Empowering Community Conservation Management Through Capacity Building and Sustainable Livelihood Opportunities in the Golden Stream Corridor Preserve, Belize - Year III

Project location: BELIZE, Golden Stream
Project start date: June 2004 - Project end date: This project covers various years
Project number: 2004-32
Beneficiary: Fauna & Flora International

Final Narrative Report to the Nando Peretti Foundation

Ensuring Sustainability of Community-Based Conservation Management through Capacity-Building and Livelihood Development in the Golden Stream Corridor Preserve, southern Belize

(January 2005-March 2006)


Prepared by Fauna & Flora International






Executive Summary 

2005 was a year of considerable activity and achievement for Ya’axche’ Conservation Trust (YCT) with the support of Fauna & Flora International (FFI), attained in no small part because of the critical funding support provided by the Nando Peretti Foundation.  During this year, significant milestones were attained in all of the key areas of the programme, with highlights provided below:  

1. Designing a multi-stakeholder watershed management regime for the Golden Stream

  • A bird monitoring programme was initiated in the Columbia River Forest Reserve (CRFR), thereby extending the physical scope and remit of the YCT biodiversity monitoring effort in the Golden Stream watershed.
  • A new, multi-stakeholder initiative to promote community-based watershed management capacity was launched by YCT. 

2. Promoting sustainable forest management policy and practice

  • FFI and YCT continued their efforts to promote sustainable forest management policy and practice through the Toledo Healthy Forest Initiative, a multi-stakeholder body with Ministerial support.  The organizations were seminally involved in the development of a proposal to the EU on behalf of the alliance.


3. Community outreach: livelihoods and education

  • New initiatives were launched by the organizations – a botanical garden in YCT’s Golden Stream Corridor Preserve (GSCP), and a community-based ecotourism initiative in a GSCP buffer community - designed to promote livelihood security and educational awareness alike.
  • The YCT community-managed woodwork shop benefited from the design and marketing assistance provided by an experienced design consultant secured by FFI from Germany, who spent 2 months working with the enterprise, and is due to return in 2006 for a further month.
  • The GSCP buffer communities became even more engaged in YCT’s work, through their participation in the research effort to amass socio-cultural data to inform the GSCP management plan, which will be produced in May 2006 by the organization, with FFI’s technical assistance.


4. Professionally equipped GSCP Field Center / Local Partner

  • We have maintained all YCT's equipment in face of the difficult humid and moist tropical environmental conditions that curtail the equipment lifespan. 

5. Institutional strengthening of YCT

  • YCT completed its first institutional strategic plan (2005-8), which took 16 months to finalize, and which was financed by the Nando Peretti Foundation in large part.
  • YCT initiated its first management plan for the GSCP, as mentioned earlier, due to be completed in May 2006.
  • YCT completed a policy and administrative manual, and vastly improved its financial and administrative systems with the support of a newly hired, experienced Finance & Administrative Officer. 
  • The GEF MSP Medium-sized project to promote integrated watershed management in the Golden Stream was approved.


To summarise, 2005 was a period of great progress and accomplishment for YCT and the Golden Stream programme.  Considerable challenges lie ahead, with the Global Environmental Facility - Medium Sized Project (GEF -MSP) due to come on-stream in early 2006, and with changing funding relationships and growing obligations faced by YCT.  As FFI and the Nando Peretti Foundation broaden their remit to encompass a regional focus to their partnership, YCT and FFI nevertheless trust that the Foundation’s long-standing and critical commitment to the Belize programme will continue into the next year, at a more modest but nevertheless extremely critical level.


Fauna & Flora International (FFI)’s partnership with the Nando Peretti Foundation (NPF), forged in late 2001, has proven instrumental in building local indigenous institutional capacity to protect endangered biodiversity and ecosystems in southern Belize.  It has also generated widespread interest and momentum in support of an innovative, multi-stakeholder and landscape-level conservation effort spanning the extent of the Golden Stream watershed, spearheaded by FFI and YCT.  Rather than focus upon the conservation of artificially segregated landholdings, FFI and YCT have become pioneers in the conservation community of Belize, by encouraging diverse entities with differing interests and backgrounds to work jointly in addressing common sustainable use and development goals.  The wisdom of such an approach has recently been recognized by the international Global Environmental Facility, who in October 2005 formally approved a 4-year project to facilitate the consolidation of this initiative in the area.  The groundwork laid by the partnership, with the NPF’s instrumental assistance, has thereby demonstrated the validity, and indeed the imperative, of addressing conservation priorities through a grassroots-oriented approach, which is predicated upon institutional capacity-building, sensitive policy advocacy, and culturally-appropriate outreach and education effort. 


