Our work area and context: Geographic description

CCFC’s area of focus is located within the department of Alta Verapaz, Guatemala (15*30’N and 90*30’W). Generally the area is known as the central highlands. Specifically we are working along two mountain ranges that form part of the Sierra Chama: the Yalijux-Cacquipec-Xucaneb cloud forest corridor and the Sierra Sacranix. The Yalijux-Cacquipec-Xucaneb corridor is located east and south of Coban. The Sierra Sacranix is located west of Coban.

These rugged mountains proved too difficult for the Spanish empire to conquer. In 1533, 1534 and 1536, Spanish conquistadores tried without success to penetrate the mountains. Each time they were rebuffed by an alliance of Maya people groups that used their knowledge of the mountains to their military advantage. Today, these same rugged mountains make access to remote, rural villages difficult. Many of the villages in CCFCs work area have no vehicle access.

CCFC protects cloud forests and alleviates poverty in 110 tiny remote mountain villages that border the remaining cloud forests and cloud forest fragments of the region.

Village edge Cloud Forest edge sm Photo by Sidney Madsen, © Sidney Madsen, 2016. Youth and school children from this village and many others like it partipate in CCFC’s WALC and Kids & Birds programs.

The village of Sasarb, Tamahu, elevation +2,000m, borders one of the largest remaining contiguous cloud forests.

About CCFC’s work area and sphere of influence.

Our work method: a holistic community-based approach to cloud forest conservation

Highlands have specific social and economic barriers to education and economic development.
Highlands have specific social and economic barriers to education and economic development. © 2011 Tara Cahill, San Antonio Las Puertas, Tucuru, Alta Verapaz, Guatemala

We face huge challenges. According to human development statistics, the villages in which we work are among the poorest and least developed in Latin America. Poverty and economic marginalization are some of the root causes of the destruction of the cloud forests in the central highlands. In this context social problems and environmental degradations are inextricably tied together. The challenges we face in the villages in which we work are both social and environmental. We firmly believe that the only long term, sustainable solution to the destruction of the cloud forests that border these villages is through social, economic, agricultural and human development.

The care of the Earth is our most ancient and most worthy and after all our most pleasing responsibility. To cherish what remains of it and to foster its renewal is our only hope.

Wendell Berry

We stand now where two roads diverge. But unlike the roads in Robert Frost’s familiar poem, they are not equally fair. The road we have long been traveling is deceptively easy, a smooth superhighway on which we progress with great speed, but at its send lies disaster. The other fork of the road – the one less traveled by – offers our last, our only chance to reach a destination that assures the preservation of the earth.

Rachel Carson

Neighboring Cloud Forests, the best social and environmental capital © 2011 Rob Cahill, Chilaxha', Coban, Alta Verapaz, Guatemala
Neighboring Cloud Forests, the best social and environmental capital
© 2011 Rob Cahill, Chilaxha’, Coban, Alta Verapaz, Guatemala

Social Challenges:

  • extreme poverty
  • lack of education
  • illiteracy
  • economic marginalization
  • social marginalization
  • run-away population growth
  • infant mortality
  • lack of infrastructure
  • little or no medical care
  • lack of infrastructure
  • often no potable water
  • under- and unemployment
  • sub-standard schools

Social Capital:

  • cloud forests
  • little or no violent crime
  • little or no drug abuse
  • strong families
  • strong cultural identity

Environmental Challenges:

  • deforestation and agricultural encroachment
  • habitat loss due to land conversion
  • degradation of water resources
  • soil degradation
  • erosion
  • loss of soil fertility
  • unregulated hunting and collecting

Environmental Capital

  • cloud forests
  • an abundance of clean water
  • plenty of rain
  • lots of fresh air

Community based initiatives involve villages in the protection of their own cloud forests.

Threats to the cloud forests of the Yalijux, Caquipec, Xucaneb corridor and Sierra Sacranix include: agricultural encroachment, agricultural burning, land conversion for cattle, logging and wood gathering, and hunting. Far and away the biggest threats are agricultural encroachment and burning. Our conservation strategy is to work with farmers to alleviate the encroachment pressure and reduce or eliminate agricultural burning.

Our conservation initiatives address: agriculture, education, reforestation and ecotourism. In each of these four areas we pinpoint projects that will maximize conservation impact, alleviate poverty, boost nutrition, increase family incomes, and develop individuals, families and communities. In all that we do CCFC seeks to work smart, maximizing the conservation and development impact of all resources and donations available to us.

Our method: A shift in strategy.

Before 2010, CCFC’s conservation efforts were limited to long term solutions. Poverty alleviation, education and community development are long term, sustainable conservation measures. The problem of forest loss, however, is also an extremely urgent problem calling for more immediate response. We freely admit that before 2010, we felt like helpless bystanders as we went about our work offering agricultural improvements and watching the cloud forest disappearing. We firmly believe that the path to conservation lies through education, poverty alleviation, and agricultural and economic development (i.e. long term solutions). However, we also see an urgent need to address the loss of these cloud forests through community-based reforestation programs and conservation easements.

CCFC’s 2011-2012 Community-based reforestation and conservation easement initiative allows CCFC to place areas of cloud forest into long term conservation with legalized contracts and agreements.

The following list details some of the project elements in CCFC’s work.

Community-based Reforestation © 2009 Rob Cahill, Semesche', Carcha', Alta Verapaz, Guatemala
Community-based Reforestation
© 2009 Rob Cahill, Semesche’, Carcha’, Alta Verapaz, Guatemala

Reforestation

  • Real Reforestation: forest restoration with native tree and woody plant species
  • Real Forest Protection: conservation easements to give long term protection to restored and vulnerable forests
  • “Energetic” fast growing tree species and improved household cooking stoves
  • Wind-break trees
  • Fine wood trees

Education

  • WALC
  • Canada First Nations Youth Exchange, 2010
  • Kids & Birds
  • Artful Eyes
  • Adult Environmental Literacy

Agroecology

  • Q’eqchi’ Maya Heirloom crops
  • improve production and soil fertility on existing crop land
  • promote and improve fruit tree production
  • Cloud Forest Products: process, value-add, and direct market access
  • explore and develop other cloud forest products such as myrtle wax candles

Ecotourism

  • educational tours and village cross cultural exchange visits
  • youth exchange visit to Canada