Indigenous organisations in Central America and Colombia reduce their vulnerability to climate change through sustainable initiatives

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The Communities, Forests and Biodiversity project benefited more than 251,866 inhabitants in the 4 countries, through the management of forest concessions, strengthening of enterprises and reforestation and forest restoration.

23 February 2022. Central America's largest forests are disappearing at a precipitous rate due to practices such as illegal cattle ranching, the advance of the agricultural frontier, monocultures and the impact of hurricanes, which threaten local communities and wildlife species in the region. According to a study by the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), the three largest forest blocks in Central America - the Maya Forest on the borders of Mexico, Guatemala and Belize; the Moskitia in Honduras and Nicaragua; and the Darien Gap, a stretch of wetlands and forests that connects the Central American Dry Corridor with the vast forests of Colombia in South America - have been reduced by more than 23% in the last 20 years. In addition, thousands of hectares are deforested every year with incalculable impacts on the biodiversity and ecosystem services provided by tropical forests, mainly affecting the livelihoods of local communities and their socio-economic development.

In response to this problem, the EUROCLIMA+ project Communities, Forests and Biodiversity: Promoting dialogue, exchange and forest value chains to adapt to and mitigate climate change, led by ICCO Cooperation, developed actions to strengthen local capacities for territorial governance, promoted economic enterprises linked to forests, worked on ecosystem restoration and advocacy with local authorities in Colombia, El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras. In this way, Community-Based Organisations (CBOs) and Indigenous Peoples' Organisations (IPOs) were provided with strengthened capacities for territorial governance and ecosystem restoration.

In Guatemala, work was carried out with indigenous organisations located in the area of the Maya Biosphere Reserve in the Petén; in El Salvador in the Cinqueras forests, in the Lenca territories of Chilanga and Guatajiagua; in Colombia, with Afro-descendant communities of the Chocó area; and in Honduras with communities located in Olancho, Comayagua, Gracias a Dios, and Choluteca, and the peoples of the Honduran Moskitia ethnic group also participated.

Find out where the project is located in Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador and Colombia.


The project was implemented in conjunction with a group of organisations involving entities with ancestral rights to collectively administer, use and manage at least 3. 4 million hectares of land, comprised of the Asociación de Comunidades Forestales del Petén (ACOFOP) in Guatemala, the Consejo Comunitario Mayor de la Organización Popular Campesina (COCOMOPOCA) in Colombia, the Federación de Productores Agroforestales de Honduras (FEPROAH), the Moskitia Asla Takanka (MASTA) organisation in Honduras and the Alianza Mesoamericana de Pueblos y Bosques (AMPB).

During the implementation years (2019 - 2021), 425 communities from the four countries participated and managed to strengthen the integrated forest management models from the vision of the CBOs and IPOs, which stands out for having an integrated sustainable territorial management approach as a mechanism for climate change adaptation and mitigation. Indigenous peoples have lived and preserved the forest here for thousands of years because it represents their food, shelter, home and family.

Guatemala: Strengthening the community forest management model through forestry concessions

In Guatemala, the project is implemented together with ACOFOP in the multiple-use zone of the Maya Biosphere Reserve, located in the department of Petén, which is home to 85% of the country's protected areas. The green zone contains approximately one million 250 thousand hectares of forest, in this area the State of Guatemala handed over territories to the communities and the 24 organisations that are part of ACOFOP are located here. 

Forest concessions are areas of forest located within the Reserve, which have been ceded by the State to community organisations, through which it is possible to have legal access to the forest for the utilisation of the natural resources. The concessions are governed by 25-year contracts that require compliance with certain rules. Now, after more than 25 years of existence, the community forestry model led by ACOFOP, and thanks to the good conditions in which the natural resources are found within the Reserve, is recognised as an alternative for sustainable forest management at a global level. 

Within the framework of the project, together with ACOFOP, the strengthening of community organisational structures and the promotion of dialogues with the governmental entities responsible for the management of these forests was achieved in order to ensure the renewal of forest concessions that allow the communities to continue strengthening the model of sustainable integrated forest management. During the project implementation period, two forest concessions were renewed and two concessions are in the process of renewal. 

 In Carmelita, located in the Mayan Biosphere Reserve, we do integrated forest management. At the beginning we were able to access the forest by first harvesting and commercialising it; but as the years went by, the model was perfected, and we managed to create an integrated management of natural resources such as timber, non-timber forest products such as xate palm[1] and ramón seed[2]. In addition, we have managed to promote community-based tourism. Sustainable forest management in our experience is possible because the natural resource is the basis of our lives," says Carlos Crasborn, member of ACOFOP.

The project has facilitated ACOFOP's participation in political dialogue roundtables at the national level for the construction of public policies related to climate change, positioning the Guatecarbon project - a mechanism for reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation (REDD+) in developing countries - as a point of reference for the country. At the same time, it has contributed to training state actors, strengthening territorial governance systems in the communities, and young people have improved their technical and leadership skills.

