A PLAN FOR IMPROVING THE QUALITY OF LIFE
IN THE MUNICIPALITY OF TODOS SANTOS CUCHUMATAN (GUATEMALA)
THROUGH THE MANAGEMENT AND CONSERVATION OF RENEWABLE NATURAL RESOURCES

Ing. Juan Andres Martín Carrillo
Ing. Argelio de Jesús López Villatoro

INTRODUCTION
Guatemala is one of the places in the world with the greatest diversity of culture. It has a diversity of flora and fauna that also make it one of the most attractive. The natural mountain monuments that majestically rise from its plains and valleys are characteristic of this country. One of the most important of these mountain ranges is the imposing Cuchumatán, a setting of countless myths and legends. The importance of this range comes from its scenic beauty and green meadows as well as a diversity of species that make it one of the most important biological corridors between North and South America. Its rocky peaks seemingly call us to their majestic heights. In one of the highest parts of the Cuchumatán is located the municipality of Todos Santos Cuchumatán, Huehuetenango, a place visited by both native Guatemalan and foreign tourists because of its cultural wealth and attractive countryside. This project aims to attract funding for the creation of projects there focused on the conservation and enhancement of renewable natural resources as well as the preservation of scenic beauty accompanied by environmental interpretation, all through the implementation of policies that allow for a sustainable human presence in this natural setting.

RATIONALE
The management of renewable natural resources is a topic of worldwide importance. This approach searches for alternatives that allow for rational and sustainable usage of the resources based on their potential. The Cuchumatán range has many possibilities for usage, one of which is ecotourism, an eco-friendly form of development that minimizes damage to the environment as it generates funds and services that compensate for the loss of opportunity costs from the land, thus conserving the countryside along with its natural resources.  This project is based on the creation of an infrastructure that will allow for the development of ecotourism providing socioeconomic benefits to the inhabitants of the area.

GOALS
General:
-To promote the utilization of natural resources in accord with human needs as well as to improve and maintain the quality of human life for the present and future generations.

-To promote the development of ecotourism in the municipality of Todos Santos Cuchumatán.

-To generate funds and services for sustainable human development.

Specific:
-To create a tourist information office that fosters relations between visitors and the inhabitants.

-To create an environmental and cultural interpretation center.

-To create interpretive and recreational trails that allow for interaction with nature.

-To create campsites and picnic areas through the establishment of municipal parks.

-Through extension services, to develop community interest in the conservation of the environment, involving the population in the process so that the project will benefit the communities.

-To design strategies that integrate women, as an essential element of society, in the interpretation of environmental problems so that they can become part of the process.

-To promote environmental education in the elementary schools.

-To promote the sustainability of the project over a fixed time and with minimal infrastructure.

GENERAL OVERVIEW OF THE HIGHLANDS

The Western Highlands cover 18% of the national territory of Guatemala and are situated at over 1500 meters above sea level in the departments (the equivalent of U.S. states) of Chimaltenango, Sololá, Quiché, Huehuetenango, Quetzaltenango, San Marcos and Totonicapan.  The area includes the volcanic highlands, the recent volcanic slopes as well as older formations, which are interspersed with small valleys.

Highland ecosystems y agricultural seasonality
The area can be considered as a typical highland ecosystem since it rises to over 2500 meters in elevation, with climatic characteristics that are characteristic of the so-called “cold lands;” low night-time and early morning temperatures year-round, with extremes in the months of between November and March. In this season, agricultural activity is limited by frost that physiologically freezes the inside of the plants causing their destruction. Very few crops can withstand what is locally called the “burning” by ice. The freezes have a significant effect on the life of the residents since, combined with severely reduced rainfall, leads to a scarcity of cultivated agricultural products. Fields remain practically empty of vegetation from November to March. Farmers have come to know the particularities of highland ecosystems and their production systems and daily activities are adapted to these conditions.

Sociocultural aspects
More than 95% of the population in Todos Santos Cuchumatán is Mam (one of over two dozen Mayan ethnic groups) and they have been able to maintain many elements of their own culture. Among these elements are the Mayan cosmovision, society's relationship to nature, language, social organization, beliefs and traditional clothing.

SOCIAL CRISIS AND NATURAL RESOURCES

The deterioration of agriculture and the environment in Latin America is associated with inappropriate usage of the land and ecosystems, and the lack of alternatives for the farmers. The indiscriminate cutting of forests, the utilization of inappropriate cultivation techniques, and inappropriate management of water resources are part of the social cultural context in which agricultural is expanding.

METHODOLOGY

The vision of how conservation and the sustainability of biodiversity in Guatemala is described through some fundamental principles. The majority of these principles are found in the Constitution of the Republic, the Peace Accords, in the Central American Alliance for Sustainable Development and in world agreements on biological diversity. They are presented below:

-Respect for life in all its forms

-The improvement of the quality of human life

-The sustainable use of the vitality and diversity of the Earth

-The relationship of human beings with nature

-The equitable distribution of the benefits derived from the usage of biodiversity.

