eNews

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.

 

For more stories and reflections about our work, check out our blog, EcoBlogic!

 

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Local Partnerships and Self-determination in Pico Bonito, Honduras: An Interview with Warren Darrell

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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.

EcoLogic Ambassador in Action: My Trip to Pico Bonito, Honduras

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.

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The water source in the mountainous rain forest, which we reached after a steep and slippery hike.

See more photos from the field.

An Association of Rural Villagers Leading by Example at the Landscape Scale in Honduras

3D models of watersheds show community members where water collects and travels to their villages. This is a group constructing the model for San Juan and San Dimas in Honduras. (2)

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’s Most Significant Change: Empowerment & Adaptation

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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.

Illegal Logging in Totonicapán: A persistent problem requires a unique approach

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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.

read on for more about Totonicapán.

Guatemalan Environmental Journalist, Lucy Calderón, Wins First Place for Article on Climate Change in Totonicapán

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 


See the rest of Lucy’s article.

Bravo! A Great Success for EcoLogic’s Not-So-Typical Benefit

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The excellent table facilitators and EcoLogic Executive Director Barbara Vallarino

Dear friends of EcoLogic,

Thank you so much for attending EcoLogic’s third annual Turning the Tables benefit. For those of you who made it, we’re so grateful you could join us to celebrate EcoLogic’s impact and come closer together as a community of allies dedicated to a more sustainable, just world. For those of you who couldn’t make it this year, we hope this event summary inspires you to join us in the future! It was a big success not only for us, but for rural and indigenous people in Central America and Mexico—as well as for our caring community here in Boston.

EcoLogic’s third annual Turning the Tables, which took place on October 20th, was a unique and creative evening full of dialogue between concerned citizens who care about the issues that affect people and planet. EcoLogic hosted both core supporters and new guests at the historic Commander’s Mansion in Watertown. The space was thoughtfully decorated with paintings made by artisans in Guatemala, videos relayed from field staff in Honduras, and auction items donated from Mexico, Belize, and beyond!

See more photos of the event.

From Socioeconomic Studies to Educational Talks: A USAC intern’s Experience in Totonicapán

At EcoLogic, we love to brag about our amazing interns. With bright minds and unbridled enthusiasm, they bring a wealth of much welcomed, fresh energy to our work. However, we don’t often highlight the brilliant interns that offer the same great ideas and helping hands to our regional staff and our partners in the field.

In Totonicapán, Guatemala, there’s an intern who brings exactly all the qualities and benefits we’ve just described, and has worked with EcoLogic and our local partner, The Natural Resource Council of The Mayors of the 48 Cantones, since early 2016. Her name is Rosario Concepción Morales Tzic.

Rosario was originally linked with 48 Cantones through her program at the University Center of Totonicapán, part of the University of San Carlos in Guatemala. Rosario’s original project was to undertake a socioeconomic baseline study of a community in the area with the help and guidance of 48 Cantones. As Rosario mentions in the video, her involvement and role expanded once she connected with EcoLogic Field Technician Fernando Recancoj and became aware of our work. Shortly after, EcoLogic staff and USAC students began to explore their mutual interests and eventually formalized a partnership with the university, so that students in the area could learn about and participate in projects related to community-based conservation.

Below is a short video of Rosario explaining a bit about her work and why she has enjoyed partnering with EcoLogic. It is in Spanish, but no worries if you don’t speak it—we’ve subtitled it for you. We hope that you enjoy a bit of insight into her fieldwork and maybe get a chance to practice your Spanish listening skills, too!

See more on Rosario’s study.

Staff Spotlight: Severiana Dominguez Gonzalez

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Last week at EcoLogic we were reflecting on our work in Mexico and our particularly impressive staff in the region, when we realized we were long overdue for a Staff Spotlight on a uniquely passionate and powerful Field Technician. Severiana has been with EcoLogic since 2012 and has amassed many inspiring stories while working with rural and indigenous communities in Oaxaca, and especially enjoys seeing the benefits that EcoLogic’s work provides for women. So, we sat down with Seve (pronounced: say-vay) as she is called for short, to shine the Staff Spotlight on her this month and make sure our supporters and readers know about her dedication and amazing impact.

Here’s what she had to say (in English and Spanish):

See what Severiana has to say.

PhotoVoice: An All-Staff Activity to Share Knowledge and Engage our Experts in the Field

You’ve likely heard this before, but at EcoLogic we implement a number of participatory workshops and activities. We do this so that communities recognize themselves as co-owners of project plans and initiatives, and our partner communities themselves can drive the conservation process in a way that aligns with their needs and interests. We believe that communities must be involved throughout the entire project cycle, from initial planning all the way to monitoring and evaluation. Our commitment to participatory processes ensures that our projects respond to locally defined needs and priorities, and are adapted to the unique environmental and social challenges of each community. This approach advances our mission to empower rural and indigenous people—and increases the likelihood that our initiatives are sustainable over the long-term.