As NPF is well aware, the agencies’ key partner in Belize is the Ya’axche’ Conservation Trust (YCT), a local conservation and development NGO from southern Belize. YCT is an indigenous-based and run NGO whose institutional objectives are to promote sustainable development opportunities and biodiversity conservation within the Golden Stream watershed and southern Belize in general, according to locally resonant priorities.  Although YCT has a primarily community-based and indigenous focus, the eclectic composition of its board has enabled the organization to draw upon diverse human resources, develop a strong national profile and support basis, and a programmatic remit and impact to extend far beyond its initial geographical concentration upon the Golden Stream.  Specifically, the YCT Board includes traditional leaders and educators from local indigenous communities in Toledo, as well as representatives from the Ministry of Natural Resources, Environment and Industry’s Forest Department, regional indigenous leadership, the business sector, and FFI.


Despite these considerable human resources, YCT in 2001 lacked the financial wherewithal to translate its vision and objectives into reality.  The progress YCT has since made in consolidating itself as a focal agency in Belize’s national conservation community is without doubt, greatly due to the support rendered by the Nando Peretti Foundation during this period, which has enabled the organization to address the critical objectives of their interim, three-year strategic plan. The following report outlines the major achievements of this partnership in the final nine months of its 3rd project cycle, from August 2005-March 2006.  Analysis of the activities and progress which have taken place during this third grant period have been organized under the five principle project component headings and areas identified by FFI/YCT in their proposal to NPF.




     A View of the Golden Stream


1. Designing a multi-stakeholder watershed management regime for the Golden Stream 

As mentioned in the interim report, YCT dedicated considerable energies and resources in 2005 towards extending its biodiversity monitoring system, established in 2004, amongst other protected areas and partners in Toledo.  The process of dissemination required training partner staff in requisite field monitoring and data collection skills and in IT and database management techniques.  YCT staff also accompanied partners in the field to ensure that practices were properly replicated.  During the second half of the year, YCT expanded upon this system both in physical remit and in focus, by establishing research transects within the adjacent Columbia River Forest Reserve (CRFR), and by including birds – both migratory and endemic – as research targets, in addition to vegetation and mammals already included.  Birds are particularly significant indicators of watershed health, given their heavy dependence on intact, diverse forest habitat and canopies, which are in turn, critical components of watershed integrity.  An external expert biodiversity consultant was hired to establish the system, and train the YCT Scientific Coordinator, YCT and partner rangers, who were also invited to participate, in the required methodologies.  Monitoring protocols derived from emerging national models were utilized to ensure that data emerging will be replicable and meaningful to partners throughout Belize.  The data being collected to evaluate migratory and endemic populations and their habitats represents a combination of bird sightings, and vegetation surveys of vegetation frequented or consumed by the birds selected.  Map 1 below depicts transects within the GSCP and CRFR where data on birds will be collected in 2005-7, during which period, the number of transects in CRFR are projected to double in number and range.

Since establishing the system, the YCT Scientific Coordinator, Field Supervisor and field rangers have conducted several field excursions to begin research in the CRFR.  However, the continuing obstacle posed by remaining hurricane debris has presented a significant challenge to the team.  Nevertheless, with the upcoming dry season, and the injection of additional manpower, resources and equipment (e.g. camera traps) that will further strengthen the process when the GEF MSP comes on stream in early 2006, the team is confident that these logistical obstacles will be overcome.  By 2007, it is anticipated that significant biodiversity data will be amassed from the CRFR on vegetation, bird and mammal populations and health, enabling management decision-making and effectiveness to be enhanced as a result.


