In Guatemala Indigenous Peoples Protect Forests from Fires

Forest fires have devastated Guatemala’s lush rainforests. Yet out of this devastation, there is a
reason for optimism: local forest communities have kept fires off the lands they protect and manage. As the world looks for ways to protect our rainforests and fight climate change; it’s increasingly clear that indigenous communities and other forest peoples hold part of the solution.

In Guatemala, some indigenous communities have been given forest concessions that give them the legal right to manage their ancestral forests lands. Analysis of satellite images of Maya Biosphere Reserve reveals that villagers with these rights keep fires out of concession areas, even as national parks and other surrounding areas are devastated by fire. A new study by the Prisma Foundation adds to growing evidence that proves that providing local communities and indigenous peoples with rights to their territories is the best way to protect tropical forests that are critical to combating climate change.

“There is a conservation culture that produces concrete and broad economic and social results that support the sustainability of the concessions,” explains Marcedonio Cortave, Director of ACOFOP.

Numerous studies over the past decade have concluded that concessions represent a powerful model for economic development and conservation of natural resources, combining social and economic development with the long-term sustainability of forests and the communities.

Members of the community, dependent on an integrated and sustainable system for managing natural resources—both timber and non-timber—have an incentive to protect forests that allows them to outperform government agencies in managing the areas under their control.

Unless these community forest concessions are renewed, the Guatemalan government will continue to have problems managing the national park in such a way that it can survive various pressures, such as drug trafficking, industrial agriculture, extensive cattle ranching and oil extraction. And without the renewal of forest concessions, the authors conclude, the Guatemalan government is likely to fail in the fight against forest fires.

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Didier Devers
Chief of Party – USAID Guatemala

Didier has been coordinating the USAID-funded B’atz project since joining Rainforest Foundation US in April 2022. He holds a Master’s in Applied Anthropology and a Bachelor’s in Geography. Before joining the organization, Didier worked for 12 years in Central and South America on issues of transparency, legality, governance, and managing stakeholders’ processes in the environmental sector. Prior to that he worked on similar issues in Central Africa. He speaks French, Spanish, and English, and is based in Guatemala.