Participatory approaches to development include a number of valuable tools that facilitate the inclusion and engagement necessary to give an equal voice to all involved. One particularly useful method used for this is called PhotoVoice—which is a process that allows people to identify, represent, and enhance their projects, plans, and goals through a specific photographic technique.

Just as we believe all community members must have an equal voice and a seat at the table, we think the same principles must be applied to all of our staff. So, this past September, EcoLogic engaged all US-based and regional staff in an organization-wide activity meant to gather information and insight on how EcoLogic is understood, identified, and represented in the many diverse communities in which we work across Mexico, Guatemala, Belize, and Honduras. The activity was meant to enable people to reflect about EcoLogic’s strengths and voice their opinions, while also promoting dialogue and knowledge-sharing. Participants were asked to each select a photo that they believe exemplifies EcoLogic’s role and process of working, and were later prompted to reflect upon the pictures through both written narratives and group discussions—a methodology called PhotoVoice.

Our recent PhotoVoice workshop had over 20 participants that engaged remotely from the regions in which we work. Together, participants shared over 20 photos and accompanying narratives that shared important information about EcoLogic. We plan to incorporate this information into a wide variety of project planning, fundraising, and communications materials. But most importantly, the activity gave everyone an opportunity to voice their expertise from the field in their own words, with their own representation. The meaningful dialogue and reflection about EcoLogic’s work that the activity generated will be integrated into our organizational vision, allow us to grow, and shape our future plans and project designs around rich, quality, information gathered from the knowledgeable minds of our expert staff.

Oh, and as a bonus, everyone got to share amazing photos that others had yet to see! Here are some of our favorite photos and reflections:

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Name and role: Marco Acevedo, Program Officer for Mexico

Project and location of the photo: Chinantla, San Lucas Ojitlán

Approximate date: 2013

Title: Perseverance and Transcendence

From your point of view, why is this photo significant and how does it represent EcoLogic’s role?

This photo represents two aspects of EcoLogic. The first is the perseverance that EcoLogic has to continue our work even when the road isn’t easy or when we encounter many obstacles. But, we have been able to build processes that allow us to advance and grow. The second aspect has to do with with how we propel conservation and bring it to the people and the lessons that we learn along the path of doing things together.

See more PhotoVoice reflections.

Connecting Local Partners & Communication Networks—A blog by EcoLogic intern Andrew Shifren

By Andrew Shifren, EcoLogic summer intern and student at Emory University studying history and environmental management. Andrew interned with EcoLogic during the summer of 2016 after being selected for a Forest Foundation grant, which is a competitive application process and places students with non-profits who have aligning interests and skills. The program aims to foster the next generation of public service leaders. Thank you, Forest Foundation, and gracias, Andrew!

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Andrew enjoying the natural wonders of the world

Before the Forest Foundation placed me in a summer internship at EcoLogic, if you were to ask me what communications consists of, I would probably have said “e-mail.” Needless to say, I had a lot of catching up to do during my first week on board. I was lucky enough to join EcoLogic at a time when they were crafting a new communications strategy, so I stepped into an environment with few rules set in stone and plenty of opportunities to innovate and pose new ideas. It was also an office environment with dogs—I loved the dogs.

Learn more about communication maps with Andrew.

The Southern Pine Beetle Plague: A Threat to Resilience and Livelihoods

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Local partners and community members constructing firebreaks in Northern Honduras

EcoLogic works diligently with our local partner organizations to build resilience in rural communities through our solutions that protect both people and the planet. Yet, in addition to our ongoing work, there are situations that emerge  that demand urgent and immediate action. A current example of this is happening right now in Honduras, in what experts are rightfully calling this an ecological catastrophe. An abnormally severe outbreak of the southern pine beetle—Dendroctonus frontalis—is ravaging pine forests across the country. While this beetle has long been present in Honduran forests, climate change and its effects are causing more frequent and severe outbreaks.

The pine beetle attacks pine forests, particularly those that have been weakened by lightning or fires, or where there is high stand density. Once 20-30 pines are attacked, southern pine beetle infestations can spread rapidly if no control is applied. Under conditions of outbreak, the bark beetles can then kill healthy pines, too. The bark beetle develops within the bark of infested pines and new adults then fly in search of a new host.