Map 1: Transects Selected for Bird Data Collection


In addition to sustaining and improving the established biodiversity monitoring system for the GSCP, and consolidating its extension amongst partner agencies and protected areas such as Toledo Institute for Development and Environment (TIDE)/ 127, Sarstoon-Temash Institute for Indigenous Management (SATIIM) / Sarstoon Temash National Park and Forest Department / CRFR, YCT has recently ventured into a new area of field research: freshwater ecosystems.  Having formalized a partnership with TIDE, who already conducts freshwater research in the adjacent Rio Grande Watershed, in mid-2005, YCT now has access to their fully-equipped freshwater research laboratory for samples collected from the Golden Stream.  In an effort to augment this incipient partnership, the two agencies, along with SATIIM, organized a 3-day workshop in January 2006 to improve their respective staff skills in this area.  The workshop was delivered by a PhD candidate from the University of Michigan, specialized in the analysis of freshwater ecosystem health, who is committed to collaborating with the organizations in developing easily replicable and sustainable freshwater monitoring protocols that can be applied by community rangers and community members alike.  To improve their capacity to develop a community-based watershed monitoring system focused on the analysis of freshwater habitats, and strategies to improve overall community use and governance of Toledo’s critical waterways, FFI and YCT submitted a concept project paper to develop such a programme to the Darwin Initiative funding agency.  On the basis of this concept, the partners were invited to submit a full grant, the results of which will be known late March 2006.  The partners’ interest in pursuing the development of community-based watershed management capacity in Toledo has been strengthened by YCT recently joining a regional network of NGOs working in this field, known as AMA (Alianza Mesoamericana de Agua) in August 2005, and being appointed the Belize representative on this body in January 2006.  Through this network, FFI and YCT anticipate that their efforts in Toledo will be considerably enhanced by the exchanges and learning opportunities they will be exposed to, through association with regional partners with greater experience in this field. 

In sum, the past year has seen one of the greatest advances in FFI/YCT’s goals of designing a multi-stakeholder watershed management programme for the Golden Stream, with the central system consolidated and embellished, and with new focus upon bird populations and aquatic ecosystems.   


2. Promoting sustainable forest management policy and practice


The expansion of YCT’s monitoring programme into the CRFR for research purposes, as discussed above, represents a critical first step towards evaluating the sustainability of this critical productive reserve within which the Golden Stream watershed originates.  As such, the development of a database of information regarding the CRFR productivity and integrity, and concomitant recommendations for management practices within it, will directly support substantive policy advocacy efforts. 


In the meantime, FFI and YCT have been directing their sustainable forest management policy activities through the vehicle of the Toledo Healthy Forests Initiative Taskforce (THFIT).  As explained in the interim report, the THFIT, which was established in January 2005 by ministerial decree, was mandated with developing draft policy proposals and field examples of alternative, sustainable forestry management in practice, to be implemented in the Toledo context, and replicated if successful, on a national basis.  The THFIT consists of representatives from Government (primarily the Forest Department), NGOs (such as FFI, YCT, TIDE, SATIIM and others) local community representatives (such as the Toledo Alcaldes’ Association, the Toledo Small Woodcutters’ Association), and the private sector (logging companies) who have come together in the effort to devise new, long-term strategies to safeguard Toledo’s endangered forest resources.  Following a successful learning field trip co-sponsored by FFI/YCT and UNDP to Guatemala’s Peten District in July, which enjoyed substantial representation by Ministers, other government dignitaries, NGO, community, and private representatives from Belize and Toledo in particular, the THFIT team met several times subsequently to consolidate their multi-stakeholder effort, which became focused upon the preparation of a joint proposal to the European Union’s Tropical Forest Programme.  Submitted in the name of SATIIM, but recognized as essentially a collaborative THFIT venture with YCT, TIDE, Forest Department and others cited as formal project partners, the proposed project aims to strengthen local and community-based governance capacity in Toledo, so as to enable the effective devolution of management responsibilities from government to local agencies.  It also aims to substantially develop alternative, biodiversity-friendly business ventures based upon sustainable use of forest resources, from outright extraction to carbon sequestration ventures, and the development of ecotourism.  The proposal, which was drafted jointly by FFI and SATIIM’s principal international partner, the Ecologic Development Fund, was submitted in November, with its receipt confirmed by the EU in January.  Notification of the outcome of the proposal is anticipated in the first half of 2006.  Regardless of the outcome, the process of project preparation galvanized collaborative action around the issue, and established a firm platform of stakeholder participation for the THFIT to build its 2006 workplan and objectives upon.  A THFIT retreat was scheduled for January 27th at which these details will be determined, including a timeframe for drafting a white paper outlining policy recommendations for reform of forest practice in Toledo, requested by the Minister of Natural Resources for the Belize Cabinet to consider.   

