Story | 22 May, 2017

Cacao tourism and an unexpected partner in forest landscape restoration in Guatemala

Forest landscape restoration (FLR) is simultaneously boosting tourism, creating jobs and enhancing biological connectivity in the Guatemalan highlands with the help of the diverse membership of the national FLR roundtable.

Guatemala’s vibrant forest sector supports a national FLR roundtable that convenes stakeholders from the government, NGOs, the private sector and academia, who see the multiple benefits of FLR as an answer to the challenges that Guatemala faces – challenges like climate change mitigation, food security and water supply. The latest member of the FLR roundtable is the National Tourism Bureau (INGUAT), which has developed a novel interest in FLR and may become one of its biggest proponents.

Guatemala is full of natural and cultural wonders. It is considered the political centre of the great Maya culture, and its biodiversity is extremely rich. Tourism relies heavily on the country’s scenic beauty, biological richness and the unique cultural and ancestral traditions that remain alive in the region. The tourism sector contributed 8% to the country’s GDP in 2016 (second only to foreign remittances).

Deforestation and land degradation pose a threat to this economic activity. Guatemala has lost approximately half of its forest cover since the 1950s, and the current rate of deforestation is still high. With the population growing and the need to generate additional income sources for rural communities increasing, FLR that incorporates agroforestry systems has the potential to be a nature-based solution that can contribute to alleviating these challenges.

Restoring biological functionality in degraded landscapes with agroforestry systems is not only an environmental solution, but can also be an economic one for local communities. In Guatemala’s case, market forces support an opportunity to restore degraded land with native species, strengthening connectivity between key biodiversity areas while providing a new niche for tourism. Guatemala sees opportunity in the chocolate value chain. Cacao is a native species with a high value both in economic and cultural terms. It is with this in mind that INGUAT joined the FLR roundtable, seeking strategic alliances to support a new tourism initiative called the “Cacao Route of Guatemala.”

“FLR has a positive impact on tourism in Guatemala in many ways – we see it is as a crosscutting approach. If land and forests are degraded, it has a negative effect on water and biodiversity, and therefore on the tourism that has characterised Guatemala historically” - Lucrecia Gordillo, Tourist Products Development Division, National Bureau of Tourism

FLR concepts are starting to be mainstreamed in INGUAT, and are considered a viable path to developing new tourism models while improving biodiversity conservation and promoting the engagement of local communities in FLR actions.

Since the successful consolidation of the FLR national roundtable in 2013, more and more organisations are finding common ground around different issues in support of FLR. Members of the roundtable who are already experienced with FLR, including the National Institute of Forestry, IUCN and others will continue to work with INGUAT to ensure that FLR concepts, practices and actions are implemented with care. INGUAT’s participation in the FLR roundtable was not initially anticipated by the roundtable’s original members, but their interest in restoration demonstrates that many sectors of society have a stake in the future of their forests.

For more information, contact:

Ebal Sales (National Forest Institute, Guatemala)

Úrsula Parrilla (IUCN Guatemala)

Celebrate the International Day for Biological Diversity 22 May 2017