In order to control the spread of the pine beetle plague, EcoLogic and its partners will continue implementing the strategy promoted by the Honduran Forest Conservation Institute (Instituto de Conservación Forestal, ICF), which advises to cut down infected trees as well as healthy trees within a 50 meter radius of infected areas (a distance which prevents adults from reaching new healthy pines). Given this necessary clearing of trees, reforestation of healthy trees and ongoing management are key components of the response. Firebreaks will continue to be built, along with controlled burning and removal of combustible matter, and the forests will be monitored by rangers.

Learn more about the Southern Pine Beetle plague.

From a Gentlemans’ Agreement to Effective Governance: A Retrospective on a Cross-Border Alliance leading to Healthy Fisheries in Belize and Guatemala

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Traditional transportation—a family navigates the area

After six years of hard work and perseverance of Guatemalan and Belizean fishing communities, and support from the Oak Foundation, EcoLogic’s project, Cross-Border Alliance for Healthy Fisheries, has reached a series of major milestones. As we plan with our local partners, and write proposals to potential funders, we wanted to paint a picture of the important progress to date and share the successes of the project and all of the people involved.

This project is located in the lower Sarstoon (Sarstún) River Basin and adjacent coastal-marine area on the border between Belize and Guatemala—the Amatique Bay. There is a combined total of over 50,000 hectares of terrestrial wetland conservation areas. This incredibly unique ecosystem is imperative to biodiversity as well as to the livelihoods and cultures shared by fishing communities (Garífuna, Maya Q’eqchi’, and Mestizo) on both sides of the border. However, a decades-old international boundary dispute has created barriers to cooperation, integration, and trust among border communities.  Furthermore, both Belize’s Toledo District and Guatemala’s Izabal Department suffer from some of the highest levels of poverty and malnutrition in their respective countries.

Learn more about this cross-border initiative.

En Respuesta/In Response: On Photography and Coexistence/Sobre la Fotografía y Convivencia

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In San Francisco de la Paz, Honduras; with Don Jose (or Don Tiva), the father of the owner of the school I worked at—a man who, though he has since passed, told me many stories and taught me very much about the history of his people and his country. / / En San Francisco de La Paz, Honduras; Don José (o Don Tiva), el padre del dueño de la escuela para la cual trabajaba. Este señor falleció hace unos años, pero me contó muchas historias y me enseñó mucho sobre la historia de su gente y su país.

Last month, we published an eNews article titled On Photography and Coexistence with Nature, written by EcoLogic Field Technician Antonio Reyes Montejo all the way from his project site in Ixcán, Guatemala. Like we mentioned in the last article, EcoLogic is always aiming to improve how we communicate, as an organization and to our external audience, so this article is meant to be both a reply to the field staff in our region‐with whom I work closely but may not have the opportunity to speak with or see on a daily basis—as well as a visual-based introduction to me, Riley Hunter, EcoLogic’s new communications officer.

*Writers note from Riley: This article is written in English and—to the best of my ability—in Spanish. So please follow along in either language and excuse any errors.

El mes pasado, publicamos un artículo en nuestro noticiero electrónico mensual titulado Sobre La fotografía y convivencia con la naturaleza, escrito por Antonio Reyes Montejo, nuestro técnico del campo, desde el proyecto en Ixcán, Guatemala. Como se mencionó en el  ultima artículo, EcoLogic siempre está intentando a mejorar nuestras comunicaciones como organización y a nuestro público externo. Este artículo es una respuesta a nuestro personal regional—la gente con quien trabajamos y conversamos muy cercanamente—y también como un introducción a las fotos y personalidad de nuestro Oficial de Comunicaciones, Riley Hunter.

 *Nota del escritor (Riley): EcoLogic siempre está intentando mejorar nuestro comunicamos como organización y a nuestro público externo, este artículo está escrito en Inglés y—a lo mejor de mi capacidad—en Español. Favor de leerla en cualquier lengua y disculpen los errores.

Tell me how you first became involved with EcoLogic and what is your role now?

Cuénteme cómo usted se incorporó a EcoLogic y cuál es su papel?

Read the rest of Riley’s story.

Featured Project: EcoLogic’s Indigenous Community Engagement in Mexico’s National MRV system gets GCFF and International Spotlight

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Participants in training for forest carbon monitoring that EcoLogic has helped coordinate in Chiapas, Campeche, Jalisco, and Quintana Roo, since 2014

EcoLogic was one of a handful of institutions awarded Governors’ Climate & Forests Fund’s (GCFF) financial support, to continue to make crucial headway in ensuring that rural and indigenous communities in Mexico are involved in and can benefit from emerging REDD+ strategies.

