Enhancing collaboration for conservation and development in southern belize by

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Chapter Nine: Conclusions

Southern Belize, with its dense organizational landscape, rich cultural and ecological diversity, and shifting conservation and development priorities and strategies, provides a unique opportunity to explore factors that constrain and facilitate extant and emerging collaboration, as well as opportunities for new and innovative approaches to collaborative natural resource management. Examples of existing and emerging partnerships among NGOs, Government agencies, and local communities are described in the four case studies presented in this document.

Drawing from the case studies as well as the core issues affecting natural resource management in Belize (discussed in Chapters Two and Three), in this chapter we review our findings under three broad themes: 1) constraints and challenges to greater collaboration; 2) factors facilitating collaboration in Toledo; and 3) opportunities for expanding and improving collaborative management of natural resources. By distilling the salient points from our research and experiences in Belize, this section seeks to draw out insights and lessons that will assist a broad array of stakeholders engaged in or interested in greater collaboration in the Toledo District and beyond.

Constraints and Challenges to Greater Collaboration

Emerging and extant collaborative initiatives in Southern Belize occur within a broader political, social, institutional, and economic context adding layers of complexity and challenge to collaboration. Drawing from the four case studies as well as from broader conservation and development issues in Belize, the following section examines factors that constrain or impede greater and more effective collaboration. Political constraints include the lack of enabling legislation; lack of implementation of legislation; lack of political will;

divestment of protected areas management responsibility; and the difficulty of integrating the local, district and central Government levels. Social and cultural constraints include the land tenure dispute; mistrust; cultural diversity; participation and representation; and lack of ownership of objectives and plans. Institutional level constraints include organizational norms and culture; lack of a champion; and lack of capacity. Finally, economic constraints include limited resources; national development priorities; and donor funding.

Political context

Lack of enabling legislation

Effective collaborative management of natural resources rests on sound legislation and policy that strengthens and supports long-term conservation planning. Belize lacks a comprehensive national conservation policy despite the percentage of land set aside for conservation purposes. For the most part; “…policy is expressed by individual ministers or departments, as specific statement and/or explicit legislation, to address statutory duties” (PFB 1996:29). The designation and de-reservation (i.e. removal from protected status) of protected areas (PAs) and Forest Reserves is highly politicized; sections can be de-reserved by Ministerial fiat in response to internal or external pressures. It is therefore clear that, despite the legal designation of PAs by various Acts (such as the National Parks System Act, the Forest Act, the Fisheries Act, and the Ancient Monuments and Antiquities Act), the current legal framework does not guarantee their long-term security. This insecure status is an impediment to conservation planning, because it creates a climate of uncertainty. Donor agencies and organizations may have little incentive to commit substantial resources or take part in a collaborative process when the long-term “protected” status of a protected area is in doubt. This uncertainty also has major ramifications for collaborative management of protected areas.
Lack of implementation of policy and legislation

Where legislation and plans to protect cultural and ecological resources do exist, enforcement and implementation may be lacking. While the de facto management of most PAs is based on principles and practices specified in the National Protected Areas Systems Plan for Belize (PFB 1996) this document has not been signed into law or endorsed by the Cabinet. Additionally, laws that protect “66-foot Reserves” along waterways, outlaw hunting and looting in PAs, and guide land use planning and management are rarely enforced and frequently ignored. Many PAs, therefore, are effectively “paper parks,” as evidenced by the hunting, logging, milpa farming, and looting of Maya archeological sites that continues to occur within protected area borders. Unregulated and illegal activities threaten the ecological and archeological resources of Southern Belize. Protected area management organizations would have little incentive to collaborate given this inconsistent implementation of protected area legislation.
Political will

