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Global Ideas

Maya descendants protect the forest

The Maya Bioreserve demonstrates how communities can effectively fight deforestation.

Peten forest – Maya Bioreserve Guatemala

The Maya Bioreserve (MBR) in the Peten region of north Guatemala is, with its 2.1 million hectares, the largest piece of protected rainforest north of the Amazon

Organization: Maya Bioreserve, Guatemala

Located in the northern Peten region of Guatemala, the 2.1-million-hectare Maya Bioreserve is the largest protected rainforest north of the Amazon. The vast area is a treasure trove of animal and plant life, and serves as a valuable carbon sink for the rest of the planet.

The reserve is subdivided into three parts: a conservation zone off-limits to resource extraction; a mixed use area; and buffer zone, where limited economic activity is allowed.

It's also home to about 180,000 people. Among them are the descendants of the Maya, who earn a living harvesting forest resources and timber. But to do so, they must operate sustainably.

Soon after establishing the reserve in 1990, forest concessions were granted to community-based and private entities on 40 percent of the reserve. The government required concession operators to comply with the conservation standards of the Forest Stewardship Council. "We have found a way to commune with nature without disrupting it," wrote David de Leon Reyes, a community leader in the concession process.

Research confirms this. According to a 2015 report published by the Rainforest Alliance, in community-managed forests, the deforestation rate reached only 0.4 percent between the years 2000 and 2013. These numbers represent a sharp reduction in forest loss. Inside the conservation-only zone, forest loss rates are at 1 percent but at 5.5 percent in areas of the reserve not under their community control.

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