REDD+ strategies have a complicated history where the need for a rights-based approach has been identified and echoed across the international community. We have written a few articles on the past to explain how we approach REDD+ with indigenous communities. We’ve explained how we define and use it, and blogged about the confusion and push for clarity involved in the process. Also, we’ve recently been featured in a beautifully photographed Featured Project section on Governors’ Climate & Forests Fund’s website, which marks a proud milestone in our project due to the recognition of our success. And the publicity gives us another opportunity to direct attention to the important community-based work that we do!

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EcoLogic and its Campeche-base partner, SURverde (surverde.org), were invited to Jalisco by Gabriela Lopez Damian, from the Secretary of the Environment in Jalisco (http://fiprodefo.jalisco.gob.mx/) to lead a community workshop on carbon monitoring and share lessons learned in Campeche and Chiapas

The GFC article—which is republished below—is an interview with REDD+ Senior Program Manager, Andrea Savage, and does an excellent and eloquent job of communicating to the community of international experts on the subject. But we highly recommend heading over to the GCFF website to see the amazing photos that accompany the article.

After the interview, we’ve included a couple of excerpts that did not make the final published version, which focus on the community-based components of our work that we know our readership loves.

Read the interview.

Recycling Exchange Stores Prospering in Honduras: An Update from Victor Daniel—EcoLogic Field Technician in Honduras

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Students collecting recyclables around a town in Atlántida, Honduras

In 2013, EcoLogic held a competition among its partner organizations, with the goal of recognizing community-led innovation with a $10,000 prize. Our Honduran partner, the Alliance of Municipalities of Central Atlántida (MAMUCA), was selected as the winner of the EcoLogic Innovation Award and they invested the funds to pilot their recycling exchange shop concept.

Now, two years later, we are elated that the shops continue to grow, all on their own. This is a case that truly demonstrates the potential of locally-sourced, locally-led innovation: MAMUCA had the idea, EcoLogic added enough financial support to get the wheels turning, and community members take it from there!

Our Project Technician with MAMUCA, Víctor Daniel Escobar, provides us with the most current update below…

This was an original idea from  MAMUCA—EcoLogic’s local partner in our Towns for Environmental Corridors and Communities. MAMUCA has established exchange stores, where you can receive school supplies or even food in exchange for dropping off recyclable materials. Members of local water councils – community groups with which EcoLogic partners  to protect natural water sources – run the stores. So, for example, in each area where there is a water council and an exchange store, a community member can bring in plastic bottles (PET), aluminum, iron, or any other recyclable and receive a pound of beans, a pound of rice, butter, or soap, for example. Or, what we have experienced here with the water council of El Pino and with the schools we work with in the community of Arizona, kids basically collect bottles and aluminum cans from the streets, forests, and rivers and they receive school supplies in exchange—like pencils, pens, notebooks, erasers, markers, colored pencils, crayons, and things like that. So it’s always an exchange.

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Sorting the recyclables brought into the store

After piloting the exchange store concept in the community of La Unión, it was replicated in Santa Ana. Now, five communities have exchange stores! At this time, we’re really focusing on schools and children for this project because students can easily receive school supplies and because it teaches, reaffirms, and incentivizes the necessity to clean up our natural environment. The concept gives concrete, immediate benefits to the children when they take action to clean up their communities and environment. Also, it’s an opportunity to put into practice what they learn in the classroom related to environmental protection.

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Weighing recyclables to determine its exchange value

 

In sum, this is a very unique, exciting, and successful initiative. Many community leaders from other parts of Honduras have come to see the stores and learn from MAMUCA’s experience. In addition, the recycling stores have brought attention not to themselves, but also to other initiatives that EcoLogic and MAMUCA implement together, such as fuel-efficient stoves, wastewater drainage systems, agroforestry parcels, etc. So we’re strategically using the interest around the stores as an entry point to educate people on the variety of sustainability efforts underway in the region and how they can get involved!

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Students receiving the school supplies!

Aligning Economic Incentives with Cultural Values: The Evolving Role of PES

Annie on her way to visit Grande Que’hue’che–a community in Livingston, Guatemala.

By Annie Spaulding, EcoLogic intern and student in Duke University’s Nicholas School of the Environment Master’s in Environmental Management program. Annie has interned with EcoLogic since moving to Guatemala in January 2016. She has extensive experience in community-based development and is an expert in composting, having previously served as Chief Administrative Officer/Development Officer for the Composting Council Research and Education Foundation (CCREF).

