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Forestry in Yucatan: Mainstreaming biodiversity and promoting development

December 12, 2016

The sap of a Chico Zapote tree being harvested to make chewing gum. The Chico Zapote tree is also harvested for its wood. The GEF and its partners support the community of Noh-Bec to manage these forests sustainably. Photo by Sarah A. Wyatt

In Quintana Roo on the Yucatan Peninsula, the community of Noh-Bec owns over 24,000 hectares of land, much of it forested – a mix of land used for low-impact sustainable forestry, conservation, and traditional agriculture.

During the Convention for Biological Diversity conference (COP13) held in Cancun, Mexico, the Global Environment Facility (GEF) CEO, Naoko Ishii, and a delegation of GEF staff visited Noh-Bec, home to an innovative GEF funded World Bank project that is both mainstreaming biodiversity and promoting development.

The community of Noh-Bec shared with the GEF delegation how they are managing their lands and forests, so they continue to provide for future generations as well as provide safe habitats to a wide variety of animals such as jaguars and tapirs.

The story of the project and how the local people have delivered results has not been an easy one.

In 2007, a category 5 hurricane hit the community of Noh-Bec. With one storm, about 40 percent of the standing forest was lying on the ground. Because the sustainable management plans approved by the government and the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certification were no longer valid after such destruction, they lost their ability to legally harvest timber and export with FSC certification. The dead trees and fallen branches created ideal conditions for forest fires during the dry season. After decades of work to manage their forests well, the community felt dispirited watching their hard work disappear in a few days.

The GEF supported project was designed to support communities to implement biodiversity-friendly practices in agriculture, forestry and other productive land uses near parks and in other areas important for the conservation of species. The support from the project came to Noh-Bec while it was suffering such losses to help them rebuild their forestry and other activities better than before. The project, implemented by the World Bank and executed by the National Commission for the Knowledge and Use of Biodiversity (CONABIO), was a GEF grant of $11.8 million that received $21.5 million in co-financing.

The GEF project provided technical assistance and resources to help the community get back on its feet for the management of their forests. Even with this support, it was only in early 2016 that they were able to receive FSC certification for their forests and sawmill. The community members have measured and marked maps of their forestry plans where they now take the GPS coordinates of each mahogany tree as part of their long term forest management plan, as mahogany trees take at least 75 years to grow from seed to commercially harvestable size. GEF support also helped create a systematic monitoring program for animals and plants to study the impact of different forest management systems on biodiversity. They have already seen jaguars, tapirs, deer and other animals that are rare in the areaand are a sign of a healthy ecosystem.

Through forestry as well as some traditional agriculture activities, honey bees, and a mix of other activities including a growing rural tourism program, the community is able to provide for its members. Many young people are going to school and work in larger tourism areas but then come back to live and raise a family in Noh-Bec – a sign that there are real opportunities in the area.

The GEF visit provided an opportunity for the delegation not only to see the challenges firsthand but also the potential of sustainable forestry in the tropics. The GEF’s support has been critical in helping the community of Noh-Bec and dozens of others throughout southern Mexico to sustainably manage their natural resources and generate global environmental benefits by protecting biodiversity as well as sequestering carbon.

Mexico is considered megadiverse with over 12 percent of the world’s known biodiversity found within its borders. The GEF has supported sixty-seven projects in Mexico across the GEF’s areas of work, ranging from supporting the development of bus rapid transit in Mexico City to establishing payment for ecosystem services schemes for water and biodiversity.

More on the project

Called the Sustainable Production Systems and Biodiversity, the project aims to conserve and protect nationally and globally significant biodiversity in Mexico through incorporating biodiversity-friendly management practices in productive landscapes. It does so by helping farmers in biological corridors – areas which provide connectivity between landscapes, ecosystems and habitats, and ensure the survival of biodiversity – use sustainable practices throughout their production systems. These activities include improving their technical capacity, business management and marketing of biodiversity friendly products, and improving institutional capacities and standards, South-South cooperation to support biodiversity friendly production, and financing.

You can also read this article in Spanish