Archive for Issues in Sustainable Land Use Management

Toledo villagers beg for BDF

The following story is an extract from: Amandala
Posted: 18/06/2010 – 09:49 AM
Author: Adele Ramos –

The chairman of the village of San Jose and villagers of San Jose and Na Lum Cah, Toledo, are calling on the Government of Belize to increase Belize Defence Force (BDF) presence in the area, after reports that Guatemalan xatéros are operating very close to their village, and have most recently been stealing their horses.

Even though a military operation was dispatched to the area at the start of the week, according to an official source, Guatemalan xatéros, villagers say, were sighted in the area as recent as last night, Wednesday.

The report is furthermore linked to the sighting of an illegal clearing inside the Columbia River Forest Reserve – a magnet to Guatemalan xatéros, loggers and poachers who frequent the area to illegally extract natural resources. Eight men were recently sighted together in the area.

Clearly, the most recent developments solidify security concerns by villagers in the area, not too far from the reserve, whose property have allegedly been pillaged at night by persons they believe to be illegal xatéros.

Wil Maheia, activist and leader of the People’s National Party, reported to Amandala that even though the rains prevented him and his companions from going deep into the Columbia River Forest Reserve, they were able to speak with frustrated villagers from San Jose, Toledo, who confirmed rustling of horses and a donkey from the area.

“We spoke to the chairman Mr. Peck who mentioned that he would like to see a more permanent presence of the BDF in the area, because it is only when things like this happen that they get a reaction from the military,” Maheia conveyed. “‘If Amandala did not print that article, probably no movement would have taken place,’ he said.”

Emitero Sho, villager of Na Lum Cah, echoed that frustration, complaining that the Guatemalans stole his donkey and some horses from other villagers. When they went to report the matter to the Punta Gorda police, 30 miles away from where they live, villagers said, the PG police sent them to file a report at the San Antonio Police Station, several miles inland. The villager said that he did not have the money to go to another station to file the report and so decided to abandon those attempts. Despite a complaint filed to the Ministry of Defence, the villager said, no one has gone to locate them to get any statements from them.

Maheia narrated: “When we arrived in the village, we saw some military personnel. We went to ask them if they had gone into the Colombia Forest to investigate the reports of Guatemalan squatters and that of the stealing of horses. Lt. B. Robinson said that he cannot make a comment on their visit in the area and that all questions should be directed to Officer [Ganney] Dortch at Price Barracks [Ladyville]. Rafael Sho, a villager of San Jose, said that he had gone into the forest and saw xatéros extracting the xaté and that he would like to see the presence of the BDF.

“He told us that as of now, the BDF are patrolling, but it is limited and the xatéros are out there in full force. We also got a report that last night, the Guatemalans were back in the village of Na Lum Cah and tried to steal more horses, but when the horse made a noise, the owners were awakened and the Guatemalans ran away. Almost every villager we spoke to asked that there should be more military presence in the area.”

Military Liaison Officer, Lieutenant Victor Briceño, reported to Amandala Thursday that the BDF is currently out on a mission in the area to find out the facts on the ground. Briceño said that they have received the complaint at their ministry that Guatemalans have rustled horses in the area and cleared out a portion of the Columbia River Forest Reserve.

The xatéros used to bring their own horses, he recollected, claiming the horse rustling has not happened in that area for a while.


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Bladen Nature Reserve Field Trip for Students

BNR Management Zones

The Bladen Nature Reserve is one of the most pristine areas and has the highest level of protection in Belize. Ya’axché organized field trips for primary school students from buffering communities and also for high school students, but it was not a regular field trip, it was to educate young students about the Bladen Nature Reserve.

By law, the Bladen Nature Reserve allows only two things to happen inside its boundaries which are research and education. The reserve is divided into two zones, a natural environment zone and a preservation zone. In the natural environment zone only research and education may occur but in the preservation zone no one is regularly permitted to engage in any activity. The Bladen Nature Reserve is a no take protected area.

The Bladen River is the river that runs north-easterly through the nature reserve with is also classified as the mother of the Monkey River Watershed which feeds into nearby rivers and the Port Honduras Marine Reserve.  