Clearly, policy advocacy and reform represent one of the most long-term engagements that FFI and YCT are committed to.  Building stakeholder consensus around the need for such reform requires sensitive negotiation skills and considerable time, which the 4-year GEF project should help facilitate.  At the same time, YCT’s practical achievements in advancing community-based, forestry-dependant alternative livelihood strategies amongst its buffer communities with FFI’s support, as will be discussed in the next segment, are providing clear examples of the multiple benefits that can be derived from sustainable forest management to NGO, government and private sectors alike, and thereby strengthening interrelated policy reform advocacy efforts.


3. Community outreach: livelihoods and education

a)      Botanical Gardens

YCT launched a new initiative during this period, one designed to generate both sustainable income and increased environmental awareness in the Golden Stream Watershed and beyond.  Specifically, YCT has begun to create a botanical garden within the GSCP, with the objective of generating additional employment for local communities, a source of independent revenue for YCT, and a facility where local and foreign visitors alike can be immersed in the beauty and wonder of Belize’s endemic vegetation.  Since there is no botanical garden located in southern Belize, and given that the national highway transects the GSCP, the botanical garden – a visitor attraction - appeared a clear opportunity for YCT to capitalize upon in the context of Toledo’s growing ecotourism market.  The botanical centre site is located to the northeast of the field centre, off the southern highway.  After a short walk from the road, visitors will find themselves under a Mayan palapa made out of bayleaf and cohune palm, which was recently built in an entirely traditional fashion, using only materials from the forest in its construction.  From this meeting point, which will eventually become a fully-fledged interpretation centre when more funds are secured, visitors can opt to walk down different trails, each in the shape of a Ya’axche’ or ceiba tree, which have been designed according to different themes, namely: fruit and timber trees, plants used by the Maya, medicinal plants, and Yu’am K’iche’ or living forest, which will contain a cross-range of plants from the Belizean forest.  


The YCT Botanical Gardens Team


Under the supervision of the YCT Science Coordinator and Field Supervisor, two horticultural technicians have been hired from the villages, both women, who in addition to the tree nursery at the GSCP will be tending the botanical gardens.  The women spent a week in November training in botanical gardens care at the Belize Botanic Gardens in preparation for their assignment, a facility which other members of the YCT Botanical Gardens Team also had the opportunity to visit.  Trails were cleared in the summer, with a plant identification specialist visiting the area in August to help ID trees for the gardens, along with traditional healers from Indian Creek village to ID medicinal trees in GSCP.  In November, YCT had another specialist visit the site, to advise on the design and educational materials to include in the eventual interpretation centre.  Ideas were also generated during the team’s field trip to the interpretation centres at the Lodge at Chaa Creek, and the Tropical Education Centre in Cayo.  While these developments were underway, the YCT Science Coordinator has been actively networking amongst established entities in the field, attending the Caribbean Botanical Gardens for Conservation Network in November, where he discussed the future YCT Botanical Gardens.  FFI has also provided YCT with direct links to the Fairchild Botanic Gardens, with whom a potential partnership is being developed.  YCT staff are extremely energized by this new venture, and hope that the Botanical Gardens will be open for public visitors during the course of 2006.



