Rainforest Foundation US has partnered with the Mesoamerican Alliance of Peoples and Forests (AMPB) to support the expansion of the Mesoamerican Leadership School, a youth leadership development program in Mexico and Central America.
Started working in the region in 2010
Supported the demarcation of over 500 thousand acres of Indigenous territories
Work with partners protecting over 1.5 million acres through monitoring and management
Our regional program is primarily focused in Mexico, Honduras, Guatemala, and Panama. The B’atz project, funded through a three-year USAID grant, supports the institutional strengthening of the Mesoamerican Alliance of Peoples and Forests (AMPB). Specific objectives include the legal registration of the AMPB, strengthening the Mesoamerican Coordination of Women Territorial Leaders, expanding the reach and curriculum of the Mesoamerican Leadership School, and supporting the launch and consolidation of the Mesoamerican Territorial Fund, an Indigenous and community-run financial mechanism designed to support grassroots organizations throughout the region.
In Panama, RFUS and partners continue working to secure formal land titles for 1.54 million acres of Indigenous peoples’ lands in the Darien region, primarily through technical and legal support, and advocacy.
Our current initiatives in Mexico and Central America include:
Our main initiative in Mexico and Central America is the regional Bat’z institutional strengthening project, which seeks to consolidate the considerable institutional gains made by the AMPB over the last decade. Efforts are focused on expanding the geographical reach and curricula of the Leadership School, specifically piloting new training materials and methods on disaster risk management and advocacy with some 50 communities; strengthening the Territorial Women’s Leaders Coordination through the drafting of a new Regional Gender and Climate Change Plan; supporting legal incorporation and a new strategic plan for the Regional Secretariat; and supporting the build out, launch, and consolidation of the Mesoamerican Territorial Fund. The work through the leadership school is coordinated with three AMPB member organizations: Asociación Utz Che in Guatemala, the Federation of Agroforestry Producers of Honduras (FEPROAH) in Honduras, and the Mexican Network of Forest Campesino Organizations (Red MOCAF) in Mexico.
Since 2010, RFUS has also worked with organizations representing the Guna, Embera, Wounaan, and other nations in the Darien to map all of the Indigenous collective lands outside of the Comarcas, improve the national process for recognizing Indigenous peoples’ land, while also documenting and filing more than a dozen territorial land claims. RFUS also has worked with Embera and Wounaan communities to build participatory, grassroots land use plans to protect their forests and create internal community governance rules based on traditional practices.
RFUS works with all of our partners in Panama to actively monitor their forests and secure their territories. We train youth and community leaders in forest monitoring techniques—including Geographic Positioning Systems (GPS) and Geographic Information Systems (GIS), using smart phones and drones—to document and submit evidence of environmental crimes with government authorities.
Rainforests play an essential role throughout Mexico and Central America, also known as Mesoamerica. The region is home to the “Five Great Forests of Mesoamerica,” a series of forests ranging from Mexico to Panama and continuing into the Choco in Colombia, South America. These forests are comprised of the Selva Maya in Mexico, Guatemala, and Belize; the Moskitia in Nicaragua and Honduras; Indio Maíz-Tortuguero in Nicaragua and Costa Rica; La Amistad in Costa Rica and Panama; and the Darien in Panama and Colombia. Together, these forests cover a land mass three times larger than Switzerland and account for over half of the region’s carbon sequestration.
Mesoamerica’s forests are also home to many iconic species that play a vital role in the region’s ecosystems, including jaguars, Baird’s tapirs, spider monkeys, resplendent quetzals, harpy eagles, and great green macaws. The region encompasses a diverse array of ecosystems, such as cloud forests and extensive coastal mangroves, creating a conducive environment that supports approximately 12% of the world’s biodiversity. Panama, uniquely positioned as the sole land bridge connecting Central and South America, is a key biological corridor for migratory birds and numerous other species.
Mesoamerica boasts tremendous linguistic and cultural diversity, and is home to more than 100 Indigenous peoples, including Mayans, Chorti, Lencas, Miskitos, Mayagnas, Embera, Wounaan, Guna, and the Bribri-Cabecar, among many others.
Indigenous peoples inhabit and safeguard nearly half of all forests in Central America. In addition to Indigenous peoples, there is also a profound connection between local communities and the territories they inhabit. Although not identifying as Indigenous, local communities maintain traditional lifestyles deeply intertwined with the land. Their collaboration in local governance and nature conservation has led to areas being known as “territories conserved by Indigenous peoples and local communities.”
The Indigenous rights movement in this region is historically among the strongest globally. As a result , Indigenous peoples’ rights are fairly well recognized in national laws, although not always respected in practice. In several Mesoamerican countries—most notably Mexico, but also in Honduras, Guatemala, and Costa Rica—Indigenous communities have created successful community forest management models, often based on centuries old cultural forest protection practices. Additionally, Indigenous peoples’ lands are mostly legally recognized and titled throughout Mesoamerican countries; Guatemala is a notable exception with large areas of unrecognized land rights. Panama’s Indigenous Comarca system and the legal framework for Indigenous peoples on the Atlantic Coast of Nicaragua are among the most advanced in the world in terms of political autonomy.
Between 2002-2022, Central America and Mexico witnessed the loss of 25 million acres of tree cover. Of this, 6.4 million acres were primary forests, an area comparable in size to the entire state of Massachusetts. Deforestation rates vary significantly across Mesoamerica. For instance, Costa Rica has achieved notable success in curbing deforestation, while countries like Honduras and Nicaragua continue to experience high rates of forest loss. El Salvador, among all countries in the region, has been the most affected, with less than five percent of its original forest cover remaining.
Much of the deforestation throughout the region is due to cattle ranching and agricultural expansion. Other drivers of deforestation include logging (both legal and illegal), infrastructure development, and urbanization. In some countries like Honduras, Guatemala and Nicaragua, the recent surge in drug trafficking activities has further accelerated deforestation.
In Panama, illegal invasions by miners and ranchers onto Indigenous lands are commonplace and the source of growing tensions and conflicts which have at times led to the loss of lives of Indigenous land defenders in Panama and other parts of the region. The expansion of commercial oil palm, new road infrastructure, migration through the Darien Gap, and mining are other sources of deforestation, as is the growing number of annual forest fires caused in large measure by climate change.
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