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Jul 29, 2003

So many protected areas…so little coordination

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On the surface, Belize’s system of plentiful protected areas looks like a model of farsighted planning and efficiency. But underneath all those lush rainforests and spectacular coral reefs, there may not be as much coordination as meets the eye. Jacqueline Woods reports from Belmopan.

Jacqueline Woods, Reporting

While almost fifty percent of the country’s territory is under some protected status, these areas are managed by a host of different entities, including the Ministry of Natural Resources, Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries, as well as private conservation organizations like the Belize Audubon Society and Programme for Belize. Today, these various parties met to see how they can work together and come up with a policy for a National Protected Areas System.

Servulo Baeza, Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries

“A national policy entails that all the stake holders, whether it be NGOs, the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment, the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries, who all play a very important role in protected areas, that we all are pretty much speaking the same language and all of us have a specific goal. I think that over the past years, although we have quite a good track record, I must admit we still have been doing it, I would say in sort of isolation, there has not been much coordination.”

Johnny Briceño, Min. of Natural Resources & Environment

“This is the first time we have managed to put all of them in a room together. We hope that at the end of the day we can break up into smaller groups and work in the different areas that we have to look at in the different areas of this country. And over the next twelve months then we can come back again with a plan that we all can live with and support and move forward with.”

The meeting was organized by the Ministry of Natural Resources and the Environment, Commerce and Industry, in collaboration with the Protected Areas Conservation Trust.

Valerie Woods, Executive Director, PACT

“Well since PACT, Protected Areas Conservation Trust, is the country’s national trust fund to provide and invest money in protected areas, our major concern really is that there is no established national plan for the system. Therefore, when we give out grants and provide project disbursements, we’re doing it without targets. There is no goal to be measured by and a trust fund needs to be able to measure its impact, it has to be able to validate its existence. Secondly, the protected areas in Belize need to justified, whether they are addressing critical habitats, biodiversity hotspots, and we feel that while there have been several attempts to provide guidance, it’s perhaps strategic now that we enter a process to come up and formulate a national plan, one that co-ordinates the fisheries side, as well as natural resources side of this protected areas system in Belize.”

Minister of Natural Resources and the Environment, Johnny Briceño says following the meeting there will be consultations with key organizations and communities to make sure that the human side of conservation is not neglected.

Johnny Briceño

“Today we are posing some questions to them, such as: do we have enough areas protected; or the areas that we just have under paper, should we continue to protect it? What about agricultural needs, people need more land to do more agricultural activities. These are some of the questions that we need to answer. And at the end of the day, as I have been saying over and over, it comes to about money, that we cannot continue boasting that we have forty-two percent of our country under some protected status when we have about thirty percent of our people living in poverty. We need to find a way to help them. What about the indigenous people that use the slash and burn milpa system, why can’t we find a way to have them to be part of this conservation process. But for them to do that, we need to reward them financially. Millions and millions of dollars are coming into this country because of the natural resources that we have, what about the people that are protecting that natural resources, that the tourist come in to spend money. How is it that we can find ways for them to benefit? These are some of the key questions that we need to answer.”

Jacqueline Woods for News 5.

For the record, Belize boasts eighteen forest reserves, fifteen national parks, four nature reserves, six wildlife sanctuaries, nine archaeological reserves, along with several private reserves.

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