Fig. 1. Schematic Drawing of the YCT Botanical Gardens




b)      Community-based Ecotourism Development


At the same time as the botanical garden initiative has been launched, YCT staff have begun their efforts to develop community ecotourism capacity in earnest.  Having determined that the greatest interest and potential for such a venture was to be found in the community of Indian Creek, YCT decided to dedicate its limited resources towards building capacity in this particular community.  If successful, the Indian Creek experience could serve as a model for the others to learn from, and justify further fundraising / replication according to the site-specific interests particular to each village.  YCT staff were delighted that Indian Creek’s response to their offer of assistance was not an obvious request for funds to build a park bench or other such tourist facilities, which without accompanied by any formal management structure or tourism capacity in the locality, might result in limited benefits to the community.  The community rather asked that YCT support them in organizing themselves into a formal association, which could then more effectively lobby government for legal right to manage a cave system located directly behind their village.  This cave system has considerable visitor potential and spiritual significance.  YCT accepted their request, and subsequently hired the coordinator of the National Protected Areas System Planning Process – a national effort to reform and regulate protected areas in Belize under standardized legislation and practice – to lead the community in defining its goals and objective for managing the cave as a protected area, from which discussions a group strategic plan and draft articles of association for formal registration of the association could be produced.


The facilitator subsequently conducted two group meetings in the village, which by November, had yielded the critical outputs intended, with the group possessing the necessary documents to secure its legal recognition.  At the same time, the Indian Creek Conservation Group (ICCG) independently secured $10,000 Bze from the Ford Foundation to strengthen its tourism potential.  Since the group has no experience in managing such funds, YCT has agreed to provide them with technical assistance to ensure their effective and transparent use, and met with them again in January to define a Memorandum of Understanding between YCT and ICCG to specify roles and responsibilities of the partnership.  Since YCT still has a portion of funds to dedicate towards ecotourism development in early 2006, the partners have agreed to pool their resources, to ensure that the objective of community management is realized, and that visitor facilities such as trails, signage, brochures and resting areas can also be established, and select community members can undergo training to become Belize Tourism Board certified tour guides later this year.  YCT has been inspired by the dedication and motivation of the ICCG group, which has underlined local appreciation of the need to become active agents in the process of community development, rather than waiting on NGOs or Government entities to create and deliver all opportunities for them.  The Indian Creek tourism experience is a clear indication that a history of project dependency is being unlearned by local communities as a result of FFI/YCT’s emphasis on local responsibility and effort, which is an encouraging sign for their ongoing effort to enhance the livelihoods of indigenous communities in southern Belize.


c)       Agroforestry


Photos above are from the Farmers’ Meeting / Workshops at the YCT Golden Stream Field Centre



FFI’s midterm report provided substantial information on YCT’s considerable progress with the agroforestry programme and xate pilot project to date.  This effort has continued without any notable setbacks or problems.  Outreach training and technical support to the established farmers continued from August onwards, with monthly visits conducted to each of the participants’ farms to oversee their pest, disease and weed control and pruning efforts, and to ensure that organic methods were being upheld.  Cacao plants in nurseries were transplanted into the fields during this period, with any farmers that had not finished selecting and clearing the fields for transplanting assisted by the YCT Agroforestry Extension Officers.  New participants’ cacao farms (an additional 25 from 3 more villages beyond the GSW) were established by the end of the year, with space left for other trees to provide permanent shade and future income from fruits. During August, YCT organized a quarterly training workshop for all cacao and gardening participants, as well as an organic cooking workshop for women from the villages.  The objective of the latter was to teach women to incorporate vegetables grown in their agroforestry complexes in their daily diet. In September, YCT organized a field trip to Cayo to expose farmers to additional organic gardening and composting methods designed to produce organic fertilizer being practiced at Francis Ford Coppola’s Blancanueax Lodge’s organic garden, the Piggery unit at Belize’s Central Farm, and at Springfield’s grafted plants nursery.  An additional field trip was conducted in to San Antonio and San Jose village so that the new farmers could see mature organic cacao fields.  In the meantime, the progress and success of the organic gardening programme has resulted in a number of community groups gaining interest in organic vegetable gardening, including one from Indian Creek, and the school at Medina Bank.  YCT has assisted these groups through the provision of materials and technical assistance.