In Guatemala, ACOFOP is promoting the Protected Areas project, led by the National Council of Protected Areas (CONAP), which involves agreements, negotiation processes on carbon rights, extension of community forest concession contracts, among others.

ACOFOP has been a leading part of the civil society organisations participating in REDD+ because Guatecarbon was the first REDD+ project in the country and based on the project it has generated: the National REDD+ Strategy, serving as a point of reference for the generation of models of emission reduction programmes in CONAP and models of compensation mechanisms for environmental services that will be starting to work in 2022. It participated and continues to participate actively in the National Emissions Reduction Programme as the lead project Guatecarbon.

Honduras: Integrated forest management and support to community organisations to strengthen enterprises.

In Honduras, the project's actions were implemented jointly with the organisations FEPROAH and MASTA, through which it was possible to strengthen territorial governance processes, develop forest management plans and strengthen value chains by promoting forestry enterprises, developing business plans, processing and selling timber and non-timber products, as well as nurseries for reforestation, promoted by women and young people from CBOs and indigenous organisations in the departments of Olancho, Comayagua and Gracias a Dios.  In the territory of the Honduran Moskitia, 12 indigenous territorial councils, 215 communities and 24 organisations participated.

After the 24-month implementation period, inter-institutional relationships have been strengthened, which have allowed for the extension of the governance process of local communities in public and ejido forests[3], covering 9,300 hectares of ejido forest, and 1,260 hectares of sustainably managed moist and subtropical forests. In addition, knowledge on REDD+, biodiversity and territorial management has been strengthened in 87 young people, children of CBO partners, who have been integrated into the youth network at the national level.

Group of young participants in training about business plans in Honduras. 


Experience: Community Forest Management Plan in Honduras 

In Honduras, the Tocotín Agroforestry Association developed a Community Forest Management Plan in the broadleaved forest of the Humid Atlantic in the community of El Paraíso, building legality and traceability of forest use and conservation.


Colombia: Forty-two local community councils trained in forest governance

In Colombia, the project was implemented jointly with the Consejo Comunitario Mayor of the Organización Popular Campesina (COCOMOPOCA) and its local communities in the Alto Atrato region, where they strengthened capacities for sustainable forest management and improved the models of community forestry enterprises through which the communities obtain income and improve their living conditions. Such is the case of the production and marketing of cocoa and achiote (a plant used as a condiment), which has allowed the populations to generate economic resources without damaging the forests. The project has had a positive impact on the economies and lives of 75 families in 3 communities.

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Producer harvesting achiote in the Chocó zone of Colombia


Achiote, a sustainable alternative for communities in Chocó: Alberto's story


Through exchanges with leaders of organisations with extensive experience in community forest management and that are part of the Mesoamerican Alliance of Peoples and Forests, COCOMOPOCA strengthened its forest governance process, and increased the management and advocacy capacity of producers for the management and use of forest resources. 

A forestry baseline was also established for the territory, which will be the input for the development of a forestry use and management plan. This instrument plans the management of the ecological heritage or the sustainable use of a territory's forest resources, safeguarding water quality and preventing soil deterioration. 

It is important to highlight that 493 leaders belonging to the 42 local community councils were trained in forest governance, in reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from deforestation and in REDD+ mechanisms. At the same time, 25 farming families have expanded their cocoa production plots, which previously had between 1 and 2 hectares and have now been boosted with 50 hectares of sustainably managed crops, which means they can have more production and improve their income. 


María Darlenys Mena, community leader: “For us, conservation means using the territory, but without damaging it. It means working and conserving”.


Learn more about the project's work with the COCOMOPOCA communities.


El Salvador: Reforestation and creation of carbon credits

In El Salvador, a reforestation, certification and sale of carbon credits project was developed in the Cerrón Grande reservoir. Led by ICCO Cooperation in close coordination with local organisations, municipalities and the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources (MARN), it was an effort in which 200 producers participated and managed to reforest 180 hectares of forest. 

With the participation of producers from the Association for Municipal Reconstruction and Development (ARDM) and the Committee for Reconstruction and Social Economic Development of Suchitoto (CRC), 200 hectares of forest have been reforested in areas surrounding the Cerrón Grande reservoir, using agroforestry systems that are highly adaptable to different environmental conditions, combining trees with agricultural crops. In the reforestation process, timber species such as cedar, chaquiro, mahogany, yellow flower and fruit trees such as cocoa, cashew, mandarin and Persian lemon were planted.

