Ya’axché’s First Community Forum

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Farmers, community members, and Ya’axché staff gathered at the first community forum to share what we have accomplished together over the years.

On Friday, November 22nd, Ya’axché Conservation Trust’s first Community Forum brought together residents of Indian Creek, San Pedro Columbia, Silver Creek, San Jose, Aguacate, Big Falls, Golden Stream, Medina Bank and Bella Vista at the Nazarene Education Centre in San Pedro, Columbia. These 9 communities are part of the Maya Golden Landscape (MGL), Ya’axché’s area of work.

For the past 21 years, Ya’axché has partnered with these communities to work together toward strengthening sustainable livelihoods through forest conservation and governance. The theme for the forum was “Empowering Communities, Conserving Biodiversity, Connecting the World,” and it was an opportunity to share information and acknowledge the achievements of the MGL communities.

Women, men and youth were actively engaged during a panel discussion and three sessions highlighting Ya’axché’s program areas: Protected Area Management, Science, and Community Outreach and Livelihoods.

Attending participants asked questions on work being done. | Photo: Sayuri Tzul/Ya’axché

In 2019 through support provided to farmers, over 2,000 pounds of honey have been harvested by 18 beekeepers and 12,000 pounds of wet cacao beans have been harvested by 31 farmers working in Belize’s first agroforestry concession. These farmers and other farmers in the greater Maya Golden Landscape receive support and visits from extension officers through Ya’axché’s Community Outreach and Livelihoods program. This program works toward improving communities’ livelihoods by implementing sustainable land-use and climate-smart farming practices. Our team provides technical training and capacity-building workshops for climate-smart agriculture to help farmers respond effectively to climate change. The practices that Ya’axché encourages, such as agroforestry, Inga alley cropping, and beekeeping, enhance food security, resiliency, conservation, and provide families with diversified income.

Cacao pods at the agroforestry concession in Maya Mountain North Forest Reserve. | Photo: Maximiliano Caal/Ya’axché

In order to inform sustainable management strategies and conservation efforts, Ya’axché has a Science program that researches and monitors biodiversity across the MGL. The second session at the forum highlighted results from the program’s focus, which includes collecting data, researching, and monitoring birds, large mammals, freshwater quality, bugs, and trees. Camera traps, non-invasive monitoring equipment, deployed in 5 agroforestry farms are helping in wildlife conservation. Results from these studies have shown 20 mammal species thus far, including the 5 wildcats of Belize, tapir, tayra and gibnut.

Tayras have been photographed within cacao agroforestry farms in the Maya Golden Landscape. | Photo: Maximiliano Caal/Ya’axché

The monitoring of bees is also a key component of the Science program. Because bees are important pollinators, it is essential to protect our bees. In June, Ya’axché started trapping bees to monitor the bees found in Belize. The first native bee inventory in Belize is currently underway with 25 species of bees recorded in the MGL so far. Common bees identified were stingless or “friendly” bees as they are commonly known, sweat bees, carpenter bees, leafcutter bees, and orchid bees.

Protected Areas Management was another session at the forum and is Ya’axché’s third program area. Ya’axché seeks to protect natural forest as well. Ya’axché manages 151,000 acres of forest within 3 protected areas: Bladen Nature Reserve, Maya Mountain North Reserve, and Golden Stream Corridor Preserve. In addition to maintaining natural places, work outside of protected areas involves preserving animal wildlife. The Human-Jaguar Conflict is an ongoing project that aims to support humans and jaguars living together in harmony. Through trainings and various mitigation measures, the project builds the capacity of farmers to take preventive measures that protect their cattle and promote a jaguar-friendly farm. Mitigation measure that included improved fencing, solar lights, donkeys, and bringing the cattle next to the home at night effectively reduced jaguar attacks. This project has also had positive impacts on the farmer’s perception of jaguar conservation.

A mitigation measure adopted by farmers on their farms are corrals. The corral helps to protect cattle, especially calves, at night. | Photo: Maximiliano Caal/Ya’axché

Definitely one of the most exciting parts of the forum was the engagement from the attendees. Throughout the forum and during the panel discussion, questions were posed to Ya’axché’s staff. There were also challenges and recommendations shared among farmers and community members. A youth in attendance asked about organic farming. As an organic farmer, he is wondering how he and other organic farmers can have a market to sell their produce that sets them apart from inorganic farmers. It’s exciting to see young farmers of Belize engaging in sustainable-farming practices and looking to the future!

This forum gave Ya’axché the opportunity to share information, learn directly from our partners, and recognize the success of our outstanding partners, the women’s group and farmers that were in attendance. Ya’axché’s first Community Forum was possible through the support of Disney Conservation Fund, Belize Nature Conservation Foundation, GIZ – Caribbean Aqua-Terrestrial Solutions and EuropeAid Forest Governance Project.

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