by Milagro Espinosa
Foresters, farmers, and tourism business owners are getting a boost in Nicaragua through training in best management practices, certification, and market linkages from the Rainforest Alliance.
The Nicaragua Forestry, Agriculture and Tourism Alliance, a three-year project, funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development, will work with privately-owned businesses within the country and abroad to strengthen their competitiveness and sustainability while conserving biodiversity through best management and certification practices. Certification is rapidly gaining ground as a marketing tool, because it ensures that products meet strict guidelines to protect the environment as well as the rights and welfare of workers and local communities. Certification also provides small and medium-sized businesses with better access to international markets.
According to project director Jaime Guillén, the project plans to increase certification from 190,267 acres (77,000 ha) to 437,367 acres (177,000 ha), benefiting 12,000 workers and improving market opportunities for more than 300 businesses in Nicaragua. “We hope to provide communities, particularly in rural areas, with more investment, income, and sources of employment as they continue to conserve their natural and cultural resources,” Guillen explains.
The forester notes that one of the project’s greatest challenges is a logging ban in Nicaragua that has been in effect since June of 2006. The ban limits logging within a 9.3 mile (15 km) stretch along the country’s borders and a 6.2 mile (10 km) perimeter around protected areas. Most affected by the ban have been the indigenous communities that relied on the forestlands for income and had been making progress to obtain certification from the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), a global leader in establishing standards for responsible forest management. FSC certification is granted to forest operations that meet strict criteria for biodiversity conservation, appropriate land use, workers’ rights, and international forestry laws and treaties. The Rainforest Alliance is the world’s leading forestry certifier under FSC, having certified more than 110 million acres (44.5 million hectares) in 58 countries.
“Until now, our strategy has been to focus on lesser-known species that are not listed on the ban,” Guillén notes. He acknowledges, however, that a change in the ban would mean more opportunities for the project, and new and better commercial opportunities for the Nicaraguan forestry producers. The Rainforest Alliance plans to launch a communications and education campaign about sustainable forestry and how it can improve livelihoods in communities, the forestry industry’s social and environmental responsibilities, and how forestry certification works.
Meanwhile, the Rainforest Alliance’s forestry experts continue to help the indigenous communities along Nicaragua’s Caribbean coast to develop new wood products, particularly from species that have not been traditionally exploited, such as crabwood (Carapa guianensis), tamarind (Dialium guianense), anani (Symphonia globulifera), almendro (Terminalia amazonia), Brazil beauty-leaf (Calophyllum brasiliense) and sapodilla (Manilkara achras). At the same time, local woodsmen are attending classes in administration, accounting, wood processing skills, low-impact harvesting, forestry inventories, implementation of annual operating plans, and road planning.
The future also looks promising for Nicaragua’s agricultural businesses, according to Paulina Zeledón, project coordinator of the Nicaragua Forestry, Agriculture and Tourism Alliance. Members of the Sustainable Agriculture Network, a coalition of non-profit conservation groups, have certified 600,000 acres (240,000 hectares) of land on some 10,000 farms, which can be used as models to train farmers. Farms owners sell their certified beans, often at a premium price, to such international companies as Kraft, Procter & Gamble, Lavazza and Nescafé.
Project staff will also visit cacao farms and cooperatives to assess their needs to improve production and meet the Sustainable Agriculture Network’s exacting standards. Once the seal of approval has been awarded, farmers will benefit from efforts to promote and widely market Rainforest Alliance Certified coffee and cacao through increased access to international markets, retailers, roasters, and import and export businesses. They will also profit from improved transparency and accountability.
Zeledón explains that farmers will receive the tools, training, and other support necessary to grow their crops sustainably, with minimum impact on the environment. “We also work with farm owners and workers to explain how biodiversity conservation can benefit them, their children, neighbors, and their land.”
Sustainability is not only limited to cacao, coffee, and lumber. In recent years, Nicaragua has become an international tourism destination, with visitation increasing from 472,000 tourists in 2002 to 773,000 in 2006, according to figures provided by the General Secretariat of the Central American Integration System. “The early stage of tourism in this beautiful country is the best time to make plans for the future.” remarks Salvador Rodríguez, Rainforest Alliance coordinator for sustainable tourism in Nicaragua.
The Rainforest Alliance has already begun to identify hotels and tourism companies that may be accepted into its “Best Practices and Certification Program.” Training sessions are offered to entrepreneurs who are interested in learning how to adopt best practices in their own businesses, thus helping to build a sustainable tourism industry in the country.
As more tourism businesses commit to sustainability, the Rainforest Alliance will contact tour operators nationally and internationally to generate business opportunities and commercial partnerships. The conservation group will also promote Nicaragua as a sustainable destination at international tourism events and fairs.
The possibility of combining activities from different sectors has proven to be one of the most original ideas of the project. Guillén applauds the fact that entrepreneurs in Nicaragua are being creative by combining tourism with more traditional livelihoods. For example, a coffee farm may feature a cozy bed-and-breakfast or a community forestry business may also sell crafts carved from certified wood.