Traditional payment for ecosystem services (PES) models are built around the concept of a monetary value assigned to a specific service, good, or product provided by the natural environment to the benefit of people—for example, water resources, carbon stored in biomass, and forest products. Through a PES scheme, communities or individuals receive monetary payment in exchange for conserving the ecosystems providing the services. It is a win-win with benefits for both the people who benefit from the service (e.g. the people downstream who are supplied with drinking water) and those who ensure provision of the service (e.g. the rural people who conserve the natural water source).  PES is centered around a monetary value agreed upon by both sides. As such, it is a popular model receiving global attention among world leaders, policy makers, conservation organizations, and communities.

While the literature points to several successful examples of these traditional PES models, there is emerging research documenting cases of communities contesting or radically altering conventional PES or PES-like schemes. Community leaders in countries such as Mexico and Japan have expressed a range of concerns with PES, from exclusion of traditional knowledge to the commodification of a core source of spiritual and cultural identity: nature. Currently, greater discussions are emerging among community leaders, practitioners, and academics regarding “alternative conceptualizations” of PES. Additional documentation of communities who have contested or altered PES to meet their needs can help provide tools and insights required to ensure conservation programs reflect values, beliefs, and dignity of rural communities considering such programs.

During my time as an EcoLogic intern, I have had the dual role of working with EcoLogic staff Dave Kramer and Andrea Savage to adapt my research to make it an important contribution to EcoLogic’s projects in the area, while producing my own research in coordination with Duke University’s Nicholas School of the Environment for my Masters of Environmental Management degree. With the guidance of EcoLogic and my thesis adviser Liz Shapiro, I will be researching and assessing specific case studies of how communities have adapted PES-like programs to reflect their culture and needs. One of the principal variations is on how the value for the ecosystem service is represented, where cultural norms and beliefs permit value to be expressed in terms other than as monetary.

My research goal is to determine what cultural norms and beliefs are associated to nature and how they are valued by local people. This will help EcoLogic and other conservation practitioners to further understand how communities can participate in conservation of ecosystem services and resource exchange in ways that are aligned with and support their traditions and belief systems. 

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Annie Spaulding (left background) learning about sustainable farming in Guatemala

I will be sure to circle back to EcoLogic eNews readers with the results!

On Photography and Coexisting with Nature

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Frontera entre los municipios de Ixcán, Chajul y Uspantán / The border between the municipalities of Ixcán, Chajul y Uspantán

 

As EcoLogic is always aiming to improve how we do what we do and how we communicate it with you, we have been exploring ways we can better harness photography and the tales behind them to document stories of success that truly capture the essence of our work. So naturally, we thought to talk to Antonio Reyes Montejo first. Antonio is Field Technician for our projects in Ixcán, Guatemala, an Agronomist who also happens to have a knack for photography. At EcoLogic we greatly value the perspectives of our staff in the region and are delighted to be able to share with you Antonio’s point of view on the incredible work he carries out each day.

Below, we have included an interview with Antonio as well as some of his truly impressive Instagram photos from Ixcán, Guatemala—so you get a feel for the scenery around the Ixcán region and recent happenings in our projects. Each photo also includes a descriptive caption explaining why these photos are important to him—both in general, and in terms of development and conservation.

Tell me how you first became involved with EcoLogic and what is your role now?

Bueno en EcoLogic comencé a trabajar hace un año y debo de decir que me apasiona la convivencia con las comunidades. porque ellas mejor que nadie saben conservar sus tierras y sus recursos naturales,porque ellos se sienten parte de la tierra y lo ven como algo sagrado.ues mi papel es facilitar la conservación, protección y que las familias se empoderen más sobre el sentido de ser parte de la naturaleza.Soy técnico de proyectos esto conlleva a que desarrollemos proyectos integrales en los que lo importante es la conservación de nuestro medio ambiente.

Translation: I began working at EcoLogic a year ago and I must say that my passion is coexisting with communities because they know better than anyone how to conserve their land and natural resources because they feel part of the land and see it as something sacred. My role is to facilitate conservation and work with families so they continue to be empowered  in the sense of being part of nature. Really, I’m a project technician which means I lead integrated projects where the ultimate goal is conservation of our environment.

When did you first become interested in photography? What do you think sparked your interest?

Desde que tengo memoria siempre me gustó la fotografía. Pienso que es la forma de plasmar memorias a través del tiempo y que muchas imágenes pueden crear sentimientos con tan solo verlas y pienso que es aún mejor cuando las fotografías transmiten ganas de amar la vida y ver lo grandioso que tiene este mundo que es nuestro y que tenemos que cuidar para que otras generaciones puedan disfrutar de lo que nosotros somos tan afortunados de tener. Y, pues, también pienso que las fotografías dan un sentido y ayudan coincidir con personas que perseguimos lo mismo para decir que también hay alguien que aprecia eso que a nosotros nos parece genial.