On March 30th 2010 rangers along with teachers from Medina Bank, Indian Creek, and Golden Stream primary schools and Ya’axché volunteers took 49 students and on March 31st 52 students into the nature reserve. Not only were students given the opportunity to explore, but the trip also provided an opportunity for the rangers to practice their strategies of communication, as rangers are look at by Ya’axché as local teachers and ambassadors of Ya’axché who engage in hands-on environmental education. The ranger had open discussions with the children to better understand the roles that rangers play to manage such a huge area with rich biodiversity.

Through this practical adventure, the elementary students were able to observe the pristine and invaluable resources of the nature reserve. This activity directly involved the future decision makers of the three buffer communities, hopefully influencing their relationship with managing the communities natural resources sustainably.

Ya'axche ranger Explaining the importance of pristine rivers

Various situations encountered within the nature reserve were used as “teachable moments” to relate to problems posed to it. The rustic road entrance was used to illustrate the likely hood of impacts and threats posed not only by the surrounding communities but by anyone since it is accessible.  The Pine Savannah and the boundary line was used to discuss prescribed burning to prevent the spread of wild fires from Pine Savannahs. Rangers also talked about nutrient cycles, forest structure, pollution and littering, erosion control, seed dispersion, healthy water systems and the importance of wildlife.

Students were brought to the Blue Pool to show the importance and beauty of pristine waters which affect reefs because of their interconnectivity.

Through these field trips Ya’axché focused on educating the teachers and the future decision makers – students, about the value of effectively managed community natural resources. By spending time within the most pristinely conserved area of the Toledo District, the students and educators were able to observe the interconnectedness between their use of resources outside the nature reserve and what happens within Bladen Nature Reserve.

On April 1st 2010 26 high school students attended the field trip, with a Ya’axché  ranger and Education Outreach Officer. Ya’axché hopes to enable the students to become stewards of conservation in their communities, and give them training and skills they need to continue on in the path of environmental education.

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Freshwater Bio-monitoring in Southern Belize

Freshwater Bio-monitoring

Freshwater bio-monitoring is integral to watershed management throughout the developed world. Nonetheless, many tropical developing countries, including Belize, lack formal procedures and methods for monitoring and managing water quality. Therefore, we are pleased to announce that, with funding from Rufford Small Grants Foundation, Ya’axché will be facilitating research to develop cost-effective bio-monitoring systems for tropical rivers.

This research will investigate natural biological variability and variation in response to anthropogenic impact to contribute to the development of monitoring tools that are able to indicate river health. It will provide a crucialcomponent to the development of standardized and cost effective methods, allowing those interested in the management of freshwater ecosystems to monitor impacts and evaluate the effectiveness of management activities.

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Ya’axché promoting Sustainable Livelihoods within the communities of the Toledo District

“Production of Cacao in an Agroforestry System”

Farmers in Honduras

Ya’axché  Conservation Trust in its ongoing efforts of promoting sustainable livelihoods in southern Belize, has coordinated a 5-day training course for local farmers in advance cacao production. A delegation of 15 participants travelled to Honduras to receive training from Fundacion Hondurena De Investigacion Agricola (FHIA). The main objective of the course was to gain more knowledge and information in cacao production, with a focus on the biology of the plant, pest and disease control, shade management, pruning, harvesting, proper steps for fermentation, types of soil that favor cacao, and agro-forestry techniques and site visits.

Experts explain to farmers Agroforestry techniques

The training which took place from February 15th to 20th, 2010 had the participation of three  staff members from the Toledo Cacao Growers Association (TCGA), in a addition to the twelve farmers from the communities that buffer the Golden Stream Corridor Preserve in attendance. Farmers were amazed and delighted to see the production of cacao in its many stages, including the final steps of extracting the seeds. By adopting and modifying the practices learnt in Honduras, Ya’axché anticipates these enlightened and motivated  farmers to transform the production of cacao in Belize. With their newly acquired knowledge and experience, these farmers are poised to address the difficulties caused by the effects, sharing skills with fellow farmers in the district.

This training was made possible by the generous support of the Organization of American States (OAS).

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December 13th 2009 Hydro Dam Meeting

The following are extracts from the meeting at San Pedro Columbia regarding the Potential Hydro Dam in Bladen Nature Reserve and Columbia River Forest Reserve.

Columbia River Forest Reserve and Bladen Nature Reserve Committee
San Pedro Columbia Village
Toledo District
Belize, C.A
December 14, 2009
San Pedro Columbia Village, Toledo District

Addressed to the Prime Minister of Belize Hon. Dean Barrow

Prime Minister Barrow Is Called To Stand In Solidarity With Belizeans And Ensure That Our Laws Are Respected.