At the same time, YCT’s trial programme to determine whether xate, an understorey tropical palm whose leaves are coveted by European, Asian and US flower industries as adornments to bouquets, represented a viable alternative plant for YCT to encourage local farmers to expand into.  Although the year-long trial has clearly demonstrated that xate can be readily grown under controlled circumstances in Toledo, with YCT achieving a good success rate of 62% in germinating its xate seed stock acquired from Guatemala, despite these being planted relatively late in the season, and enjoying comparative achievements in the transplantation of xate plants into forest plantations, the economic viability of the market remains very much in doubt.  Its relative success in Guatemala appears the result of cheaper prices of living in Belize’s neighbouring country, combined with more entrenched levels of poverty, which means that campesinos have little choice but to engage in what is ultimately, extremely unrewarding agricultural work.  It is also likely that middle men operating in Guatemala are reaping the profits, and ensuring prices paid to producers remain extremely low.  Ultimately, YCT recognizes that the organization does not have the capacity at the present time to organize a Belizean market themselves. Time will tell if an ethical business such as the cacao purchasers can eventually develop a Belizean xate industry and market.


In sum, the trial period has met its goals, with the scientific and technical questions answered, and summarized in a national manual on cultivating xate in Belize, published jointly by YCT, the Natural History Museum of London, and the Belize Botanic Gardens.  YCT also worked with these partners to organize a national xate symposium to disseminate their results to policy makers and the private sector alike in November 2005, and recently held its own workshop in January 2006 in Punta Gorda, to educate local farmers and agencies about the potential and constraints of growing xate.  YCT intends to continue this research programme despite the unanswered questions about the xate market in Belize, so that were these issues resolved, a solid scientific programme with considerable longevity and diversity will be available for interested parties to learn from.  In time, xate could become an alternative livelihood industry for the Mayan communities to benefit from, and if this occurs, YCT will be poised to assist them in the effort.  In the meantime, its work in this field has served to elevate its profile amongst the scientific and research community, further consolidating itself within the national conservation arena as a result. 

d)  Community Woodwork Shop and Programme


The YCT Field Supervisor Taking the British High Commissioner on a tour of the Woodwork Shop


The YCT woodwork shop received an influential injection of technical support during this period, thanks to the help of a professional designer from Germany who spent two months working with YCT to develop alternative products.  The idea for this initiative emerged from a German volunteer from the Vodafone phone company, who worked with YCT earlier in the year to develop a corporate image for the organization, and assist with the development of general publicity materials.  During her stay, this volunteer conducted a market assessment of artisan products in Belize, and came to the conclusion that despite an apparent glut of items, there remained a niche opportunity for a company who could market their products on the basis of being made by indigenous people, and having genuine impacts in conserving the environment – a company such as YCT’s.  Her belief in the YCT woodwork shop’s potential led to her contacting a designer colleague with experience in working with indigenous communities in developing countries, who inspired by the project, came to Belize to provide YCT with his substantial technical, marketing and design skills.




The designer’s two month stay, from September to November, which was facilitated by funds from the NPF, was extremely productive.  The community participants learnt to develop new, portable products with greater appeal for Western buyers (including lamps, pot stands, cutting boards, napkin holders, boxes, chess boards), made out of secondary hardwoods, in contrast to the large, traditional furniture items they had made up to date, utilizing primarily mahogany.  Even though this wood was salvaged from the hurricane, it would have proven sustainable over the long-term. 

Additional community craftsmakers were incorporated in the project, with carvers making chess pieces, and women weaving Mayan bags in which the pieces would be stored.  After two months producing new designs, training local participants and particularly the lead local carpenter to make the products, and identifying several potential buyers on the local market, the designer returned to Germany to scope out potential buyers in Europe.  In the meantime, a new group of 12 community participants have undergone preliminary training in carpentry guided by the local trainer hired by YCT.  By the time the consultant returns in the spring, a new cohort of community carpenters will be poised to produce additional designs to carry back to Europe for promotion and sale.  Having forged a long-term relationship with this designer, YCT has high expectations for the woodwork shop as an alternative income-generator for the organization and communities alike.



e)  Community Education & Outreach


YCT staff have continued to conduct diverse education and outreach efforts amongst their buffer communities over the past period.  YCT’s work amongst farmers and their wives has already been discussed in the previous section.  The major activities conducted amongst children following the August summer camp, the report for which was included with the mid-term report, and a Christmas camp, whose report is attached as Annex 1.  In addition, the YCT Education and Outreach Officer has continued to visit community schools, and worked with the 25 YCT Scholarship students (who are assisted with full or partial bursaries) to ensure they engage local primary school students in collective conservation efforts such as river and community cleanups, and that they uphold their scholastic standards in the process. 