The largely “hands-off” approach taken by the Government of Belize (GOB) in the realm of natural resource management calls into question its commitment to greater cooperation and collaboration. Despite the expanse of Belize’s territory set aside for conservation, the small GOB budgetary allocations to natural resource management suggests this may not be an overriding priority. Furthermore, according to a Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) report Community Involvement in Establishment, Planning, and Management of GEF Priority Protected Areas in the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef System: “None of the various laws that are relevant to the management of protected natural areas in Belize makes specific mention of public participation, collaborative management, or the creation and function of any type of advisory committees for protected natural areas” (Barborak et al., 2002:7). Greater Government involvement in natural resource management could bring legal authority, legitimacy, skills, and institutional-level authority “to the table.” As one non-governmental organization (NGO) representative stated: “In terms of management of a national park, they [Government] have weight, they could speak up, they can make things happen…” (Caddy-Foster 2002).
Divestment of responsibility

In response to budgetary constraints, numerous development and conservation activities have been delegated to various NGOs and community-based organizations (CBOs). Private NGOs such as Belize Audubon Society (BAS), Toledo Association for Sustainable Tourism and Empowerment (TASTE) and community-based organizations (CBOs)42 such as Friend of Five Blues, manage Government PAs through co-management agreements. In the Belizean context, “co-management” refers to legally binding agreements between NGOs or CBOs and a government agency to share protected area management roles and responsibilities. However, given that the devolution of roles and responsibilities is not accompanied by necessary financial resources and institutional support, in this context it can be interpreted as divestment of responsibility rather than a true sharing or roles and responsibilities. This situation conflates the process of democratic decentralization with that of privatization.43 Insufficient resources have been especially detrimental to CBOs that are signatories of co-management agreements.
Integrating the local, district, and central levels

Natural resource decisions are unique with regards to questions of scale. Watersheds, rivers, and ecosystems cross geopolitical boundaries. Local forests and environs are part of larger ecosystems. Downstream users are affected by the actions and activities of upstream users. Integrated management decisions made at the watershed or landscape level require a combination of the local, district, and central level government. However, the majority of regulatory and planning decisions about the South are made 160 miles north of the District in the capital city of Belmopan while “no coordinating units are presently in place at the district level, despite district level officers and NGOs stressing the need to have such bodies to avoid disorganization” (GOB 2000c:171). The nascent Toledo Development Corporation (TDC) is an attempt to address the lack or coordination but its impact has not yet registered. An interviewee describes the political and geographic isolation of the South:

Look at Belize as a whole. The majority of the Cabinet is from the Belize District [the northern and western part of the country]. We only have two ministers from the South which is almost half the country. The power of the country is directed that way [meaning North]. (Anonymous 2002)

Social and cultural context

Land tenure disputes

A long-standing, unresolved conflict concerning legal title to traditional lands presents a substantial barrier to collaboration. Land security – and by default access to life-sustaining resources - is tenuous for many residents of the Toledo District. Indigenous people such as the Kekchi, Mopan, and Garifuna are disproportionately affected. Where PAs and Forest Reserves overlap contested land, collaboration has the potential to compromise rights and access to natural resources. Pending litigation over the status of Maya Reservation lands and logging concessions exacerbate tensions between Maya leadership and the Government of Belize.44 Despite efforts to present a united front, local cultural organizations remain fragmented along ethnic, geographic, and political lines. Southern Belize lacks culturally appropriate, formalized alternative dispute resolution mechanisms for parties to resolve their differences.

Mistrust between NGOs and Government, and people and NGOs – stemming from long-standing conflicts, failed development projects, and negative perceptions – has the potential to limit communication and understanding. As mentioned in the SAGE/TWA case, NGO–Government relations appear to be marked by mistrust. An NGO official describes this perception: “The Government of Belize is notoriously ambivalent about NGOs. They see NGOs are interfering, [but some agencies] are happy to offload responsibilities on them…If the Government is going to rely on NGOs, they have to inject transparency” (McGill 2002). Despite numerous projects and the investment of millions of development dollars down south, the quality of life for many rural inhabitants remains the same. Poorly implemented and managed NGO projects have led some community members to believe NGOs are “just like the Government.” Conservation organizations are seen to “lock away resources” while the private sector “only cares about money.” According to ESTAP’s Regional Development Plan: “the absence of proper guidelines and legislation to regulate (and regularize) their [organizations working in the south] activity has meant that many NGOs and CBOs still operate in a climate of suspicion” (GOB 2000c:183).
Cultural diversity

