Feature Story

Small grants, big results: Celebrating 25 years of partnerships that foster biodiversity in Belize

January 9, 2019

Belize’s howler monkeys live safely in a sanctuary, thanks to UNDP’s Small Grants Programme. Photo: Wildtracks
Belize’s howler monkeys live safely in a sanctuary, thanks to UNDP’s Small Grants Programme. Photo: Wildtracks

There is so much innate beauty in Belize. The tiny country — just 22,970 square kilometres —has rich lush forests, and sweeping coral reefs which are home to a vast range of species.

Biodiversity is one of Belize’s many treasures, and one of the reasons people visit from all over the world.

However maintaining it is an on-going battle, one that UNDP and its local partners have been fighting for 25 years.

This partnership has saved the sanctuary of Belize’s howler monkeys. Backed by UNDP the Baboon Sanctuary Women’s Conservation Group has given the monkeys a home, boosted tourism and community development and created education and jobs for the women who support it.

The monkeys — and their carers — benefited from the GEF Small Grants Programme that began in 1993. With more than 258 initiatives, it helps communities foster ideas that contribute to the Sustainable Development Goals.

Cacao and Inga sustainable treasures

“Cacao is our gold,” farmer Martin Chiquin says as he showcases his production of cacao seeds at Indian Creek. The Ya’axche Conservation Trust has given him micro loans and he’s opened a shop selling honey, seeds, butter and many other products derived from cacao.

Santiago Cus is another farmer who has benefited tremendously from UNDP support. He has planted 600 cacao plants which support his family and send his children to school. He cultivates Inga and other timber species which helps restore his land.

The Inga plants produce nitrogen which benefits fruit, trees and other crops. But Inga has a deeper symbolic importance because it was cultivated by the ancient Mayan people. Those who plant them feel they are upholding their culture and keeping tradition.

Fighting climate change with innovative farming

Climate change has created vicious destructive cycles of decreased rainfall, affected the flowering season, and forced farmers to adopt new strategies such as agroecology.

Friends for Conservation and Development are protecting the watershed in the Vaca forest. Eric Can (below) needs water to grow his vegetables. With the help of small grants, Eric is able to support his family and feed the people of Belize.

The Vaca forest watershed is a vital organ in Belize. A healthy high level watershed protects against land degradation, and improves food security and biodiversity.

What goes up must flow down

From the rivers to the deep blue sea, climate change has had a lasting effect in Belize. The coral reefs are dying, and one solution to this colossal dilemma is coral restoration. Fragments of Hope have created a programme funding coral restoration. It has planted over 119,000 corals and provided training and employment, especially for women.

Searching for the invisible fish

The Blue Hole and Half Moon Caye are unique tourist attractions located at the Lighthouse Reef Atoll. The reef is tranquil in variations of blue and green, and a casual visitor might not notice that it has suffered from overfishing.

The Belize Audubon Society has helped 37 fishers and their families create businesses that reduce their reliance on fishing and they also teach sustainable fishing.

Seaweed, the life of the sea

Seaweed plays an integral role in fish health but its population has been declining due to the deterioration of the seas around Belize. The coastal town of Placencia was seeing drastically reduced catches and its economy was suffering.

The Placencia Producers Cooperative Society came up with a solution — seaweed farming — which has provided a new source of income for fishers. Seaweed is harvested and processed as soap, lotion, and even a drink.

Doing great things

“I feel humbled. I feel beyond inspired,” says Leonel Requena, UNDP National Coordinator, Small Grants Programme. “When we put people first and provide the tools and create that enabling environment, people are moved to action and do great things.”

With 25 years of success behind us, UNDP will continue to support the families of Belize as they come up with great ideas to protect their country’s unique biodiversity.

This story was originally published by UNDP.