The Guatemala Community Forestry Association Ut'z Che' was formed in 2006. It is a civil association which groups together and represents, at a national level, indigenous communities and local organisations devoted to the sustainable management of their natural resources, principally forests, forestry plantations and water sources. The General Assembly is made up of 34 organisations representing 29,962 people, who have territorial jurisdiction over 73,690 hectares of land, with forest coverage of 23,096 ha.
Our primary objective is to represent the demands and interests of our communities, in the different sectoral, professional and decision-making forums for the implementation of public policies related to: forest management, environmental management and rural development in general. Another fundamental part of our mission is to enhance the skills of our affiliated communities, so as to help them conserve and sustainably manage their natural resources. We promote good forestry and agroforestry practices, access to fair trade markets, teaching and training with an emphasis on youth, rural entrepreneurship with social and environmental responsibility and finally equality of gender and legitimate community leadership.
To meet these objectives we have created 4 operating units: Unit for the Sustainable Management of Natural Resources, Unit for Impact on policies, equality and renewal of leadership, Business Development Services Unit and Unit for Institutional Management and Sustainability.
Guatemala's forests help to look after human life, providing such basic items as wood, fibres and food. Forests also regulate the climate, water and help avoid flooding; they help in the process of producing medicines to treat diseases; they provide recreation and education and support land formation, as well as assisting in the primary production and recycling of nutrients. They are an important source of life for Guatemala's indigenous communities.
But this life source is under threat. The lack of sustainability in the use of forestry assets in Guatemala can be demonstrated by the massive deforestation which has occurred over the last 50 years, and by the current use of wood, which exceeds natural growth and which for the most part is carried out in an illegal or unauthorised manner (95% in absolute national terms, according to the National Forests Institute, INAB). According to the 'Environmental Profile of Guatemala 2008-2009', produced by the Institute of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Environment at Guatemala's Rafael Landivar University "it is estimated that forest coverage in 1950 was 6,973,924 hectares (ha)", with an annual loss since 1950 of between "60,000 and 70,000 ha" and an accumulated loss of "2,958,826 (ha)". Compared to the rest of Latin America, Guatemala has one of the greatest concentrations of areas with rapid changes in forest coverage and in the soil, after Honduras, Ecuador, Nicaragua and El Salvador. It is obvious that the monetary value of destroyed forests is higher than the value of the same trees standing, affecting the ability of ecosystems to generate earnings ad infinitum.
National initiatives to deal with the problem of over-use of land and forests are to be found in the country's Agricultural Policy, Agriculture and Food Policy, Forestry Policy and the Law on Protection and Improvement of the Environment. This is where Ut'z Che' and Global Witness come in, with the implementation of the Transparency Project for Guatemala's Forestry Sector, the aim of which is to ensure that there is transparency in the aforementioned state initiatives used to deal with the problem described above. This helps to supervise the politicians responsible for making the crucial decisions, and ensures they exercise their power for the greater good of the forestry sector by promoting the ability of the poor and/or marginalised people involved to have a say in the decisions affecting their lives. In this framework, Ut'z Che' and civil and environmental society have identified, at the local, departmental and national levels, three central topics which form the focus of the transparency project in Guatemala:
1) Transparency in Forestry Operations
2) Transparency in the application of Collective Rights in indigenous lands and forests, and in communal lands and Protected Areas
3) Transparency on the subject of Forests and Climate Change
These three topics were agreed at a participatory workshop, attended by members representing academic and community sectors, national and international NGOs, all of whom play an important role in the forest sector and who will help in implementing this project. Over the coming months we will be working on all of them, and we will publish the progress made on this website.
Chris Moye - Project Leader
For a video introducing the work of Ut'z Che please click here