With all these children to organize, it is remarkable that the YCT Education and Outreach Officer has nevertheless found time to conduct extensive socio-ecological research amongst the GSCP’s buffer communities, under the guidance of the FFI Country Manager.  The objective of this work is to amass relevant data on community interactions with the private protected area – past use, resources, threats, community aspirations – that can inform the development of the GSCP Management Plan.  Preparation of the plan, which the Nando Peretti Foundation’s support has helped co-finance through staff input and resources, and which is otherwise funded by Belize’s Protected Area Conservation Trust, began in May of 2005, and is expected to yield a final plan by April 2006. 


Prior to initiating research in the communities, 3 community meetings were held in August to inform the villagers about the process.  From the feedback gained from these meetings, specific individuals who were considered by the community to have the greatest range of historical or subject-specific information (e.g. as women leaders, as hunters, former loggers) were targeted. In addition to the groups of 15-25 who participated in each group meeting, 27 individuals were interviewed from the community of Golden Stream, GSCP’s key buffer community, as well as 25 from Indian Creek and 15 from Medina Bank.   Information was collected through various means, including individual interviews, group interviews, and public consultations. Traditional Mayan language was used in all interviews, to ensure authenticity of response, and ease of respondents.  A questionnaire was prepared to guide the semi-structured interviews that were conducted, which took place mainly at peoples’ homes in their spare time. Through the interviews, data on the villages’ historical profile, past use of the GSCP, current knowledge and usage, threats and needs, was gathered and recorded. During interviews with the individuals or groups from the communities, a rough sketch of locations where clusters of resources / extractive activities occurred was drawn on a transparent sheet put over a map of the GSCP, and cross-checked with the interviewee. These locations were later substantiated through transect walks of the area, with GPS coordinates for key sites collected, that are currently being entered in a GIS mapping system to be printed out as maps at the end of the research. 


Above :  2 Maps of GSCP, with Community  Information overlaid


As a result of the research process, YCT staff garnered invaluable historical data on resource availability and concentrations in the pre-GSCP era, as well as important recommendations regarding the definition of management zones within the GSCP, and future sustainable use practices that might be mounted in the area with community participation.  YCT also learnt to their surprise that the GSCP contained a spiritual site for local Mayan communities, a cave where hunters and farmers have gone for many years to burn copal (incense) and pray to the gods for success in their respective livelihood pursuits.  YCT intends to designate this area in the GSCP as a spiritual Mayan zone, and allow community access to it within the management plan. 

Overall, the research project was not only useful in providing YCT with more information to assist it in effectively managing the GSCP; the process also served to build ownership amongst communities about its use, improving relations between YCT and the villages as a result.  For more information on this process, please consult Annex 2: Sociocultural Research Findings.




4. Professionally Equipped GSCP Field Center / Local Partner


Since YCT has most of the vital equipment it needs for daily operations, this objective was not a particular focus of this project period.  Major facility improvements of this period include the reconstruction of the woodwork shop at the GSCP, creating an entirely superior building than was previously in place in terms of space, ventilation and security, and a wood drying shed, both financed by in-country sources.  The rangers meanwhile worked with forest materials to improve their downstream temporary ranger camp, repairing the thatch roof which was leaking and providing inadequate shelter for their overnight trips.  A raised wooden floor and walls will be built during the dry season to prevent them from getting excessively wet as they currently do during the rainy months.  Barring additional field research equipment such as camera traps and fixed radio equipment for the downstream camp, which the GEF project and other co-financing should enable YCT to purchase in 2006, no additional equipment is currently needed. 