Translation: Ever since I can remember, I have always liked to take photos. I think it is a way to capture memories over time and many images can create feelings just by seeing them. I think it is even better when photography conveys excitement for loving life and seeing what greatness this world of ours has and that we must take care of it so that other generations can enjoy what we are fortunate enough to have. I also think photography gives you a feeling that there are other people out there doing similar things as you and helps connect those who pursue the same. It’s nice to know that there is also someone out that shares our appreciation for the things we think are great.

Do you think photography presents good opportunities to reflect or explore themes related to diversity, nature, and development? Why or why not?

Las fotografías siempre son un medio en cual podemos comparar aspectos diferentes aunque las situaciones sean distintas. También es cierto que a través de las fotografías podemos formar perspectivas distintas porque no todos vemos lo mismo. Cada persona tiene un concepto distinto de la vida pero el transmitir sentimiento por amar la naturaleza pienso que es un sentimiento que todos tenemos.Con el hecho de una fotografía podemos transmitir sentimientos como paz con nuestro entorno y sentir lo afortunados que somos de formar parte de esa diversidad de magia que poseemos como seres vivos al convivir unos con los otros. Y, por supuesto, que podemos reflexionar que a través de ello para crear un vínculo para lograr desarrollarnos en armonía con nuestro entorno sin destruir la naturaleza para pretender ser más felices.

Translation: Photos are always a means in which we can compare different aspects although the situations may be distinct. It’s also true that through photos we can form different perspectives because not everyone looks at things the same way. Everyone has a different concept of life, but I think we all have a feeling of love for nature. On the point of photography, we can transmit these feelings, for example like peace with our environment, and feeling fortunate to be part of this magical diversity that we possess as living beings coexisting together. And of course, we can reflect that it is through this coexistence that we can achieve development in harmony with our environment in order to be happier.

Do you think photography is a good method to show the impact of EcoLogic’s projects? Why or why not?

Definitivamente sí, pienso que hay mucho por hacer dentro del proyecto para darnos a conocer, porque incluso dentro de los lugares que trabajamos no todos saben cuál es el sentido de EcoLogic y, pues, dándoles a conocer lo que realizamos en las distintas actividades que se desarrollan en las comunidades pueden informarse y encontrar más aliados en la conservación de nuestra naturaleza y compleja diversidad.

Translation: Definitely yes, I think that there is much we can do to make our work better known. Even in the places we work, some people do not know the true essence of EcoLogic. Making them aware of what we do and the various activities that we carry out in the communities through photography can help inform people and help us find more allies in the conservation of nature and complex diversity.

antoniomariposa

Colores de Ixcán / Colors of Ixcán

Bueno, esta imagen la tomé porque hay especies de insectos que no son tan comunes de ver,son únicos de una región y que representan un color característico o muy propio del lugar.

Translation: I took this image because there are species of insects that are not very common to see and they’re unique to their region,  and they represent a characteristic or color  very much tied to the habitat where they live.

antoniocaoaba

Personas haciendo semillero de Caoba para reforestar / People making seedbeds of Mahogany to reforest

Esta fotografía muestra a personas de la comunidad de Chinajá haciendo semilleros de Caoba con la intención de producir las plantas que luego serán llevadas a sembrar. Me pareció interesante compartirla para que otros también hagan conciencia de lo que otras personas están haciendo con la finalidad de conservar nuestro medio ambiente.

Translation: This photo shows community members of Chinajá making seedbeds for Mahogany with the intent to produce saplings, which will later be taken to be planted. I wanted to share it so that people can realize what others are doing in order to conserve our environment.

antoniosembrado

Señores sembrado maíz en Cimientos de la Esperanza, Ixcán / Men sowing corn in Cimientos de la Esperanza, Ixcán

Esta foto en particular muestra la forma en la que se siembra el maíz en las comunidades (Cimientos de la Esperanza) y que también se hace en lugares que no son tan comunes, como lo son los cerros. Y pues al fondo también se puede ver los bosques que se están conservando al trabajar con métodos de agricultura sostenible, como la agroforestería..

Translation: This photo shows a particular technique of sowing corn in the communities of Cimientos de la Esperanza and how it is done in unusual places like steep hills. In the background, you can see that the forests are being conserved by working with farmers to incorporate sustainable production practices, like agroforestry.  

antoniocacao

Producción de plantas de Cacao, conquistaremos el mundo con sabor a chocolate / Production of Cacao plants, we will take over the world with the flavor of chocolate

Bueno esta fotografía fue tomada en un vivero de la comunidad Chinajá, en el que actualmente estamos produciendo plantas de Cacao que es la materia prima para la elaboración de chocolate. Y,pues, sabiendo que a la mayoría de las personas les gusta comerlo “conquistaremos el mundo con sabor a chocolate” es sólo una expresión para que se aproxime  a algo rico que conquistará paladares de quienes puedan llegar a probarlo.

