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May 17, 2016

Traditional Farming Practices Clash in Trio

The headlines in the past week have been about events in the Toledo District in southern Belize. And that’s where we headed today again. The following story, however, has to do with farming practices in the community of Trio which is settled mostly by nationals from Central America who came to work on farms in Belize. Here, traditional farming is clashing with new and sustainable forms; it is threatening the livelihood of communities. The Trio Farmers Cacao Growers Association and the Ya’axche Conservation Trust are at the forefront of efforts to stave off de-reservation, as well as the abundant illegal activities. News Five’s Isani Cayetano reports.

 

Isani Cayetano, Reporting

The agrarian community of Trio, a mixed population of about two hundred Mayan and Hispanic families, sits near the northern tip of Toledo District.  The village was established in the mid-nineties when immigrants from neighboring Guatemala and Honduras, toiling in nearby banana farms, decided that they would settle on the land.  This countryside location, however, fringes the Maya Mountain North Forest Reserve, in an area known as the Maya Golden Landscape.

 

Bartolo Teul

Bartolo Teul, Community Liaison Officer, Ya’axche Conservation Trust

“Actually, the Maya Mountain North Forest Reserve is sort of a sandwich between Bladen Nature Reserve, Cockscomb Wildlife Sanctuary and protected, productive lands I would say, the banana farms, the citrus farms, as you see coming up into this area and it’s also surrounded by four communities.  We have San Pablo, Bella Vista, Trio and Bladen Village.”

 

These communities, all within proximity of each other, are dependent on shared natural resources, including land and water.

 

Jaume Ruscalleda

Jaume Ruscalleda, Sustainable Land Use Manager, Ya’axche Conservation Trust

“So we find ourselves in the Maya Mountain North Forest Reserve, more specifically we’re at this point here.  We’re on the dry riverbed of the Trio Branch at this moment during dry season.  It is completely dry and, as you can see, the Trio Branch originates here in the Maya Mountains and it joins the Bladen Branch which in turn joins the Swasey Branch here downstream to form what we know as the Monkey River.  So this mountainous area here, of the Maya Mountain North Forest Reserve, the Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary and the Bladen Nature Reserve is a really important water catchment area.  It really soaks up the rain during rainy season and it releases it slowly during dry season, so it’s providing us with water throughout the whole year.”

 

This natural occurrence makes the adjoining flatlands ideal for growing crops.  However, its usage, primarily for agricultural purposes, has been unsustainable, prompting the Ya’axche Conservation Trust to advocate for special privilege to allow farmers from Trio to work the land under strict guidelines.

 

Cristina Garcia

Cristina Garcia, Executive Director, Ya’axche Conservation Trust

“We have been lobbying for the grant of this community forest concession via the communication with the Trio Farmers Cacao Growers Association.  They had an interest in terms of accessing land to plant and to enhance their livelihoods and we thought that this model of community forest concession could work really well in Maya Mountain North Forest Reserve, hence the reason we started lobbying with the government to ensure that the Trio Farmers Cacao Growers Association get access to this acreage of land.”

 

The expanse that has been designated for agronomic use is a nine hundred and thirty-six acre compass, though not all of it will be used for that sole purpose.  What’s unique about this location is that the organic cacao farms that are spread across the acreage are bounded on the east by individual plots that are being tilled unlawfully.  The combination makes for an uneasy coexistence.

 

Jaume Ruscalleda

“The issue we’re facing here is one of unplanned, unsustainable development on one side and one of planned, sustainable development on the other side which I think is an issue that affects this part of Belize in particular, but also Belize in general.  So what we have done at Ya’axche is we have used geographic information systems and satellite imagery to plan for sustainable development inside the forest reserve.”

 

That eco-friendly approach has yielded positive results for the most part.  Nonetheless, its proximity to other farmlands that are being cultivated illegally presents a difficult situation.

 

Cristina Garcia

“It calls attention from both Forest Department and Lands Department because we not only have a situation with incursion happening but we also have a situation with de-reservation happening within the Maya Mountain North Forest Reserve.  So it’s very difficult and we believe strongly that the illegal activities could be controlled within this area but the organization alone cannot do it.  It needs the strong communication between the Lands Department and the Forest Department to do something on the ground.”

 

Isabel Rash

To get a firsthand perspective of the lay of the land I’ve joined a team of five conservationists, including TFCGA Chairman Isabel Rash.  Together, we hike deep into the forest to witness the effects of what has been taking place here recently.

 

Isabel Rash, Chairman, Trio Farmers Cacao Growers Association

“What we are seeing here right now is that people from within the village chop here and burn here but it’s in the forest reserve, you know, and without permission.  And when they were ready to burn they didn’t inform me as a chairperson and they just came and light the fire.  Again, they didn’t do any buffer, a buffer that the fire would not escape.  They didn’t do nothing for that and it escaped and went into our concession where we had cacao and we had three acres of cacao that was damaged and totally burned.”

 

The loss of potential harvest is undoubtedly a setback for the thirty farmers who belong to the local association.  The slash and burn system being employed by illegal farmers also affects the biodiversity of the reserve.

 

Said Gutierrez

Said Gutierrez, Science Director, Ya’axche Conservation Trust

“When you clear cut and you burn an area, you also have wildlife being displaced.  You have wildlife moving from certain area to another and sometimes you may or may not have a complete excerption of a species.  The reserve itself is a really nice area for keystone species.  We have jaguars within the area.  We have the Harpy Eagle as well which is quite an interesting species to have around here.  It’s been spotted within the concession which is actually quite exciting, so in many ways having these activities happening right next door to the concession which is an effort to prevent kind of the decline of certain populations.  When you have these things happening right next door, you know, it kind of threatens the value of reserve.  It threatens the livelihoods of the farmers working here and by extension also the wildlife populations within the area.”

 

That impact is certainly being felt by the Trio Farmers Cacao Growers Association.

 

Isabel Rash

“It affects us because on our side, the concession side we are doing agro-forestry, you know, and protecting the land, protecting the soil and the trees.  So we are looking at the trees, the hardwood trees that we are saving but in this case here now, with this burning now, it affects us because with the burning it affects the soil and it brings grass to burn in the land and the soil it stays more harder because the amount of fire, the heat affects the soil.  So there’s a big difference with the burning and doing agro-forestry.  So it changes a lot the work that we are doing right now.”

 

Ya’axche, as well as the farmers of Trio Village, are seeking government’s intervention in addressing this problem.  We are told that the Ministry of Natural Resources has remained rather mute on the issue. Reporting for News Five, I am Isani Cayetano.

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