Biodiversity conservation and local development in the Mesoamerican Biological Corridor

Project description

Project titel: Biodiversity conservation and local development in the Mesoamerican Biological Corridor
Commissioned by: German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ)
Countries: Honduras, Nicaragua
Lead executing agency: General Secretariat of the Central American Integration System (SG-SICA); Central American Commission for Environment and Development (CCAD)
Overall term: 2013 to 2018

Mesoamerican Biological Corridor. Women and men of the indigenous Pech discuss the priorities for their umbrella organisation. © GIZ


The ecosystems in the core zone of the Mesoamerican Biological Corridor between Honduras and Nicaragua are some of the most biodiverse areas in the world. They perform important ecological functions and form the cross-border homeland of the Garífuna, Pech, Tawahka, Miskitu and Mayangna indigenous peoples. Progressive deforestation, caused by unchecked logging, forest fires and forest clearance to make way for extensive agriculture and cattle farming, is placing ever-growing pressure on those functions. The situation is exacerbated by corruption, political influence exerted through particular logging and agricultural interests, a lack of clarity as regards land ownership and the strong influence of drug-related crime. These factors contribute to the further decline in wooded areas and thereby in biodiversity. The loss and degradation of natural resources jeopardises the livelihoods of the local, in particular indigenous, population who rely on these for both subsistence farming and market-oriented production.


Local stakeholders in the core zone of the Mesoamerican Biological Corridor have, with significant female participation, improved the management of their territories.


A detailed consultation process in 20 territorial assemblies of indigenous communities laid the foundation for the participatory planning and implementation of the project. The project covers an area of some 35,000 km2, the largest contiguous stretch of protected tropical rainforest in Central America.

The project provides advice relating to three core processes:

  1. Protecting by using: promotion of economic alternatives in protected areas
    Governmental and non-governmental organisations receive support in planning and carrying out projects to foster the know-how and skills required for green business, for example sustainable cocoa production, storax resin harvesting and integrated management of agricultural land.
  2. Developing the resources and skills of the indigenous population and their organisations
    In addition to improving project management, it is particularly important that indigenous organisations and their structures are strengthened so that they are able to look after the interests of their members effectively.
  3. Promoting and setting up local and binational consultation and coordination mechanisms
    The project supports national and binational consultation processes involving representatives of public institutions as well as local and indigenous organisations to ensure that initiatives centred on conservation and sustainable use of forest ecosystems are better coordinated.

On behalf of the European Union, the project is also implementing an initiative intended to promote the wood and furniture value chain in Nicaragua. To that end, training opportunities are being developed for the staff and management personnel of small and medium-sized businesses operating in the wood and furniture sector, and cooperation and coordination among stakeholders in the value chain is being strengthened.

Mesoamerican Biological Corridor. Staff of the indigenous territorial administrative body Miskitu DIUNAT collect geographical data for participatory development planning. © GIZ


In Honduras, the project is supporting the dialogue between government bodies and indigenous umbrella organisations. In March 2016, the Honduran forestry authority, ICF, and MASTA, the Miskitu umbrella organisation, signed an agreement on joint management of the Río Plátano Biosphere Reserve and the sustainable use of its natural resources, an agreement which was negotiated with project support. In May 2016, ICF signed a similar agreement with the Pech people.

As part of a strategic alliance between the umbrella organisation MASTA, ICF, the University of Kansas, the National Pedagogical University Honduras and the project, maps of six areas of Miskitu land were drawn up in collaboration with the local indigenous population. They serve as the basis for region-specific development planning and usage arrangements in indigenous territories. This supports territorial governance processes, in particular as regards management of the natural resources found in the areas of land in the Río Plátano Biosphere Reserve for which indigenous communities have recently been granted titles.

These local processes required legal provisions to be adjusted with indigenous values and rights in mind. Accordingly, with the project's assistance, the Honduran forestry regulations were adapted. In accordance with the principle of free prior informed consent (FPIC) as defined by the United Nations, a legislative bill was adopted to support the consultation process with indigenous communities. The law is also one of the prerequisites for successful conclusion of Honduras' negotiations with the European Union in relation to Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade (FLEGT).

Minimum standards for sustainable and efficient use of storax resin have been established and, as part of a develoPPP project, these have resulted in fairer prices for producers and a 43 per cent increase in the incomes of resin collectors. The resin is one of the Pech people's traditional raw materials and Honduras is currently the only place where it is extracted. There were plans to designate the heartland of storax sap extraction, on the edge of the Río Plátano Biosphere Reserve, as a national park. That protection category would have infringed the Pech's traditional usage rights. The outcome of a consultation process, which was supported by the project, led the Honduran Parliament to change the protection category and designate the Montaña El Carbón region as an anthropological forest reservation. Today the reserve, covering 34,000 hectares, is co-managed by the national forest administration and the Pech, safeguarding conservation efforts as well as traditional indigenous rights. Together with the local population, a plan for the sustainable use of storax over an area of 19,500 hectares of forest was drawn up.

Nicaragua. Seven territorial governments are now better able to develop projects promoting sustainable management among indigenous communities. These projects focus on agri-environmental management of family-owned plots of land, sustainable cocoa production and basic sanitation for livestock. One important aspect of this work has been empowering indigenous grassroots organisations in the implementation of projects. In total almost 1,000 indigenous Miskitu and Mayangna families have benefited.

A study by a local university shows that there has been a tangible improvement in the competitiveness of small and medium-sized enterprises in the furniture industry. Key aspects of that improvement are the formalisation of businesses, increased production and better access to entrepreneurial services.


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