Cultural diversity adds another layer of complexity to collaboration in Southern Belize. The population of Southern Belize “reflects the country’s greatest ethnic diversity” which includes Kekchi and Mopan Maya, Mestizo, Garifuna, Creole and East Indian people: characterized by variations in language, lifestyles, and governance structures (GOB 2000c:19). While all groups are ultimately concerned about the future of Toledo’s natural resources, they differ in how they value them as well as their proposed strategies to protect and manage them. Conservation organizations might define “over-hunting” or “sustainable use” in a way that differs from other groups’ understanding of the issues. Cultural diversity also implies differences in the understandings of relationship between people and nature. For many indigenous people rivers, forests, and wildlife provide the foundation of their livelihood and in many cases, their identity. Collaboration and joint decision making amidst such rich cultural diversity needs to accommodate differing values and traditions.
Representation and participation

Decision making authority in the region is largely in the hands of international, national, and regional organizations and “experts” while communities and other local actors affected by those decisions are largely shut out of decision making processes. Rural farmers, women and indigenous communities exhibit different levels of organization, education, and ability to participate in decision making processes. From a single protected area to the six-watershed conservation unit – the Maya Mountain Marine Corridor (MMMC) – many individuals expressed the need to involve a broader array of interests and organizations in conservation planning and projects. As one interviewee framed it: “A collaborative body should have a variety of interests… an integrated approach must be wide enough to meet all the interests, both community and individual interests” (Anonymous 2002).

Despite various attempts by NGOs such as Ya’axche’ Conservation Trust, the Sarstoon-Temash Institute for Indigenous Management, and the Toledo Institute for Development and Environment to integrate communities into conservation and sustainable livelihood initiatives, various interviewees questioned their success. Marginalized groups such as indigenous people and women were frequently cited as being excluded from decision making fora. Traditional roles for women can limit educational opportunities and access to communication channels placing them at a disadvantage to be heard. Successful collaboration will depend on the ability of leading organizations to include a broader spectrum of participants and their interests, skills, and experience.

Lack of ownership of objectives and plans

Early involvement in defining the problem and participation in the process is key to fostering a sense of ownership. Recognition of TIDE and The Nature Conservancy (TNC)’s “Ridges to Reef” conservation unit (dubbed the MMMC in Toledo) has been problematic since the outset caused by failure to consult adequately with stakeholders and organizations within the region during the formulation of the Site Conservation Plan.45 Villagers in the Golden Stream watershed, who feel they were only marginally consulted during the initial stages of the planning process, do not necessarily recognize the legitimacy of the Golden Stream Conservation Corridor. As one Maya villager commented, “They tried to get people involved and the people really want to have their input taken but as time goes by they quit taking the input of the people . . . They don’t ask the people” (Anonymous 2002).

Projects and initiatives that fail to adequately engage communities and local organizations with site-specific knowledge frequently result in a lack of acceptance and understandably, create resistance during the implementation phase. Toledo is littered with the remains of unsuccessful development projects driven in part by “…a tendency for the project ideas to be conceived outside of Toledo with project implementers that are hardly in tune with or connected to the unique dynamics of the area. They [individuals and implementers] tend to work in the district with an agenda already externally packaged for how things should be done” (Enriquez 2002).

Institutional context

Organizational norms and culture

Where interests overlap, organizational norms and culture may impede collaboration across institutional boundaries. While groups of environmental organizations have embraced landscape scale or eco-regional conservation planning, contiguous parcels and PAs remain divided along organizational rather than ecological lines. Jurisdiction over PAs is divided between local, regional, and international NGOs, the private sector and the GOB. Management of Government PAs falls under the umbrella of three Government departments each located within a separate Ministry. The need for cross-sectoral coordination at the Government level has already been recognized for the coastal zone, leading to the creation of the interdepartmental Coastal Zone Management Authority (CZMA) however, this arrangement only addresses the coastal/marine component of the protected area system.