Translation: This photo was taken in a nursery in Chinajá. There, we are actually producing Cacao plants, which is the raw material used for the production of chocolate. Knowing that most people like to eat chocolate, “conquering the world with the flavor of chocolate” is just an expression to say that such a flavor so rich will attempt to conquer the palates of those who are fortunate enough to try it.

antoniohoney

Cosechando miel / Harvesting honey

En esta imagen podemos ver la cosecha de miel en la comunidad de San Antonio Tzejá la cual es el resultado de muchos esfuerzos en capacitaciones y formación a apicultores para que mejoren la técnica de producción de miel, que ha tenido mucho éxito.

Translation: In this image, we can see the harvest of honey in the community of San Antonio Tzejá, which is the result of much effort and training and meeting with beekeepers to improve their techniques of honey production, which has had much success.

antonionaturaleza

Naturaleza desde San Antonio Tzejá Ixcán / Nature from San Antonio Tzejá Ixcán

Esta es una flor muy propia de la región y en la cual podemos ver dos colores interesantes y que contrastan muy bien entre sí, es muy característica de aquí por eso es que hago énfasis en que es de Ixcán.

Translation: This is a flower very specific to the region. In it we can see two interesting colors that contrast very well with each other. It’s very characteristic of the region, which is why I noted in the title that it’s from Ixcán.

antonioflor

Esta es la flor que vale oro en Ixcán, es la flor de Cardamomo / This is a flower that is worth gold in Ixcán, it’s the Cardamom flower

Uno de los cultivos de los que la gente de estas comunidades depende es el Cardamomo y por ello esta flor es tan valiosa para ellos, e allí lo importante que es la conservación y el desarrollo de la misma.

Translation: One of the crops that the people of these communities depend on most is Cardamom, and for this reason it’s so valuable for them. [We are starting to introduce Cardamom within our agroforestry systems to promote a more sustainable production model].

Antonio, we are so grateful to you for sharing your unique, personal perspective with us through these photographs! ¡Impresionante! To learn more about EcoLogic’s work in Ixcán, click here.

 

WWF Training Course Leads to New Knowledge and Networks for EcoLogic Staff

EcoLogic empowers rural and indigenous communities to restore and protect tropical ecosystems in Central America and Mexico. We do this by providing and facilitating knowledge, networks, incentives, and tools that promote the responsible use of the natural resources that surround communities in order to alleviate the major challenges they face. Through our work, we aim to nurture community awareness, expand local assets, and strengthen individual capabilities so that communities can manage their ecosystem by themselves to create a more sustainable landscape now and into the future.

An example of this ethos in action is found in the story of José Domingo and Samuel’s recent journey to Panama to attend a training hosted by the World Wildlife Fund’s Russel E. Train Education for Nature Program (EFN). The WWF-EFN’s mission is to “provide financial support to proven and potential conservation leaders in Africa, Asia, and Latin America to gain the skills and knowledge they need to address the conservation challenges in their home countries. EFN supports conservationists to pursue graduate studies, attend short-term training courses, and train local communities in WWF priority places.”

Read more about the WWF training and hear Jose Domingo talk about his experience.

Fuel-efficient Stoves Bring Unexpected but Welcomed Outcomes: A New Home for Lety

Mario Ardany de Leon is a straightforward, no-nonsense kind of man—a particularly good quality for EcoLogic’s Guatemala Program Officer to have, as every day he is overseeing projects that aim to solve some of the region’s most pressing issues. Unsurprisingly, he is a great source of information for project updates, stories, and explanations about what EcoLogic does and why.

As Mario leaned forward with his head bowed toward his computer in order to hear our voices more clearly through the often-wavering Skype connection, which serves as the easiest method of communication between the field and EcoLogic’s Cambridge office, we took advantage of the clear line and cut to the chase. We asked if Mario had any significant stories from the field related to the recent visit of our friends from Global Giving in Totonicapán—the site of the EcoLogic Forest of the Water Spirit project. Global Giving is an online giving platform that has promoted EcoLogic’s work for years, so it was an excellent opportunity for them to see the impacts that they’ve helped EcoLogic attain on the ground!