Rebeca Dávila, ICCO Cooperation, shares the results of the project in El Salvador


With the participation of producers from the Association for Municipal Reconstruction and Development (ARDM) and the Committee for Reconstruction and Social Economic Development of Suchitoto (CRC), 180 hectares of forest have been reforested in areas surrounding the Cerrón Grande reservoir, using agroforestry systems that are highly adaptable to different environmental conditions, combining trees with agricultural crops. In the reforestation process, timber species such as cedar, chaquiro, mahogany, yellow flower and fruit trees such as cocoa, cashew, mandarin and Persian lemon were planted.

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Nursery for the reforestation of 180 hectares of forest, in the Cerrón Grande reservoir region of El Salvador. 


Reforestation brings environmental benefits by increasing forest cover, protecting water sources and restoring the landscape around the reservoir. Through the project, community forestry enterprises have been established and strengthened (nursery implemented with the production of 96,000 plants). In addition, a satellite monitoring system has been implemented through the development of a geo-referencing system for reforestation areas; and a roadmap on territorial rights for indigenous peoples in El Salvador has been created and validated by IPOs and government officials. 


Lessons Learned from the project about the REDD+ Mechanism

Based on this progress, REDD+ mechanisms have been shown to be one of the main avenues for mitigation and potential benefits in adaptation to climate change, ensuring the conservation of biodiversity and ecosystems and the generation of alternatives for communities to improve their socio-economic conditions. In this way, it helps countries to value the multiple ecosystem services provided by forests, including carbon sequestration, and creates financial incentives to promote the reduction of deforestation.

There is also an approach whereby industrialized countries, the private sector, and multilateral funds can pay other countries not to cut down their forests; reforest or restore deforested or degraded areas. Implementation occurs through direct payments for results or there can be an exchange through "carbon certificates", which represent reductions in greenhouse gas emissions to compensate for emissions generated elsewhere. 


This initiative is of great importance for El Salvador because it contributes to the fulfilment of the Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) commitment that includes 1,000,000 hectares reforested by 2030 and ecosystem restoration. In addition, it allows the generation of resources (timber, non-timber and economic incentives) from reforestation. 

Communities, forests and biodiversity, a common commitment to improve ecosystems

Through the various actions implemented by the project, hand in hand with the communities, this is contributing to the recovery of degraded forest lands, forest restoration, ecosystem sustainability and reduction of social and environmental vulnerability to the effects of climate change. At the same time, jobs are created for the labour market of the future and economies are diversified, reducing inequalities and promoting inclusion. 

Access to forestry incentive programmes has been facilitated, in an important coordination with the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources of El Salvador (MARN), local governments and community and indigenous organisations. The creation of economic incentives as financing mechanisms for forest management for small producers allows for the conservation of natural spaces. 

Working to strengthen the mechanisms and the sustainable and integrated management of resources is the best bet that can be made from collective and individual efforts. The most valuable element of this project is the joint effort of the organisations that make it possible to protect the forest and ancestral territories, which are spaces for the preservation of culture, language, uses and customs, as well as being an indispensable part of the identity and self-determination of peoples and countries. 

[1]Xate palms have specific uses in floriculture, according to their particular physical characteristics and in some cases according to traditional uses. They are used in large floral arrangements as background and filler or as a complement and support for other flowers and foliage.

[2]Ramón is a seed that is part of the Mayan culture and Guatemalan gastronomy. It comes from the Ramonal tree, which grows in the northern region of the Republic of Guatemala, specifically in the department of Petén.

[3]EJIDAL FORESTS: These are forests on forest vocation lands legally owned by the municipalities, according to Agreement N° 1039-93.


  • The project "Forest Value Chains - Communities, Forests and Biodiversity: Promoting dialogue, exchange and forest value chains to adapt to and mitigate climate change" is being developed in Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras and Colombia, as part of the Forests, Biodiversity and Ecosystems component of the EUROCLIMA+ Programme, with funding from the European Union (EU). Find out more here.
  • The project is developed together with a consortium of Community Based Organisations (CBOs) and an international one in the case of ICCO Cooperation, which is leading the actions. The organisations ACOFOP, FEPROAH and COCOMOPOCA, Indigenous Peoples' Organisations (OPI) MASTA and the Mesoamerican Alliance of Peoples and Forests have extensive experience and capacity in integrated forest management.

Articles published about the project

Among the studies produced by the project are:


EUROCLIMA+ is a programme funded by the European Union and co-financed by the German Federal Government through the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), as well as by the governments of France and Spain. Its objective is to reduce the impact of climate change and its effects in 18 Latin American and Caribbean countries by promoting climate change mitigation and adaptation, resilience and investment. The Programme is implemented under the synergistic work of seven agencies: the Spanish Agency for International Development Cooperation (AECID), the French Development Agency (AFD), the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), Expertise France (EF), the International and Ibero-America Foundation for Administration and Public Policy (FIIAPP), the German Society for International Cooperation (GIZ) GmbH, and the UN Environment Programme. 

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