That said, YCT still faces a considerable challenge to maintain the professional equipment it has already installed at the GSCP Field Center and uses on a daily basis.  The humid, rainy, and hot climate of Belize is extremely harsh on YCT’s equipment, while the unpaved roads in the drive to the YCT Field Centre, into the forest reserves and other communities of the District can wreak havoc on transportation equipment.  Maintenance costs for sensitive equipment such as computers, satellite internet and solar systems can be costly, with high technical standards in Toledo difficult to secure, while other more sturdy equipment such as the field generator, vehicles, boat and canoe still require considerable outlay of funds to sustain them in good working order.  Although this is not a popular expense for funders, the reality is that it is a necessary one in order to maintain the standards of operation and performance that YCT has been able to achieve with the Nando Peretti Foundation’s support up to now.  As such, the organization is extremely grateful for the support that the Foundation has provided in this critical area to date.



5. Institutional strengthening of YCT


Institutional strengthening of YCT is an ongoing process, which has achieved critical milestones over the past calendar year.  In producing its first management plan for the GSCP, YCT is unique compared to most other NGOs in Toledo and even Belize, such as TIDE, SATIIM and BAS, by opting to prepare the plan almost entirely in-house, rather than outsourcing the task to an external consultant.  YCT is convinced that by doing so, they are building internal capacity and ownership for the final product in the process.  YCT is currently three-quarters through the management planning process, and is on target to complete it by the projected date.  All the socio-ecological research has been conducted, as already mentioned, as well as comprehensive vegetation, mammal and soil research led by the YCT Scientific Coordinator, with the full participation of the community rangers.  Satellite imagery has been acquired, and extensive geological and hydrological information has been compiled by YCT’s private member on the Board, who is also a professional geologist.  Maps depicting all the significant information collected are meanwhile being prepared in-house.  The team has divided out responsibilities for drafting respective parts of the plan, which will be presented in draft form to a variety of stakeholders in early April for feedback, before final amendments and submission to the Board in late April. 


Like the management planning process, the success of YCT’s strategic planning process, which the organization finished in December 2006, and which took them 15 months to complete, has depended entirely on the considerable level of dedication shown by the staff and board members themselves.  Without the team taking ownership of the process, the external consultant hired to facilitate the strategic plan’s elaboration working in partnership with the FFI Country Manager, would have been unable to produce anything of relevance to YCT.  As it is, YCT is able to look with pride upon two critical planning documents which will be of seminal importance in guiding their work and evaluating their performance for the years ahead.  In addition to these documents, YCT is in the process of completing a Policy and Administration Manual, and revamping their institutional website, both in-house, activities pending for early February, which will further consolidate the institutional strengthening process.  Meanwhile, YCT’s new Finance and Administrative Officer, hired in October with several years of experience working under the Ministry of Agriculture in a Caribbean Development Bank-funded project, has since joining the organization completely overhauled the administrative and financial management systems, resulting in vastly improved levels of transparency, order and accountability.  In sum, although YCT still has considerable room for improvement, particularly in its ability to develop technical proposals and fundraise without the benefit of FFI’s close support, significant institutional strengthening has nevertheless been made over the past 6 months.   This process would not have been possible without the support of the Nando Peretti Foundation, who co-financed the development of the strategic plan and administrative manual and helped pay for YCT salaries and mobilization costs to engage in the management plan’s development, as well as improved the web site, administrative and financial systems.



Concluding Remarks


The Nando Peretti Foundation’s support permeates and underpins every aspect of YCT’s substantial institutional growth and achievements over the last few years.  The Foundation’s long-standing commitment to the organization, reflecting their appreciation that local capacity development and conservation of biodiversities are goals that cannot be achieved overnight, is also greatly appreciated.   The Foundation clearly shares FFI and YCT’s dedication to ensuring the sustainability of community-based conservation management amongst indigenous peoples who have waited centuries for the opportunity to regain a measure of control over their own destiny and empowerment.  Although traditional wisdom remains strong amongst the Maya of Southern Belize, they nevertheless have a clear need for sensitive and committed capacity-building support, to thereby acquire the technical tools which will allow them with confidence, to meet the challenges of a new age.  The achievements in the Golden Stream context underline the relevance of the grassroots-up approach that the Nando Peretti Foundation and FFI have championed in Toledo with YCT, by yielding a model of community achievement with great potential for replication elsewhere in the region.  FFI looks forward to continuing its productive relationship with the Nando Peretti Foundation, and in pursuing their common goals of safeguarding endangered indigenous cultures and ecological resources elsewhere in the American continent.

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