Over 300 Belizeans from several communities in Toledo in attendance of a public meeting held on December 13, 2009 in San Pedro Columbia call upon the Prime Minister to act in the interest of Belizeans and our protected areas. Despite a number of requests to our area representative, Hon. Juan Coy and the Chief Forest Officer, Belize Hydroelectric Development & Management Company Ltd. (BHD) none has dialogued with us.  As a result of the many unanswered questions in regards to unsustainable development specifically the proposed construction of a hydroelectric facility in our most pristine areas we formed the Columbia River Forest Reserve and Bladen Nature Reserve Committee which sent a team to see firsthand what the development company was doing. The concerns, findings and recommendation generated from this Educational Field Visit and from community members were presented at this community meeting which started at 1:30 pm and concluded at 6:15 pm.  We found numerous violations reference BHD’s permit and the National Park System Act, which has resulted in the following resolution:

We hereby call upon the Government of Belize to REVOKE the concession agreement granted to Belize Hydro-electric Development and Management Ltd (BHD) on December 5, 2008 signed by the Prime Minister Hon. Dean O Barrow. This development activity, in one of Belize’s most pristine areas, threatens the ecological integrity of Bladen Nature Reserve and Columbia River Forest Reserve along with the social well being of several communities in the Toledo District.  We will no longer accept the unsustainable use of our natural resources that are the lifeline of our society.

Furthermore, the Toledo Alcaldes Association convened an emergency meeting with all its Alcaldes on December 14th, 2009 and unanimously stood in solidarity with the resolution tabled at the San Pedro Columbia meeting held on December 13, 2009.

We request that the Government of Belize adhere and publicly respond to the December 13th 2009 public resolution. In the event that this is not addressed in its entirety we will have no other option but to engage in a peaceful protest to demand that our rights and the rights of our protected areas be fully respected and ask for the December 5th 2008 Concession Agreement to be REVOKED.

For more information please contact:
Nicanor Requena, Committee Chairman, San Pedro Columbia Village, Toledo District
Belize, C.A, Cell number: 628-4252, email:

Central River in Bladen Nature Reserve


Good Afternoon Village Committee, Honourable Juan Coy,  Mr. Jeff, Villagers of Columbia and other invited guests.

Season Greetings to All

Ms Ash making her speech

I am a villager of San Pedro Columbia with concern about this hydro dam that they are planning to build between Bladen Nature Reserve and Columbia River Forest Reserves. These two places are reserves and it can be sold however a Nature Reserve  needs to be de-reserved if so be the case more so this is yet another process for BHD to undertake. In such cases the government should ask the people in the south, especially the villages of Columbia but instead taking the authority to do whatever they want is not right. This dam, if built, might not be beneficial to everyone but will affect many adversely, for sure. What are the consequences of this? Honourable Coy do you think you should listen to the people and do what they want? Yes people want jobs like you’ve said in the previous meeting but not in this form of development by the way, I should not say development but rather “destruction” because it will destroy our beautiful rivers and our environment. There are other means that we can help in getting jobs for people; for example getting funding for people to do farming, raising chickens, doing business like how Plenty Belize and SHI are doing.

Also I know this dam will produce electricity but ­let me tell you electricity is not that important like water which is the essential one for living and land which God made for everyone to enjoy. Let’s look at the past, our ancestors didn’t use electricity but they survive; also, an alternative way of getting electricity is through solar power which does not damage anything but it can also create jobs because someone can be trained to install and maintain it.

By the way I did a survey on the views of the people in my village about hydro dam, which they are planning to build. It resulted to 90% against the dam so this show us that the people don’t want it because of its negative impacts and we use the river for washing, drinking, bathing, recreational purposes, travelling also not only the villagers use it but people from PG and other areas within the country or outside come to enjoy the relaxation given by this river and bathe in the nice, cool, crystal water of this Columbia River.

