The Belize Chiquibul National Park is still being destructed by Guatemalans crossing the boarder amongst others to harvest the attractive Xate leaves for the International Floral Industry. Below the article from Channel 5 also further explanation about Xate.

Originally Posted by Channel 5
Chiquibul faces massive deforestation

[Linked Image] Encompassing two hundred and forty-six thousand acres of land, the Chiquibul National Park is the largest protected area in Belize. But most of the reports on this newscast about the area centre not around its beauty, but on the destruction of its resources by our neighbours to the west. And instead of getting better, the situation appears to be worsening. News Five’s Kendra Griffith reports from the Cayo District.

Rafael Manzanero, Executive Dir., F.C.D.
“The main, main key thing that we do is to generate information about to what is occurring on the ground.”

Kendra Griffith, Reporting
Since 2006, Friends for Conservation and Development has been co-managing the Chiquibul National Park along with the Forest Department and as such is responsible for its day to day management.

Established almost twenty years ago as a youth environmental group, the N.G.O. operates from its head office in San Jose, Succotz in the Cayo District. Rafael Manzanero is its Executive Director.

Rafael Manzanero
“The Chiquibul National Park is perhaps one of the most challenging areas to manage because of a forty-five kilometer area that we share with Guatemala and also as a result of the many years of inactivity in terms of monitoring and surveillance, it was an area that was abandoned in terms of management and so there have been a lot of challenges and threats that right now we are trying really to control.”

The Guatemalan trespassers cut xate, hunt animals, log, and even clear the forests to plant corn and grow cattle.

Rafael Manzanero
“We are facing a nation that is much more larger in scope, larger in population, and larger in terms of the poverty levels in Guatemala. We know already that some fifty thousand people migrate annually from the highlands in Guatemala and coming down to the Peten area. So that is a pressure point and these people are seeking new lands and looking at new opportunities. So this is going to be a current of activities along our frontier. And so as a country we feel that we need to put forward more determined action to combat something like this.”

When we flew over the area in May, the clearings were easily spotted... and since then other borderline flights have revealed more. The incursions, says Manzanero, have been occurring since the 1980s and have been steadily escalating.

Rafael Manzanero
“I don’t think we understand the magnitude of the problem and that is what we are trying to resurface. We are trying to say that it is not five acres, it is not ten acres, we are talking about massive deforestation problems that are occurring at the hands of people that are not even Belizeans and this is really a cause of alert for us now.”

Operating with a meager staff of ten persons of ten persons, F.C.D. relies on partners such as the Forest Department, Belize Defence Force, Police Department and even their N.G.O. counterparts in Guatemala to conduct patrols.

Rafael Manzanero
“In order to stop it, in order to at least control it, we certainly need to Guatemalan support and that comes from the governmental sector of course. It is something that Belize government needs to be much more in terms of bringing out the real situation and what is happening. What we are proposing is to put in another two observation posts along the border, particularly in areas that are more susceptible right now for Guatemalan incursions and that would be along the Valentin area and along another point which is called Sevada, which is more in the southern edge of the Caracol Archaeological Reserve. The third component is then really to patrol more along that border.”

The demarcation of the northern boundary line of the Chiquibul National Park by Trekforce and the establishment of an observation post near Rio Blanco some five hundred and thirty-five meters from the border have greatly assisted the F.C.D. The NGO is also in the process of developing a management plan for the area.

The Chiquibul is filled with wildlife and has the largest known network of caves in Central America and is also home to the highest point in Belize. But one of its major benefits to Belizeans and even Guatemalans is water. In November the F.C.D. will embark on a project to encourage twenty-two communities along the Chiquibul Maya Mountains to protect that “Blue Gold.”

Pedro Chan, Environmental Educator, F.C.D.

“The objective of this campaign is to target the people from this community to instill in them water conservation, consciousness and to instill in them a higher conservation ethic. Another objective of the campaign is to work closely with the private sector.”

Rafael Manzanero

“These protected areas were made considerably for the protection of watersheds. It is really is beyond the scope of in terms of pricing gold. Water, we need it and that really comes from those mountains, so we ought to protect it.”

Kendra Griffith reporting for News Five.

Funding for F.C.D.’s activities comes from organizations such as PACT, the Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund and the Nature Conservancy.

Originally Posted by Belize Botanic Gardens
What is xate?

Xate (sha-tay) are leaves from three Chamaedorea palm species (C. elegans, C. oblongata and C. ernesti-augustii) used in the floral industry. They are used commercially because they are attractive leaves that can last for up to 45 days after being cut. This makes them popular for flower arrangements, Palm Sunday services and decoration.

The leaves are harvested from palms in the forests of Mexico, Guatemala and Belize where they grow naturally. Many people, called xateros, rely on the harvest of palm leaves as their source of income. Unfortunately so much leaf is collected it has made a large impact on the health and population of the palms in the wild.

The trouble with xate

Xate in general but particularly Chamaedorea ernesti-augustii , also called fishtail, is causing a stir in Belize. Fishtail leaf has been overcollected in the forests of Guatemala and now xateros, from Guatemala, risk crossing the Belizean border to gather the leaf. These xateros generally earn less than USD$5 a day, it is the middlemen and exporters who benefit the most from this illegal harvest.

Unfortunately it comes with a high price to the forests of Belize. Not only are Chamaedorea palms threatened by xatero activities but xateros have also been responsible for the looting of artifacts from Maya sites, poaching young scarlet macaws to sell and collecting other plants and seeds such as the 'ponytail palm' (Nolina sp.). They also hunt for food while working in the forest killing agouti, deer, guan and tapir, Belize's national animal.

Social and political issues are involved as well. Xateros generally earn less than USD$5 a day. It is the middlemen and exporters who tend to benefit the most from illegal harvest of xate. Belize and Guatemala have a history of dispute of their common border and having an estimated 600 Guatemalan xateros working illegally in Belize is an issue that has commanded attention. Organizations on both sides of the border are working to solve the problems xate collection has caused for the enviroment, people and governments.

Healthy Harvest

Sustainably growing xate is one way to protect their populations. Belize Botanic Gardens is working with organizations such as the Itzamna Society, Ya'axche Conservation Trust and ACICAFOC on helping to create a fair and environmentally sound xate industry in Belize. BBG will provide information, seeds and plants to Belizean farmers. This is part of a Natural History Museum project funded by the Darwin Initiative . Farmers who would like to grow organic xate can contact us for more information. The growers guide is available here .

The xate palms growing at Belize Botanic Gardens are: Chamaedorea elegans called xate hembra or parlour palms, Chamaedorea oblongata called xate macho and Chamaedorea ernesti-augustii called fishtail.

Xate free, the way to be (for now)

Make a difference by making sure that your flower arrangements come without xate leaves or that the xate leaves come from a sustainable source. There is currently very little sustainable fishtail available but this should be changing in the next few years as projects in Guatemala and Belize begin harvesting.

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Live and let live