-Participation in the management of biodiversity

-Respect for multiculturalism and ethnic diversity

-The strengthening of regional capabilities and the decentralization of the country

-Interdependency with the biodiversity and social systems outside of the country

As can be seen, these principles fall into two main axis: 1. the rational and sustainable management of biodiversity and natural resources and 2. multiculturalism and ethnic diversity. For this reason it is necessary to promote the management of biodiversity as a system which will also sustain human life. This project will be implemented in the following form:

In the municipal center of Todos Santos Cuchumatán, a tourist information office will be created which will offer information about the various services offered to tourists through:

-Authorized bilingual (English-Spanish) tourist guides

-Posters and pamphlets about the different services

-Attention in the office itself. The office will be staffed by a trilingual person (English-Spanish-Mam) that will serve as a link between visitors and locals. The office will have tourist maps, dictionaries, magazines and other bibliographic material that can help orient the tourist as well as other needs of the project. The office itself will be created and equipped with funds generated from this project.

Simultaneously with the tourist office, a cultural interpretation room will be created. This center will be located strategically. In this locale, information will be offered about the local environment, focusing specifically in three areas:

-Information about animal and plant diversity in the Cuchumatán region, emphasizing endemic species.

- Information about the geological formation of the highlands y the process through which Central America became a biological corridor.

- Cultural information that will include: the origins of Mayan and Mam culture derived from written sources, the origins of the local communities as well as its customs and traditions, and the diversity of clothing styles in the Mam area through a display.

Interpretive and recreational trails
Nature in the Cuchumatán mountains provides an optimal locale for ecotouristic activities that represent an important potential source of income for strengthening sustainable human development in the Guatemalan highlands. The panoramic views and the adventure of hiking in natural areas provide opportunities for interpretation of the countryside and immersing oneself in nature. Through the creation of interpretive trails, environmental significance and environmental relationships can be clarified through the objects and scenes themselves. In the same way, cultural experiences will be used for illustrative purposes instead of simply talking about them. The areas being considered for trails are ones that would be attractive to tourists, that allow for an experience in nature that can be interpreted in such a way as to develop ecological awareness. The areas will be chosen so as to minimize environmental disturbances.

Camping and picnic areas
These areas will be established simultaneously with the trails since in many cases the trail tours will require camping and rest stops. The areas deemed appropriate for camping will be in specific conservation zones, or municipal parks. For this purpose support will be requested from the municipal mayors. The areas will be managed to preserve and enhance the natural resources there in accord with Article 64 of the Guatemalan Constitution which states that: "It is in the national interest to conserve, protect and enhance the natural heritage of the nation. The state will foment the creation of national parks, reserves and nature refuges."

Extension services

Community service activities will be created to foment interest in conservation by inclusion of the population. Forested areas are of major importance for the country and its people since all forms of life depend on the maintenance of ecosystemic cycles. these areas are also the source of biological and genetic resources that benefit humans in terms of food, medicine, clothing, construction materials, crafts, industry, and social and religious customs. In spite of the vital nature of these ecosystems, many areas are disturbed by human activities. These activities may not directly change the use of the soil but they can promote changes by diminishing the ability of the systems to adequately function and maintain themselves is ways that preserve the living cycles and species habitat. On some occasions, areas are disturbed due to the lack of knowledge about the potential of these ecosystems and sometimes due to pressures for resources needed to support the family economy. However, natural areas with appropriate potential can be taken advantage of by promoting ecotourism, selling this "resource" to visitors from developed countries. This potential is not limited to beautiful scenery but also its ecological components in terms of time an space in a more holistic way, so that the true value of the countryside can be appreciated.

Environmental education campaigns will be carried out in rural schools in the nearby villages along with day long trainings of community leaders (to be identified in each community) so that people know the benefits that will be gained with this project since it's aim is to be self sustaining and of benefit to the communities it reaches. Finally, an institutional and family exchange program will be promoted with foreigners in order to share knowledge and experiences from other locales.

The integration of women
Women are an essential element of society in the interpretation of environmental problems. Traditionally, the work of men has been privileged with a focus that has centered attention on certain types of products that generate income for farming families such as firewood and wood. At the same time, other areas like food, medicinal plants and firewood for family consumption, as activities supervised by women have been given little recognition by both rural communities and aid organizations.

Through the application of a rural diagnostic tool, we intend to observe the different limiting factors that women encounter in the society where she develops. It has been demonstrated that women play an important role in the management of natural renewable resources. For example in Todos Santos women are in charge of the collection of firewood and water for home use, for the collection of medicinal plants, for gathering some foods such as mushrooms, and for obtaining materials for the crafts that require them.

Once these potentialities are identified, the sustainable us of natural resources can be promoted among women since they are at the heart of the family. One can also promote the production of crafts by the family as a way of contributing to the economy of poor families so as to provide an economically and ecologically viable alternative for the rural communities of the country.

All of this is aimed at meeting the goals of ethnic diversity and biodiversity for the benefit of humans with alternate techniques that can promote a sustainable ecosystem.

A FINAL NOTE
We are satisfied with the work we have completed thus far and we hope that our work and initiative will be taken into account, including reference to the following aspects of our experience:

1. the fact that we are trained in forestry and forest management
2. we have performed various investigative studies at the University of San Carlos
3. we have been students with an outstanding grades
4. we have carried out extension and support projects in rural communities
5. we are now carrying our our supervised professional internship which involves putting into practice our knowledge and helping rural communities.

We will be happy to furnish a more detailed description of our backgrounds as needed. It is also worth noting that Ing. Martín is a native of Todos Santos and speaks mam perfectly.

Greetings to all interested in this project from Huehuetenango, Guatemala. For more information please write either:
Ing. Juan Andres Martín Carrillo or
Ing. Argelio de Jesús López Villatoro