A river of life flows through this forest community

FSC Nicaragua / Pandora Martinez
view of Nicaragua mountains with yellow flower in forefront
FSC Nicaragua / Pandora Martinez
August 29, 2016
Category : Stories

The mighty Rio Coco River is the heart of the Chorotega people in the San José de Cusmapa area of northern Nicaragua. Their very survival is in tune with its life-giving beat.

That is why the Chorotega are exploring the feasibility of FSC certification with their sights clearly set on water conservation.

The Chorotega live in one of the last remaining natural pine forests of Central America, and a source of the Rio Coco flows through their territory. The 750km-long river, which forms the border between Nicaragua and Honduras, is the longest in the region.

“The people are interested in sustainable forest management as it links to conservation of water resources – not because they want to cut down trees to sell wood,” Pandora Martinez, Director of the FSC National Office in Nicaragua, says.

“If we take care of the forest, we have water. It’s that simple,” Reyna Perez, Chair of the Chorotega’s Cusmapa Indigenous People organization, says. “The resource of water is essential to our life, but is at threat of disappearing. The beauty of our natural landscape has changed greatly in recent decades. We cannot continue this way. If we do, we will lose life.”

She adds that forest resources, such as pine needles, are used in crafts made by women, bringing income into the community. Livelihoods also include subsistence crops and small coffee plantations.

Alfonso Báez, who provides technical support on indigenous youth programmes to the community, says water and forest resources cannot be separated. “It is a priority to conserve the forest because it is our main source of water.

“But we have already started feeling the shortage of water – drought has affected us for three years in a row, and the advancing agricultural frontier is a major cause of deterioration of our forest and water resources.”

view of forested mountains nicaragua with yellow flower in forefront
FSC Nicaragua / Pandora Martinez

Working closely with FSC Nicaragua, the Chorotega community is using an FSC Smallholder Fund grant to create a model for ecosystem service certification in the region. Ecosystem services (ES) are crucial benefits that humankind gets from nature, including provision of clean water, climate control, waste decomposition and crop pollination.

The grant is also being used to train community members in ES and to build links to exchange knowledge with indigenous communities in Honduras. Talks with several companies are underway to determine whether there is a national market interested in paying for forest and water conservation.

The effort fits right in with the ground-breaking Forest Certification for Ecosystem Services (ForCES) project, which is aimed at making FSC a global leader in ensuring preservation of ecosystem services in responsibly managed forests. Research points to possible opportunities for FSC-certified ES in biodiversity, watershed, carbon and ecotourism markets.

The community of about 7,000 people is led by a governing body of indigenous people, made up of a Council of Elders, a board and a community assembly.

Juan José Velázquez, Secretary of the Board of the Chorotega Council of Elders, says: “A project like this has never been implemented in our indigenous territory. Seeking alliances with companies is new for us because our history has been one of denial of our territorial rights.

“It has been difficult to keep forests and water sources safe because there have not been economic incentives to discourage using the forest for coffee crops or livestock. The Chorotega project could provide those incentives.”

Throughout the region, there have been conflicts over land and natural resources, with indigenous people, such as the Chorotega, pushing hard for recognition of their historical land rights; respect for their ancestral territory and its viability are pivotal in whatever they do.

This project, Juan José says, could be a landmark in bringing social control of natural resources back into the hands of the governing body and the community.