Southern Belize’s dense organizational landscape creates challenges for organizational collaboration. All the case studies introduced in the previous chapter, cite turf as a constraining factor. Collaboration can offset the expansion or maintenance of organizational turf, power, and interests. The following quote by a NGO representative refers to organizational territory as “fiefdoms”:

The coastal zone is demarcated into little fiefdoms. We extended our influence up to the mouth of the Moho River, thinking that north of there is approaching TIDE territory. TIDE goes up to Monkey River, and then you are into maybe the Friends of Nature area. (McGill 2002)

Government agencies, NGOs, and private sector organizations adhere to formal goals for conservation and development which sometimes conflict. Some organizations practice a more “science driven approach,” others, a more “people driven” approach. Interests might revolve around management or protection of a protected area like the Bladen Nature Reserve, a watershed like the Golden Stream, or multiple watersheds like the MMMC. The challenge will be to reconcile diverse goals and agendas within a regional strategy for Toledo. Jerry Enriquez suggested: “Organizations should collaborate their strategic visions and plans, and should decide together how their goals fit with each other” (2002).

NGOs in Toledo wield varying levels of power – from large well-funded international NGOs like TNC to small single-staffed organizations like the Toledo Maya Women’s Council. Power imbalances can produce fears when entering into a collaborative process: Who will dominate the process? Who will control the agenda?

Lack of a local champion

Experience with collaborative management of natural resources shows that “[s]uccessful collaborative efforts usually have one or two individuals who have a ‘we’re in this together’ stance that sharply contrasts with previous adversarial interactions” (Wondolleck and Yaffee 2001). While various individuals and organizations have expressed interest in a regional approach to conservation in Southern Belize, integrated conservation initiatives such as the MMMC and Toledo Watershed Association (TWA) remain in the concept or planning stage. The MMMC concept continues to face challenges as a multi-stakeholder forum to promote collaboration. Participants in TWA, now the purview of the Southern Alliance for Grassroots Empowerment, continue to debate its organizational direction and mandate: How will industry and communities be included? Will the organization form along the lines of the Sibun Watershed Association (SWA) or shift towards a single sector model? Will SAGE take an advocacy role or develop into a multi-stakeholder forum? A truly collaborative effort will require a dedicated leader willing to merge existing synergies and champion the move towards a new inclusive organizational model built on trust and joint decision making.

While collaboration presents opportunities for a broader spectrum of stakeholders to participate in decisions about and the implementation of conservation and development initiatives in Toledo, it does not guarantee that all have the capacity to do so. Indigenous organizations, local elites, industry representatives, and NGOs exhibit different levels of organization, financial resources, and influence at the local and regional level. Capacity building and education will be necessary to enable effective problem-solving and implementation.
Inadequate communication and information sharing

Natural resource managers in Southern Belize are faced with the growing need to share information, expertise, and data in order to understand let alone manage large scale ecosystems such as the Golden Stream Corridor and the MMMC. Despite the proliferation of civil society organizations there has been limited coordination and dialogue between them.

Conservation planning and development activities in Southern Belize are characterized by inadequate communication and feedback mechanisms. Given the already limited available information (ecological, demographic, and topographic) on and about Southern Belize, shared information and expertise is crucial. Fragmentation makes communication, collaboration, and streamlining of management activities across the landscape difficult. NGOs may be reluctant to share ideas and information with each other if this sharing correlates to recognition and access to funding sources. As stated by the FFI Programme Director: “[NGOs] are not honest with one another. Ideas are sources for funding, so people aren’t always willing to share” (Caddy-Foster 2002).

