community forestry

By Chris Lang

Originally published on


In the northeast of Guatemala is the site of one of the largest community forests in the world, covering almost half a million hectares of forest. It is part of the Maya Biosphere Reserve, established by the Government of Guatemala in 1990.

As well as having extraordinary biodiversity, there are also hundreds of Mayan ruins in the forests.

The community forests of the Maya Biosphere Reserve are the subject of Life Mosaic’s video, “Half a million hectares of hope“, part of the series “Territories of Life“:

The community forest concessions have been running for between 10 and 15 years. While some have faced problems, the majority are successful.

To protect forests, give control to the communities who live there

An article about the Maya Biosphere Reserve in the New York Times last year sums up the idea behind the community forest concessions:

The most effective way to protect forests is to give control of them to the communities who already live there.

The northeast of Guatemala had seen decades of forest destruction as agriculture expanded. When it established the Maya Biosphere Reserve, the government favoured having logging concessions managed by companies.

Ana Centeno, from the Carmelita Concession, says:

“We were scared they would evict us from these lands. We always believed this was our area. People said we would be thrown out because of these plans. The communities inside the Maya Biosphere Reserve would have to leave.”

Communities campaign for community managed forests

In 1995, local communities set up the Association of Forestry Communities in the Petén (ACOFOP). Initially, ACOFOP represented the interests of the communities aiming to persuade the Guatemalan government to agree to more community participation in the Maya Biosphere Reserve.

ACOFOP organised protests, lobbied the government, and linked up with NGOs, to show that community managed forests were viable. The government eventually granted 12 forest concessions, leased for 25 years.

Every year, the communities have to pay the government for the concessions. It is state land and the communities do not have title to the land. Instead they have the right to the resources on the land. Ana Centeno points out that, “Not having a land title gives us little security, as the state could at any time decide not to renew the concession contracts.”

Today, communities are making money from their concessions. Sales of certified timber from the community forests bring on average US$13 million per year. Sales of palm leaves, used by the floral industry, makes around US$5.7 million. The community forest concessions creates around 3,000 jobs.

Forest Stewardship Council

The community forestry concessions are certified under the Forest Stewardship Council. (While I am critical of FSC, not everything that is FSC certified is necessarily bad. The community forests in the Maya Biosphere Reserve are probably the sort of thing that FSC should be certifying – instead of certifying industrial tree plantations, or operations involved in illegal logging.)

Deforestation has fallen in community managed areas in the Maya Biosphere Reserve. Communities are careful not to over-exploit the lands they depend on. Salvador García of the Uaxactun Concession, describes the benefits of the community concessions:

“The first benefit of the community concessions is that we have an area, we take care of it, we live from it, and from all the resources on it. We cover our costs, make a small profit, and we manage the resources well.”


LifeMosaic’s website includes a resources page, with links to the following reports related to this video: