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Feb 16, 2021

The Balance Between Conservation and Economic Activity in Protected Areas

The area is called “The Maya Golden Landscape,” and it’s the site of an exciting partnership between those working to maintain Belize’s healthy natural ecosystems and southern cacao farmers. News Five’s reporter Andrea Polanco recently joined personnel from the Ya’axche Conservation Trust and the Ministry of Sustainable Development to see how farming in this protected area is yielding results for both Mayan families and local biodiversity.


Andrea Polanco, Reporting

Deep in the Maya Golden Landscape – a forested area that expands from the mountains to the coast of Belize – there is important conservation working taking place – but there are also farmers whose livelihoods are thriving inside this forest. It’s a partnership led by Ya’axche Conservation Trust – where natural resources are being used sustainably to support Mayan families across several communities. YCT introduced the farmers to cacao-based agro-forestry in the jungles of the Maya Golden Landscape to share new ways of farming where forests don’t have to be cut down.


Augustin Chub

Augustin Chub, Maya Golden Landscape Farmer

“Since I start to plant, now I see the benefit of it because I was marketing and using it for my home use. I make chocolate, do my chocolate drink and everything has benefitted me.”


Daniel Chiquin

Daniel Chiquin, Maya Golden Landscape Farmer

“Unlike corn, cacao trees you don’t have to plant year after year so that you can harvest. Cacao trees you just have to maintain them, chop under them and then you have them for twenty to twenty-five years.”


…and that’s how Ya’axche Conservation Trust implemented the first agro forestry concession within a protected area. It’s a model that shows that conservation and economic activity can co-exist harmoniously. Ya’axche Conservation Trust took Minister Orlando Habet and C.E.O. Dr. Kenrick Williams for a tour of the Maya Mountain North Forest Reserve on Friday to show how their partnership with farmers of the Trio Farmers Cacao Growers Association is thriving. The nine hundred and thirty-six acre concession is in its fifth year of productivity of cacao and this has changed the quality of life for all farmers involved – and helps in the conservation of biodiversity in the area.


Christina Garcia

Christina Garcia, Executive Director, Ya’axche Conservation Trust

“What we have been promoting is really harmony between human development for the benefit of both. In this case, the Trip farmers have rights access to land within the reserve, of course with rules and regulations to follow but at the same time they are conserving what is there because Maya Mountain Forest Reserve was without management for quite a number of years and there was vast deforestation, clearances happening and things out of control. So, when we Ya’axche took management in 2015, we found that the reserve was a good way to conserve livelihood but at the same time to conserve the biodiversity that was already there. So, we started not only with the production of cacao but also the monitoring that occurs.”


Andrea Polanco

“How have you seen the livelihoods of the farmers change over the years that you have worked with them?”


Christina Garcia

“It’s a huge difference. The farmers are basically generating income. You are talking about the farmers that just didn’t have any land. We are talking about thirty farmers just learning how to grow any cacao to now farmers that are actually producing a little over thirty thousand pounds of cacao from that area. So, if they sell a dollar a pound for that volume of cacao they are actually making a good amount of money that could actually help them in terms of sending their kids to school; providing food to table; so I think it is making a big difference.”


Another farming system that Ya’axche Conservation Trust introduced to the protected area is the use of Inga trees to help improve soil quality. It’s an alternative to the slash and burn farming – where farmers plant agricultural crops between rows of Inga trees. It’s a farming method that increases yields and reduces the cutting down of fertile forests. Farmer Pablo Salam uses this alternative farming system.


Pablo Salam

Pablo Salam, Maya Golden Landscape Farmer

“For the last few years it wasn’t that good but now I see the improvement. I have started to work with Ya’axche – started to plant Inga. It’s Inga Alley Cropping. You plant it in rows and all depending on the soil or terrain you have.  Whenever you plant that Inga – when it reach three years you cut your trees and from there you plant your cassava; sweet pepper – and other vegetables – beans, corn – and so corn is doing a lot better in the Inga Alley Cropping farm system and that is what I have seen.


According to Chief Executive Officer Dr. Kenrick Williams of the Ministry of Sustainable Development, this model of balancing conservation efforts and income-generating activities within protected areas is an example that has the potential to be replicated. Williams says it is a different approach that indicates that these protected lands don’t have to be closed off to communities.


Kenrick Williams

Dr. Kenrick Williams, C.E.O., Ministry of Sustainable Development

“I think that the YCT model where they integrate these concessions, the cacao concession in this case and the small, perennial crops within the forest is exemplary, because again, the intent is not to lock up these protected areas so that people and communities don’t benefit. I think that was the historical idea of these protected areas. Now, we want to show this model that has immediate benefits for communities; social benefits; economic benefits to women, to marginalized communities, to poor communities that there is income potential directly that we can get for that. We are looking to scale this up at other protected areas that allows for that type of management approach because again, given the economic times we have to be innovative in the approach and so it was important to come and see this type of agro-forestry application and to see how we can apply this across the country so that communities get direct benefits from our protected areas.”


Reporting for News Five, I’m Andrea Polanco.

Viewers please note: This Internet newscast is a verbatim transcript of our evening television newscast. Where speakers use Kriol, we attempt to faithfully reproduce the quotes using a standard spelling system.

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