Social and economic benefits in Protected Areas: partnerships and concessions for local development
With an extension of 2.1 million ha, the Maya Biosphere Reserve (MBR) in Petén, Guatemala is the largest protected area in Central America. To reconcile forest conservation and socio-economic development, community forest concessions were created in its Multiple Use Zone (MUZ) in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Operated by a community forest enterprise (CFE), and with a cycle of 25 years, the concessions grant usufruct rights to local communities on an area of about 400,000 ha. Currently, nine concessions are active, while the contracts of two concessions were cancelled and the management plan of another suspended. Our study of the 12 CFEs and associated member households (n=292) shows that the community concessions have largely been successful, both in terms of forest conservation and socio-economic development. Between 2000 and 2013, deforestation rates in the nine active concessions were negligible (0.1% p.a.), as opposed to the core (1.0% p.a.) and buffer zone (5.5%) of the MBR. In terms of socio-economic development, we found asset building both in the CFEs and their member households. At enterprise level, forest revenues have been reinvested in physical infrastructure, machinery and equipment for higher value adding; and business management skills have improved, as has working capital and degree of indebtedness. At household level, forest income has allowed to enhance nutrition, education and health, and to invest in vehicles, home appliances, and livestock. The findings support the communities’ claim for concession renewal, which is due over the next years, and have broader implications for natural resource governance.