Constructing a sustainable future for communities and forests in Guatemala USAID’s work conserving biodiversity through economic opportunities

Raúl Méndez, a 22 year old carpenter, is a member of the Las Cruces’ La Lucha land cooperative located in Sierra del Lacandón National Park. The park is in the heart of Guatemala’s Maya Biosphere Reserve in the Department of Petén. The Sierra del Lacandón National Park hosts incredible biodiversity and is home to multiple ecosystems, such as tropical forests and the Usumacinta River Basin, but it is also threatened by wildfires, cattle ranching, and climate change. USAID’s Climate, Nature, and Communities in Guatemala Project (CNCG) supports the creation of sustainable economic activities, which are the most effective way to conserve the rich biodiversity of this area because communities who earn a living from the forest have a far greater incentive to conserve it.

For young men like Raúl, a lack of educational and employment opportunities are a major obstacle to their personal development and economic growth. Pervasive poverty also drives the unsustainable use of natural resources which is a threat to the rich biodiversity and forests of the Maya Biosphere Reserve. The CNCG works to eliminate these threats through sustainable economic activities that simultaneously benefit the community and maintain healthy forests. USAID supported the creation of the Center for Training and Furniture Production to build the carpentry skills of underemployed youth from the surrounding communities to meet growing market demand for products produced with sustainably harvested timber.

“When they proposed the idea of establishing a carpentry shop within our cooperative, we didn’t believe it. Now, it is a reality that helps us work year-round so that we can support our families. Beyond that, it helps us to further appreciate our forests.” -Raul Méndez.

The USAID CNCG Project trains youth to produce sustainable, high-value furniture. This generates employment opportunities, creating an economic incentive to conserve the forests. It also increases youth income, teaches them new skills, and furthers them on the journey to self reliance. The woodworking center's promotion of forest and water conservation in La Lucha is crucial at a time when these resources are increasingly threatened by climate change.

The initiative offers great potential for economic growth. After four years of operation, the center has already generated a total of $104,631 in the production of doors, chairs, tables, shelves, and wardrobes ordered by neighboring communities. As Raul and his fellow woodworkers continue to build their carpentry skills, with regular training from professional woodworkers, the forests and animals seeking refuge in the Sierra del Lacandón, such as jaguars, pumas, and scarlet macaws, are able to thrive.

Since 2014, USAID’s Climate, Nature and Communities in Guatemala Project has supported the promotion of markets and a diversified supply to 25 value chains, linking 304 forestry, non-forestry, and tourism SMEs (small to medium-sized enterprises) and at the national level, including those from the Peten Department. This work has generated total sales of US$41 million. The center has been led by the Rainforest Alliance, the Association of Forest Communities in the Peten (ACOFOP), and the Foundation Defensores de la Naturaleza (Nature Defenders) in Guatemala (co-manager of the Sierra del Lacandon National Park).


Climate, Nature, and Communities in Guatemala Project