduras, he says EcoLogic’s work confirms that. Hear more from Warren.
This guest blog is written by Warren Darrell, a retired environmental engineer from northern Virginia, who became involved with EcoLogic in the summer of 2016 as a Steward of Nature (our monthly donation program). Having spent some time Honduras, Guatemala, and other Latin American countries to volunteer with various sustainable development organizations, he was intrigued by EcoLogic’s community-based approach to watershed conservation and sustainable agriculture. But giving monthly by himself wasn’t enough. Ultimately, he wanted to help EcoLogic raise funds as an Ambassador — EcoLogic’s volunteer fundraisers who help us spread the EcoLogic message and garner support from family, friends, and colleagues. And to do that, Warren wanted to visit our work in person so that he could witness and verify its impact.
The water source in the mountainous rain forest, which we reached after a steep and slippery hike.
3D models of watersheds show community members where water collects and how it travels to their villages. This is a youth group constructing the model for the villages of San Juan and San Dimas in Honduras
In 2016, EcoLogic was invited by Dominique Calaganan, a member of our advisory committee, with whom we are connected to thanks to our relationship with the PARTNER network, to write an article on how our work at EcoLogic contributes to a global conversation about local governance in international development and conservation. We chose Honduras mainly because we wanted to help people see what good governance by-and-for local communities looks like, which is alive and well in the communities we support. But we also had the aim of helping our peers and other organizations learn from and replicate what we’ve done. We wanted to connect with academic audiences to give a humble example of what an international non-profit of our size can do to help facilitate and strengthen real grassroots efforts in practice. Perhaps most importantly, this article intended to continue to raise the profile of our inspiring partners in Honduras—because they deserve it. Read on to see the full published article.
Fernando Recancoj stopping for a snapshot mid conversation with me next to the “viveros,” or tree nurseries, in Totonicapán
This week, in EcoLogic’s regional office in Quetzaltenango, Guatemala (known locally as Xela, a homage to its indigenous name Xelaju), EcoLogic Communications Officer, Riley Hunter, sat down with Fernando Recancoj, long-time EcoLogic Field Technician for our Totonicapán project to get a better idea of what makes EcoLogic unique, why Fernando has stayed so committed to EcoLogic for 9 years, and why he is confident that EcoLogic the best place for him to create change and help rural and indigenous communities conserve their natural resources in Totonicapán. read on to hear more from Fernando.
The long, windy highway from the town of Totonicapán to the edge of the communal forest– EcoLogic’s tree nurseries are located
This article is the first installment of a multiple-part story series intended to take a deep-dive into a specific issue — unsustainable timber extraction, or logging — at one of our long-standing project sites: the Communal Forest of Los Altos de San Miguel in Totonicapán, Guatemala. As the story unfolds, you will learn about the complexities of the logging issue, the players involved and their needs/motivations, the impact of logging on forest resources and biodiversity, as well as the unique history and current realities of Totonicapán, Guatemala.
This past November, Guatemalan environmental journalist Lucy Calderón took a trip to our project sites in Totonicapán, Guatemala to write a story on how local environmental groups are confronting issues of climate change. Lucy and Guatemala Country Officer, Mario de León, met at a climate change event (Congreso Nacional de Cambio Climático) in Xela (Quetzaltenango), Guatemala and Mario invited Lucy to visit and experience our community-based conservation work. This December, after Lucy published an article about her experience with EcoLogic to various news outlets focused on conservation, she was awarded the first place prize by LatinClima and the Earth Journalism Network, CATIE (Tropical Agronomic Research and Teaching Center) and the Dutch Embassy in Costa Rica for the best Latin American story on adaptation to climate change.
Below, in Spanish and English, is Lucy’s article, and the videos and photography that accompany her story. We are very proud that she chose to write about our work, and we congratulate her for being awarded first place!
*Note: The original article was written in Spanish. EcoLogic intern Dulce Gutierrez has provided English translation for this article, and each Spanish paragraph has an English translation that immediately follows
Educación y organización comunitaria son claves para convivir con el cambio climático