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 region of tropical forest covering a vast area of Belize, Guatemala and south-eastern Mexico. After the Amazon forest, it is the second largest tropical forest of the Americas and shelters an extraordinary diversity of endemic and endangered species.

However, the Selva Maya is exposed to great pressures: the area is constantly declining due to forest fires, illegal logging, the exploitation of flora and fauna, and the advancing agricultural frontier. The main challenge is to protect the Selva Maya in the long term, through sustainable resource use.

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

GIZ has been carrying out the regional programme Protection and Sustainable Use of the Selva Maya, since 2011. It is doing so on behalf of the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) and together with the Central American Commission on Environment and Development.

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.

The tropical rainforest area extends across territory belonging to the three countries. To promote its protection and sustainable use, the programme conducts activities in four areas:

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

Since 2011, 17 management plans for sustainable use and protection of the forests have been developed and updated. Among these are the forest policy and the National Protected Areas System Plan of Belize, the Management Plan for the Buffer Zone of the Maya Biosphere Reserve in Guatemala and the Development Plan for the Protected Areas Calakmul and Bala’an K’aax in Mexico.

Land use plans are being established in three communities in Guatemala and in five Mexican ejidos (communally owned land), where the staff in the respective local authorities are applying participatory planning methods and instruments. This approach enables civil society groups, for instance, to contribute to the development of the plans. That raises the level of acceptance of the plans and significantly improves their chances of successful implementation.

Ten pilot projects have been developed and implemented in cooperation with local organisations, to promote the sustainable use of non-timber-forest products. At least six of these projects involve products that are mainly gathered and marketed by women, for example honey, ramón nut and cocoa. The pilot groups are improving their technical knowledge as well as their internal organisation and marketing skills. Advances have also been made in terms of their compliance with the laws applicable to non-timber-forest products.

Seven agro-ecological projects have been carried out in close cooperation with the ministries of agriculture in Guatemala and Belize. The groups that receive support have gained better knowledge of sustainable agricultural methods and how to use a wider diversity of crops. This has helped them improve their incomes. To achieve a greater impact, 38 agricultural producers were also given training in the promotion and marketing of their products.

The programme promotes bilateral and trilateral cooperation between the countries involved. At the same time, it encourages collaboration between various governmental and non-governmental actors within each country, in particular to improve forest fire prevention, cross-border ranger patrols, and alternative income sources for the local communities.

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.

A view of the Selva Maya © GIZ


Saving the Maya rainforest. A short report by the Deutsche Welle: Global Ideas, 2016 (7:24 minutes) Saving the Maya rainforest (German version)

A film showing the main challenges facing the Selva Maya and some of the strategies proposed by the programme to address them. It was produced as part of a GIZ universities initiative with the Eberswalde University for Sustainable Development: 

Long version (20 minutes) - English Spanish Short version (7 minutes) - English Spanish


Jaap Schoorl