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Socially and ecologically sustainable forestry for Guatemala
There are many theories about how Guatemala came by its name. One theory is that Guatemala means "land of mountains". This translation, which is relevant for forest science, is missing something substantial: the problematic forest and land use developments of the last decades; by which the violence against indigenous Mayan tribes, land theft, and slash-and-burn clearance for agricultural use has caused severe political and ecological problems in the region. Only in 1996, a peace treaty was signed between the Guatemalan government and representatives of the Indigenous people.

Now, a project by the Rigoberta Menchú-Tum Foundation in cooperation with the BMLFUW and the Austrian Research Centre for Forests (BFW) is hoping to help in the establishment of a communal forest management concept for the indigenous people.

Dr. Peter Mayer, Director of the BFW, summarised the engagement in Guatemala:  “Capacity building is one of the main reasons that the Austrian Research Centre for Forests is engaging in this pilot project. The BFW deals with the Austrian forest, however it is just as important to us to help other countries in the development of a sustainable forest management, so that the local people can live off the forest and maintain it in a sustainable way.”

The mountain cloud forest of Lai Chimel.

In the central mountain range, which stands at between 2900 and 3400 meters altitude, warm humid air from the Caribbean meets cooler moist air from the pacific. This is a combination which causes year-round heavy fog and accommodates unique moisture-loving flora and fauna. Many Epiphytes (air plants), orchid species, and potential medicinal plants represent a resource of which awareness should be raised and which should be managed in an ecologically and socially sustainable way. Such an approach involves an estimation of standing volume, carbon sequestration, and biodiversity; and also how this knowledge can be communicated to and applied by the local population.

Erosion, Nutrient deficiency

Slash-and-burn as a simple land clearance method and uncoordinated fire wood extraction are the main management forms which are significant factors for erosion, nutrient deficiency, and a problematic water balance. The Austrian Research Centre for Forests is responsible for the documentation of the ecological and cartographic bases within the 1125 hectare project area, in order to derive the relevant usage types in cooperation with the indigenous people. This does not only concern itself with natural or forest-science relevant facts. It is also a matter of finding out and formulating the identity-producing significance of the forest for the local people.

First inventory: Klemens Schadauer, Nicolas Menchú, Ingwald Gschwandtl, Anita Menchú


Slash-and burn cleared area in Lai Chimel mountain cloud forest, Guatemala


Out and about in the mountain cloud forest


Epiphytes (air plants) and mosses regulate the water balance of the forest






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