IUCN Forests
Photo: Carlos Rosal

Achieving forest landscape restoration (FLR) at scale is contingent upon the engagement and commitment of thousands of landowners and communities. Add conducive public policies, economic and financial incentives, good governance, multi-sectoral and multi-stakeholder approaches and capacity-building, and you have all the factors for success. The challenge lies in translating this into reality. Identifying a way to achieve this was the focus of an IUCN-supported learning exchange between Brazil and Guatemala held in August 2016.

Group meeting
Photo: Carlos Rosal

The event built upon a 2015 learning exchange with China, Guatemala and Indonesia in Brazil, focused on the sub-watersheds of Xayá-Pixcayá, which supply water to nearly 50% of Guatemala’s two million residents. Artesian wells supply the rest of the water needed for the city. 

The main objectives of the learning exchange were to:

  • Introduce Guatemalan stakeholders to one of the most successful examples of payment for ecosystem services (PES) schemes in Brazil, a project called the ‘Water Conservation Programme of Extrema’
  • Identify learnings from the Extrema programme that could be replicated in the municipalities of the Xayá-Pixcayá sub-watersheds
  • Share experiences from FLR projects in Guatemala that could be adapted to the Brazilian context
  • Set the groundwork for a formal collaboration between the local authorities in Extrema and the municipalities of the Xayá-Pixcayá sub-watersheds.

The learning exchange included a series of meetings and field visits with representatives from NGOs, private sector, governments (federal, department and municipalities), universities, technicians and extension agents, farmers and local communities. These meetings were an important opportunity to better understand the regional context and activities, and the team came away with the following observations:

  • Guatemala has all the elements to become a global leader on forest landscape restoration and to be a living laboratory of experiences and knowledge in Latin America on the topics of conservation, forest management, and restoration of degraded lands and forests. Guatemala already has one of the most innovative incentives programmes in the world to support rehabilitation, recovery, reforestation, and restoration of degraded lands, sustainable forest management and protection of forests at scale: PROBOSQUES, which evolved from two other incentives programmes executed successfully between 1998 and 2015 (PINFOR and PINEP). Moreover, Guatemala has made a commitment to the Bonn Challenge to restore 1.2 million hectares of degraded lands and forests, and so generate a wide range of social, economic, and environmental benefits for the country.  
  • Most of the knowledge and experiences generated during the first 10 years of the implementation of the Extrema programme can be used and replicated successfully in the sub-watersheds of Xayá-Pixcayá. Although there are some differences in the situations of Extrema and Xayá-Pixcayá, their similarities are more significant.
  • The municipal and regional authorities in Xayá-Pixcayá are aware of the need to protect and restore the natural resources and produce ecosystem services and goods for local communities, but those services and goods need to be recognised and compensated for. 
  • The farmers and communities that manage and depend on the natural resources are quite limited in terms of financial resources, and therefore end up degrading the natural resources as part of their subsistence strategy. However, they are eager to protect the natural resources and restore degraded lands and forests if they can receive some form of incentives in return (financial or non-financial). As reinforced by Rogelio Caná, a community leader from Payá, “The communities of Payá are aware that we must take care of the forests to conserve water for our homes and for the municipality of San Juan Comalapa, but due the lack of economic resources or employment opportunities we are force to use forest resources to generate income to live every day.”
  • The participation of women in decision making and activities is still very limited.
  • Support from policy makers and governments is fundamental for the success of a PES programme in Guatemala, and to encourage the active participation of women.
  • There is limited knowledge and recognition between the role of ecosystem services producers (farmers and communities) and recipients (urban population, private sector, water companies, etc.) of the services.
  • The key stakeholders interested in the protection and restoration of the sub-watersheds of Xayá-Pixcayá are well-organised and mobilised. One example is the Environmental Alliance of Xayá-Pixcayá, which is composed of several organisation, actors, and sectors.  As mentioned by Lic. Julio Ernesto Pérez, Manager at Cervecería Centro American (Cerveza Gallo), “as a private company we recognize the importance of actions that IUCN and the Environmental Alliance have been carrying out to restore the sub-basins of Xayá-Pixcayá. We support the initiative of the UICN and Xayá-Pixcayá environmental alliance because they have very clear objectives, defined goals and sound organization, so we will continue to support them so that Guatemala City has not scarcity of water in the near future.”
Photo: Carlos Rosal

One of the lessons that stood out from the learning exchange was that there is a gap between global and national commitments on environmental issues and the local authorities who are responsible for implementation.

Often, projects are designed without considering the social and political context at the local level, resulting in a longer time to achieve the outputs and outcomes than expected. Similarly, these projects often suffer from a lack of inter-institutional coordination, low efficiency because of duplication of efforts, missing knowledge on the best local restoration interventions, and frequent staff turnover in the institutions that coordinate those projects and programmes.

Other factors – such as having a budget incompatible with the project objectives, lack of a monitoring system and limited systematisation of experiences and knowledge, no adaptive management to ensure results at the short, medium, and long-term – are also responsible for the failure of many restoration initiatives.

In exploring these challenges, the session concluded with the following recommendations:

  • Promote the PROBOSQUES programme as a viable example of successful PES to potential international and national investors and donors and countries.
  • Generate more evidence (empirical and scientific) on the social, economic, and environmental benefits generated by nature-based solutions with a goal of increasing public and private investments in restoration projects.
  • Mobilise, strengthen and increase the engagement and unity of all key stakeholders.
  • Increase the participation of women in the decision-making process, implementation of activities, and incentives and capacity-building programmes.
  • Implement 3-4 PES initiatives in the sub-watersheds of Xayá-Pixcayá (e.g. in the local communities of Tecpan and Payá) under the leadership and coordination of the Environmental Alliance of Xayá-Pixcayá.
  • Increase the number of representatives from the private sector in the Environmental Alliance of Xayá-Pixcayá.

The success of any large-scale programme or project depends mainly on our capacity to focus on implementation. Guatemala already has a well-structured legal framework and technical expertise, and would only need to increase its practical implementation of actions and targets. Learning from this exchange, and from the experience of Extrema, participants came away with plenty of hope for the future of restoration success in Guatemala and the world. With the example of PES from Extrema, Brazil, said Walter Morales, Chief of the Environmental Unit of Tecpán Municipality, “we believe it is time to move from planning to action to evaluate the best chance to establish a payment for environmental services scheme in the sub-catchments of Xayá-Pixcayá and achieve more restoration.”

By Carlos Rosal (IUCN Guatemala’s Program Officer, Water Resources Expert), Miguel Calmon (IUCN’s Senior Manager, Forest Landscape Restoration), and Paulo Pereira (Environmental Secretary, Extrema Municipality, Brazil)