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Image: Inga Sieg

Saving the Maya rainforest

January 19, 2016

The Selva Maya is home to immense biodiversity - and the ancient Maya city of Tikal. Today, the forest is under threat but NGOs and locals are working together to save it, along with their livelihoods.


Guatemala: Forest of ancient cities

Project aim: Conservation and sustainable use of the Selva Maya

Project partner: GIZ, Guatemalan authorities, and the International Climate Initiative (IKI)

Project time frame - and size: 2010-2014 Biodiversity (BMZ: 11 million euros); 2014-2019 Climate (IKI: 5 million euros). The projects are linked, adding up to 16 million euros over nine years (BMU/BMZ)

Project area: Selva Maya (Guatemala, Mexico, Belize): 40,000 square kilometers (comparable to the area of the Netherlands)

Biodiversity: The Selva Maya is the largest tropical rainforest north of the Amazon. The forest has an extraordinary richness of biodiversity, with around 3,000 plant species and 750 animal species including jaguars, pumas, tapirs and toucans.

Guatemala shares its largest tropical rainforest with Mexico and Belize. The Selva Maya is home not only to thousands of different plant and animal species but also to ancient urban centers such as the Maya city of Tikal. Up to 100,000 people lived in Tikal alone - more than a thousand years ago. In the present day, their ancestors face numerous difficulties, including lack of work and opportunities. Adding to that, the population is exploding, requiring ever more land for farming. The result: illegal logging and slash and burn of the forest, which is endangering species there.

German development organization GIZ and the International Climate Initiative (IKI) are working with local partner organizations to stop the forest's destruction and to help secure solid incomes for the people there, for instance by promoting cultivation of the Maya nut. The protein-rich fruit is collected, roasted and turned into cookies or milkshakes, and then sold. Aside from being a nutritious addition to local diets, the once-forgotten nut has become an important source of income for farmers who now work to protect the trees.

A film by Inga Sieg

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