Conservation and sustainable use of the Selva Maya

Project description

Title: Protection and sustainable use of the Selva Maya
Commissioned by: German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ)
Country: Belize, Guatemala, Mexico
Lead executing agency: Central American Commission for Environment and Development (CCAD)
Overall term: 2011 to 2019

Selva Maya. Ramón nuts © GIZ


The Selva Maya is a tropical forest region extending over Belize, northern Guatemala and south-eastern Mexico. It is the most extensive tropical rainforest of Mesoamerica and covers an area of more than four million hectares of protected land. The Selva Maya hosts an extraordinary biological diversity with over 20 different ecosystems that reach from the evergreen rainforests of Petén to the dry forests of the northern Yucatan peninsula. 

These ecosystems play an important role in terms of water protection and landscape connectivity. The forest is a natural habitat to many species; many of which are endangered. Furthermore, it is of great importance to all three countries, as a safeguard for the water, biodiversity and natural resources in the area. However, the Selva Maya is exposed to extreme pressures that strongly compromise its short and long-term viability and operability. The main reasons are forest fires, illegal logging and exploitation of flora and fauna as well as excessive use of pesticides and fragmentation of the ecosystems. Vast areas of the forests have been destroyed by wildfires, at the hands of both large-scale farmers and the rural population, that depend on pastures and farmland for their livelihoods.

Additionally, the borders between the three countries that share the natural resources of the Selva Maya, emphasise the challenge of implementing joint strategies to mitigate these threats.


Key governmental and civil society actors are carrying out coordinated measures for the protection and sustainable use of biodiversity and natural resources in the Selva Maya.


Recognising that one of the central challenges in the area is the protection and conservation of the Selva Maya, the project seeks to strengthen adequate coordination and regional cooperation that allows to consolidate the conservation of this cross-border region through the sustainable use of its natural resources in the long term.
The programme operates in Belize, Guatemala and Mexico, where it cooperates with the institutions responsible for the protected areas, as well as with other governmental and civil society organisations whose aims include the protection and sustainable use of the Selva Maya. National counterparts are the Forest Department in Belize, the national nature conservation authority CONAP in Guatemala and the national nature conservation authority CONANP in Mexico. 
To promote its protection and sustainable use, the programme conducts activities in four thematic areas:

  • Protected areas and biodiversity
  • Land use planning, taking environmental protection into consideration
  • Sustainable income generating alternatives
  • Environmental governance in the Selva Maya region

The activities in Belize are implemented by IP Consult, in cooperation with the ECO Consulting Group.


Since the start of the project, the following results have been achieved, among others:

  • The protected tropical forest area increased by about 100,000 hectares through the certification of areas, which have been voluntarily designated to conservation in 2017. 
  • The capacities of the voluntary rangers in the Protected Areas Bala’an K’aax and Calakmul in Mexico are strengthened. In 2016/2017, they have effectively supported combating more than 10,000 hectares of forest fires, and in 2018 agriculturally induced forest fires were avoided completely thanks to the implementation of an early warning system.
  • The Sustainable Rural Development Council has strengthened territorial governance in Calakmul, increasing decision-making and transparency.
  • More than 450 families have improved their capacities in the management of non-timber forest products, such as honey and Ramon nut. Approximately 2,600 families in the three countries benefit from the strengthened respective value chains. 
  • In Guatemala and Belize, more than 140 families have diversified their family gardens, cultivating agroecologically, reducing the use of chemicals and agricultural burns.
  • A political-technical information and cooperation platform was built up through the Strategic Coordination Group (GEC) of the Selva Maya. Founded in 2015, the platform consists of representatives of the responsible protected area management institutions in the three countries. Since 2016, the tri-national operational group, consisting of directors and deputy directors of the protected areas of the Selva Maya, is operational in coordinating and implementing regional activities.
A view of the Selva Maya © GIZ

With support from the programme, a strategic coordination group for Selva Maya has been formed, consisting of representatives of the nature conservation authorities of the three countries. Together with the Central American Commission on Environment and Development, the group aims to promote the protection and sustainable use of the Selva Maya, and foster trilateral cooperation.