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In Guatemala We See Once More: Indigenous People Take Care of the Forest Best

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; its 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 villagers with these rights to their territories keep fires out of the areas where they allowed to manage the forest, 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.