For years, communities in the Mosquitia region of northeastern Honduras have lived in harmony with their surroundings, cultivated their land sustainably and benefitted from its resources. But the harsh effects of climate change are making development a struggle and worse still, leaving residents hungry. “We can only hope that this season the rains are not as fierce as last year,” observes Elizabeth Waldan, a member of the Wampusirpe indigenous community.
Accessible only by air or boat, Wampusirpe’s houses stand on stilts, just in case the nearby Patuca River overflows its banks. “We lost all the rice and beans that we planted due to heavy storms that flooded the area. We will go hungry if this happens again,” worries Waldan. Recent changes in weather patterns — unprecedented rainfall and extremely hot summers — have occurred with increasing frequency in the last few years, and experts say are the result of global climate change.
Maintenance of Mosquitia’s forests is critical to the future of its communities and can also help slow climate change. That is why the Rainforest Alliance is providing both indigenous groups as well as new settlers with the tools and techniques they need to realize the economic benefits from all of the goods and services that local forests can provide, particularly when these lands are managed responsibly.
We are helping forestry cooperatives to manage their lands sustainably and to develop their small forest enterprises through training in business planning and marketing. These enterprises are working toward Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certification, which will enhance their chance of selling their wood at a premium. Several communities already have reliable buyers, including Gibson Guitars, which uses certified mahogany in its musical instruments. The Rainforest Alliance is also encouraging the sustainable harvesting of non-timber products like swa oil, ojon oil and cocoa, all of which are found or are cultivated locally.
Omar Samayoa, coordinator of the Rainforest Alliance’s environmental services payment project, explains that most deforestation occurs at the border of the region’s protected lands, where our work is concentrated. “This way, we help to conserve the forest and the indigenous communities that live behind the line of deforestation,” he says.
In addition to our forestry and agriculture work, the Rainforest Alliance is planning a carbon conservation project that will provide funding to the Honduran government and the local communities in exchange for carbon offset services. Although still in its nascent stages, the hope is that the project will incentivize communities to conserve their forests, which will both lock up large amounts of carbon and protect against the worst impacts of increasingly intense storms.
Delton Allen, the region’s political governor, applauds these efforts but cautions that local residents need more support to prepare for the climate changes. “We have to be ready for these changes, which are becoming fiercer and fiercer. Now they come more frequently, and it is causing us many problems that we will have to adapt to.”
While there is alarm over the prospect of another crop failure, there is also mounting optimism as residents become increasingly aware of the need to conserve their forests. Arcangel Salinas, president of the BAKINASTA Community Federation notes, “The forests provide us with a fresh climate. If we don’t fight for them, they will disappear and our future generations will not have the resources that we have today.”