I am asking you, Mr. Jeff, to please leave this village with its beauty, leave the two reserves alone. What else do you want? You have already built a dam in San Miguel, which is enough. This Esperanza river is the Central River so do you see what we don’t want to happen to us and the rest of the villages? Honourable Coy, can you please do what you think the people deserve? Remember when you wanted their support, they were there with you always and now that you are in position you wouldn’t even bother to look at us. Let me tell you something before you make a mistake, listen to your people do what they want and you will see what they will do in return. Think about your governance because I know you want it to last for 5 years perhaps more. So pass on this concern to the rest of the branch of government. I am asking for the people of Columbia to voice up your concerns; don’t be afraid everyone has rights. As for the future generation like myself let us help the villagers to get what we all want because we are the future of our family, village, and country so let us cooperate and stop this destruction from this dam and let us stop the xateros from the  illegal harvesting of xate. Come on we need to achieve our goals by stopping this.

As for the organization and other individuals strongly supporting this concern with the people of Columbia, I encourage you to continue because your assistance is needed and appreciated.

My name is Aliana Ash. I am a high-school student at TCC and I am 16 years old and if I, at the age of 16, can see that it is a mistake then it is should be clear to adults that this dam is a mistake, with this I say, THANK YOU!!!

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San Pedro Columbia villagers upset about proposed dam

Extracted from
Date: November 5 2009
In the deep south, residents of San Pedro Columbia are vocal against the building of a hydro dam in their community. Research work has already begun by the company, Belize Hydro-electric Company, and at a meeting last Sunday called by the Ya’axche Conservation Trust, an assessment was presented outlining substantive damages to the area, including the Bladen Reserve. Marion Ali travelled to the village on Wednesday and files this report.

Marion Ali, Reporting
San Pedro Colombia Village is located about twenty miles from Punta Gorda. It is a village whose residents still practice their traditional way of life, relying heavily on the forest for medicine and the river for water for drinking, washing and bathing. So when they began noticing heavy duty equipment moving into their forests unannounced, it troubled them.

Zenovia Requeña, Villager
“That can’t work with us because we noh need no electricity because still yoh have to pay for it, it’s nothing free, and we need the water. Water is important to our life.”

Jorge Coc, Alcalde, San Pedro Columbia Village
“The people don’t want the dam to be built in the forest because we are seeing the problem that San Miguel have with water and we don’t want it to destroy our river.”

Alcalde Jorge Coc and villager Zenovia Requeña feel that the building of a dam will have the same effect on the river as another dam two miles away in San Miguel Village. And what impact did the building of a dam in San Miguel have on the quality of the river water?

Craviy Kus, Villager, San Miguel
“We see the problems but we can’t help it because the hydro di work.”

Marion Ali
“What’s the problem?”

Craviy Kus
“The water is very dirty. The ladies when they wash, maybe an hour time the water rise and the rocks gone down.”

Clementina Kus, Villager, San Miguel
“Ih dirty, when ih rain ih worse.”

Marion Ali
“This is since the dam was installed?”

Clementina Kus
“Yes and ih hard fi we wash, we have to fix our rock because everyday we go to the river and wash.”

Marion Ali
“You feel that will happen here as well?”

Jorge Coc
“Well sure, because that’s the same river branch that we use.”

Marion Ali
“Have you seen any change in the river since the research work started?”

Zenovia Requeña
“Yes because the other day some oil mi deh in between the water pan top.”

But the environmental impact is not the only reason why the villagers of San Pedro Columbia object to the building of the dam. They say they were disrespected.

Jorge Coc
“No one come and told us what’s going on, that’s why the people are trying their best to fight where they get their permission when they went there.”

Marion Ali
“Have you been able to reach your representatives here?”

Jorge Coc
“Yes, Minister Coy said he don’t know about it.”

Marion Ali
“Did anybody come and say listen, we’re planning to approve a project for a dam behind here?”

Tomasa Ash

Marion Ali
“Nobody came? Not last year, not the year before, not even this year?”

Tomasa Ash
“No I don’t hear of nothing. They just come and do what they want.”

But while the villagers are protesting en masse against the building of the dam in their community, their objections might be too late. In December of 2008 Prime Minister Dean Barrow signed this concession agreement with Hydro Maya. The document served as an endorsement for the company’s efforts to seek permits for purposes of research. But it appears that the Belize Hydro-electric Company had begun doing research even before they obtained a permit.

Bartolo Teul, Prog. Mgr, Ya’axche Conservation Trust
“When we went to investigate we found out in July, August that they did went in there and they did not have any relevant permit from the Forest Department, nor the Department of Environment when they went in the first time.”

Marion Ali
“But they have a concession from in 2008 signed by the Prime Minister himself.”