Perhaps Mario’s candid and venerable demeanor comes from his 15 years of experience working with small scale farmers in Guatemala, or it could be due to his direct knowledge of the issues that rural communities in the area face, as Mr. Mario Ardany de León himself is native to Totonicapán—a place where The Association of Communal Mayors of the 48 Cantones, our local partner, practice a unique relationship with nature and those who enter their forest. These villages view their communal forest as the provider of water, and therefore life, which is an ancestral belief that has been in place for over 800 years. So perhaps more appropriately, Mr. Mario Ardany’s clarity and directness when discussing such issues, is a reflection of this time-honored perspective.

As we sat in the Cambridge office, we found ourselves gazing through the computer screen at the sunwashed bitter-orange and salty-teal hues of the crackled paint on the rafters and support beams inside of Buga Mama Restaurant—a favorite meeting place of EcoLogic staff in Livingston, Guatemala, due to its internet capabilities. It is also in close proximity to the boat launches in Amatique Bay, which lead upriver to project sites. Mario, who had just traveled cross-country from the highland, western department of Totonicapán to the humid, eastern coastal town of Livingston, to check in on EcoLogic’s projects, dabbed his forehead with a handkerchief and began to tell us a significant story of success.

This is the story of Lety.
(Scroll around the interactive map to explore the areas we mention in the story!)

As any good storyteller would, Mario began Lety’s tale with a phrase meant to draw us into what he was about to tell us, and with soft tropical music in the background along with faint, melodic clinks and scrapes of kitchen activity in the waterfront restaurant, we felt like we were just across the table from Mario.

Chris interviewing Mario

Technology like Skype is quite a marvel for our staff. Even though we use it daily, we are continually grateful that we are able to immediately connect with field staff while countries apart—we often feel like we are right there

“Now, pay close attention,” Mario declared. Once our attention was properly focused, he began his story:

We took our friend from Global Giving, Daillen Culver, along with representatives from the Natural Resources Committee of the 48 Cantones, to visit some of the communities we are working with to build fuel-efficient stoves—and there we encountered a family that told us of an experience they recently had. They said that a single mother in the community wanted a stove, but had no house in which to construct it. She had been living with various family members and would cook for her children on an open pit fire outside. The same community organized and helped to construct walls of adobe and mud. They brought wood planks, corrugated steel sheets, and between all of them they were able to construct a small living place for her. She didn’t have her own place so she wasn’t able to have a clean stove, but the community pulled together so she could have the benefits of the stove. Afterward, they checked on her to see how she was doing—how she felt with her new stove and her own place to live; to see if her new conditions had transformed her family environment. Seeing and wanting a clean stove led her to receiving her own place to live. It’s nothing too big, but this is a story of success for us.

As we exclaimed our amazement from the office, we were so happy that Daillen was able to learn about this marvelous story firsthand. Daillen was warmly welcomed by the community, as Mario and a community representative guided her on a trek through the countryside to see the work that EcoLogic is doing in Totonicapán—and during this trek is where she first heard the story of Lety.

Daillen global Giving

Photo courtesy of Global Giving

Lety’s desire for a fuel-efficient stove was likely inspired by seeing the benefits of fuel-efficient stoves in the community where she lives. In Totonicapán and other project areas, EcoLogic promotes and facilitates the use of fuel-efficient stoves in communities that are inspired to lessen the impact that their reliance on wood has on the forests surrounding them.

As wood is a primary fuel source for cooking and heating in these areas, the depletion of trees is an obvious cause for concern. The fuel-efficient wood stoves that EcoLogic helps introduce and install significantly reduce the impact that the use of fuelwood has on the community’s standing forests, as they improve combustion efficiency. This reduces the need for community members like Lety to cut and collect fuelwood. Additionally, these stoves are significantly safer for families and children in particular, as the venting of smoke alleviates the concern of stagnant smoke in the home—which has been known to cause respiratory illnesses.

These benefits are what Lety wanted for her family, and—having experienced these benefits themselves—the community was inspired to join together, pool the resources they could spare, and build Lety a new home with a fuel-efficient stove.

Though the story of Lety is only the story of one family and one community coming together and embracing change. This is an incredible testament of success for Mario and the for rest of us at EcoLogic. It reaffirms that what we are doing in Totonicapán is truly working for communities and shows that the relationships we strengthen can engender unexpected ripple effects that positively impact people’s lives and the environment.

If this story isn’t a strong indicator of empowerment, we’re not sure what is.

Lety with her two niños next to her neighbor's house in Totonicapán

Lety with her two niños next to her neighbor’s house in Totonicapán

For more information about our project in Totonicapán—check out our Forest of the Water Spirit project page. You can also learn more about Mario Ardany HERE

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