The Selva Maya is aiming to broaden customer base


Photo: Rainforest Alliance 

Selva Maya community forest owners in the Mexican Yucatan Peninsula and forest concessions in Guatemala are looking to broaden the customer base for their timber and non-timber forest products, reports the NGO Rainforest Alliance (RA).

RA recognises that there is work to be done to achieve this objective. “These timber forest community enterprises primarily rely on trading mahogany and cedar and [to date have been] unable to take advantage of the over 100 lesser known timber species in the region, which are also commercially viable,” says RA. “This is due to minimal current market demand, inadequate data, irregular and inadequate supplies, poor grading, and knowledge of timber species required in new markets. Moreover, the timber and non-timber product information is not available online, leading to poor engagement with industry leaders who hold the key to driving consumption in national, regional, and international markets.”

Alongside other organizations and government bodies, RA has worked in the Selva Maya in the Yucatan Peninsula and the Mayan Biosphere Reserve in Guatemala for over 30 years, working on projects in forest conservation, to improve livelihoods, and targeting several other sustainable development goals. It has been involved with initiatives to secure rights of tenure and to strengthen the technical capacity and sustainability of forest operations through certification in both countries.  “This work has become more important as multiple challenges have been identified in the region, including deforestation, illegal logging, habitat fragmentation, and more,” says RA.

Selva Maya is the second largest tropical rainforest in the Americas, after Amazonia. It extends from northern Guatemala through Belize to Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula. It has a megadiverse ecosystem that offers key ecosystem services, from carbon sequestration to water capture and is home to a rich diversity of wildlife from jaguars, critically endangered Central American river turtles, white-lipped peccaries, and scarlet macaws to still undiscovered insects and plants.

In the Yucatan Peninsula, which has 70% forest cover, community forest operations called ejidos are the stewards of the Selva Maya’s northern edge, managing forests for timber and traditional non-timber forest products including Ramon seed, Xate palm, chicle, and honey. “This kind of sustainable management crucially forms a defence against illegal logging, land conversion, and forest degradation and is critical for the Yucatan Peninsula’s rural economy,” says the RA.

In Guatemala in the late 1990s and early 2000s rights to timber and non-timber forest resources were granted through concession contracts to 12 community organizations and two private timber companies in the multiple-use zone of the Maya Biosphere Reserve. The 25-year contracts allowed people to economically benefit from the forest through sustainable forest management, under the basis that would have to be FSC certified.

This arrangement, says RA, has shown community forest management can preserve forests given the right regulations and partners working together to create market-based solutions. Consequently, deforestation in the Mayan Biosphere Reserve is down to almost zero (0.4%), and forest fires have been significantly reduced.  Last year, the National Council of Protected Areas of Guatemala extended nine of the 12 community concessions for a further 25 years and granted two new ones.

RA says that the future of communal forestry activity on the Yucatan Peninsula is still uncertain. Due to multiple challenges, the ejidos have struggled to build successful forest product businesses and fully reap the economic benefit of the rapid growth of the Maya Riviera region’s tourist economy. But it maintains that across the Selva Maya in Mexico and Guatemala, forest operators have now attained a level ‘to access more responsible markets and maintain sustainability’.  Consequently, as the STTC/F&P newsletter previously reported, in June 2023, RA organised a trade mission from Europe ‘to find ways of improving the marketing of timber from the Mexican and Guatemalan community forests’.

Among the participants were the ATIBT, Probos and Precious Woods. They held ‘intense and constructive’ talks in Tulum, Mexico with ejidos representatives, before spending several days visiting the Selva Maya forest in both Mexico and Guatemala. Among the recommendations to come out of the mission were the establishment of a regional forest and timber association and a marketing strategy around the Wood of Selva Maya brand. Other conclusions were that Mexican forest operations had the potential to develop timber sales in the domestic market, while exports were seen as the prime opportunity for Guatemalan businesses.