Bartolo Teul
“Yes, that concession agreement, inside that document it stipulates clearly that the owners had to get the relevant permit from the relevant authorities that manage these areas before they could go in.”

Marion Ali
“Have you ascertained that they don’t have a permit?”

Bartolo Teul
“We did ascertain that at that time they did not have any permit when they went in July. However, just a couple weeks ago we were informed that they were given a research permit. It is dated the thirteenth of October.”

Another issue raised by environmentalists is that the area being tampered with is situated within a nature reserve.

Wil Maheia, Environmental Activist
“The Bladen Nature Reserve, which is such a fragile eco-system that is praised internationally, praised globally because of its diversity, and just having somebody going in there and destroying it to put up hydro power, which does not reduce electricity rates for Belizeans to start with, then I feel that is something very wrong.”

Bartolo Teul
“It is right on the boundary between the Columbia River Forest Reserve and Bladen Nature Reserve.”

Marion Ali
“And what’s your position on that?”

Bartolo Teul
“As far as we are concerned, as co-manager of the Bladen Nature Reserve, we felt a bit disappointed that we were not fully informed and got involved in the issuance of this permit. Secondly, our policy with the Forest Department is that when any researcher goes into the Bladen Nature Reserve, there has to be some strict monitoring. I can tell you now that I’ve been informed that they went in on Monday and no member of the Forest Department is along with them. So that posed a concern to us as co-managers.”

Programme Manager of the Ya’axche Conservation Trust, Bartolo Teul says what has villagers even more skeptical is that information on the scope of the research is hard to come by.

Bartolo Teul
“At the meeting Sunday people asked him what exactly are you doing when you say you are doing studies. He refused to give any details.”

Marion Ali
“He as in…”

Bartolo Teul
“The local manager, Mr. Jeff Hansen, for the Belize Hydro-electrical Company.”

News Five contacted the Forest Department twice today to find out more from Chief Forest Officer, Wilbur Sabido about the project. But he was not available. Meanwhile one of the villagers has suggested that solar energy is an alternative to meet the growing demands of electricity supply. Reporting for News Five, Marion Ali.

Meanwhile the assessment carried out by Ya’axche Conservation Trust says that numerous large trees and slopes have been cleared, and that the reopening of roads caused the blockage of waterways. The assessment also says that in clearing the roads, accessibility to the Bladen reserve was increased which in turn facilitates the entrance of hunters and the depletion of local wildlife. The value of damages is put at close to one hundred and fifty thousand dollars. We would like to thank Wil Maheia for providing us with pictures taken at Sunday’s meeting.

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San Pedro Columbia Dedicated to Their Natural Resources

The village of San Pedro Columbians of Toledo, called a meeting last Sunday, November 1st to seek answers to questions surrounding the recent permits granted to Belize Hydroelectric Development Management Company Limited (BHD) as well as Xatéros in Columbia River Forest Reserve and Bladen Nature Reserve.  

Villagers from Columbia reported that Guatemalans have been extracting large amounts of  Xaté leaves from the Columbia River Forest Reserve.   It was learned at the meeting that these Guatemalans are legally employed by Belizeans who hold a permit from the Forest Department to extract Xaté.  The villagers were generally displeased that they had not been consulted on these permits and mentioned that if Xaté is to be extracted in the Reserve that buffers their communities should be the ones to benefit.

The larger focus of the meeting was on BHD’s recent permit granted despite BHD’s illegal damages they inflicted on Columbia River Forest Reserve and Bladen Nature Reserve from bulldozing and clearing steep slopes.  Once again, villagers were displeased that they had not been consulted on the matter and were unified against any dam development in such a pristine area.  There were also concerns about BHD’s track record from the HydroMaya dam in San Miguel and their recent illegal development.

The meeting in San Pedro Columbia was very well attended with over 150 community members, the Department of Environment, Ya’axché Conservation Trust, the Police Department, the Belize Defence Force,  and Area Representative  Honorable Juan Coy. 

While Ya’axché is not anti-development or anti-dam, they do support transparent and open planning that will fairly weigh development and conservation needs of Belize and of course follow the due process of natural resource laws.  In fact, Ya’axché is leading an effort to develop a management plan for Columbia River Forest Reserve in order to systemically plan for environmentally-friendly development.   In order for this integrated planning to take place all parties need to be open to discussion and best practices should be utilized. 

Photos courtesy of Ya’axché Connservation Trust.



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