As demonstrated by the establishment of SATIIM and the Port Honduras Marine Reserve (PHMR), the breakdown in communication between Government, and NGOs and communities led to misunderstanding and uncertainty. Local communities living in and around the Sarstoon and Temash Rivers did not learn about the existence of the Sarstoon-Temash National Park until three years after its establishment (Caddy et al., 2000). At a meeting in Hopkins village, fishermen expressed concern about being denied access to resources in the PHMR stemming from lack of information about “no-take” versus “multiple-use” zones. Experience with communities led a Government official to conclude: “We have had some bad experiences in the past from not communicating. It is simple. You need to talk with these people” (Anonymous 2002).

Economic context

Resource limitations

Involvement in collaborative processes requires significant human and financial resources: for example, travel costs to attend meetings, technical expertise, and time. When asked about challenges to greater collaboration, various NGO representatives mentioned a lack of time and money. Additionally, organizations participating in a collaborative arrangement vary in size, types of expertise, and access to resources. For example, grassroots organizations like the Kekchi Council of Belize and the Toledo Maya Cultural Council operate with fewer staff members and on a much smaller budget than TIDE and TNC.

If collaborative partners feel that costs are not distributed proportionally, it can be a source of friction and frustrate attempts to work together over the long term. This was the case with Bladen Consortium where participants disagreed as to whether or not participants were sharing work and costs related to the function of the Consortium.

National development priorities

In an effort to close the gap between Southern Belize and the more developed Northern Districts, the GOB has instituted new approaches to accelerate the pace of development in a region that has always been regarded as the most economically depressed in the country (GOB 1998). In the mid-1990s, the GOB granted at least seventeen logging concessions on lands totaling 480,000 acres in the Toledo District (see Map 6, p.46). In 1997, the Government granted a permit to a foreign oil and gas exploration company to explore for oil reserves on almost 750,000 acres of land in the Toledo District (TMCC 1998). Current and new development initiatives can conflict with parallel efforts to expand the protected area system in the south. One individual stated: “I think protected area management and sustainable development initiatives are not an integral part of the development philosophy of the country even though it’s rhetorically said so” (Anonymous 2002). Another concern is how large-scale economic development initiatives will integrate the needs, skills, and capabilities of local communities so that they can capture the benefits of local development efforts.
Donor funding

The Toledo District has captured the attention of a large contingency of donor agencies, natural resource managers, and INGOs. While this thickening of civil society provides new opportunities for partnerships between Government agencies, international donors, NGOs and CBOs, even locally based “…grassroots groups and NGOs may also not be accountable to or representative of local people…. [They] are constituted to represent the interests of their members or donors” (Ribot 2002).

Given the proliferation of INGOs working under the rubric of sustainable development and the environment, INGOs provide an attractive funding mechanism for under-resourced Government agencies, NGOs, and CBOs. INGOs and international donor organizations have been forthcoming with technical and financial support for under-resourced Government agencies and NGOs in Toledo. TNC partners with TIDE, FFI partners with YCT, EcoLogic Enterprise Ventures (EEV) supports Belize Lodge & Excursions (BLE), and the EcoLogic Fund supports SATIIM. Maya organizations receive external assistance from the Canadian International Development Agency, the Indian Law Resource Center, and the Inuit Circumpolar Conference, among others.

Funding sources influence conservation strategies and allegiances. Tight relationships between donor agencies and NGOs have led to skepticism about who sets the agenda. One must consider: Who sets the agenda? Who benefits from NGO participation and partnerships? Chief Forest Officer Sabido (2002) commented:

While a lot of the NGOs are locally based down there, there is also a very strong undercurrent of policies and objectives that follow the agendas set by the external NGOs or organizations that assist the local NGOs. This is very clear when you look at, say, the approach of TIDE versus the approach of YCT, for example. It’s two different types of approaches and outlooks.

Concluding remarks

While the challenges mentioned in this section cast shadows on collaborative resource management in Toledo, organizations with similar concerns and interests continue to seek out innovative ways to work together. It is important to note that what can be a constraint in one context or for one group may act as an opportunity or enabling factor under different circumstances. The following section describes the forces that facilitate collaboration in Toledo.
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