Sustainable Alternatives




The Selva Maya has great floristic diversity that favors the production of bees. The activity is called apiculture when European and/or Africanized honeybees (Apis mellifera) are raised, and Meliponiculture when raising “native bees” or “stingless bees,” which are distributed in tropical and subtropical areas of the world. The greatest number of these species (about 300 ) are found in the Americas.
Both apiculture and meliponiculture are of great ecosystem and economic importance whenever bees, regardless of type, pollinate wild plants in the ecosystem as well as cash crops. Both activities are an important source of income for the rural sector and are environmentally friendly by contributing to the conservation of protected areas.

Ramón nut

The seed of the Ramón tree (Brosimum alicastrum), known as Ramón nut or Maya nut, is of high nutritional value. Collecting, processing and marketing this seed can generate additional income and enhance natural resource conservation. In previous years, Ramón nut Value Chain Committees were established in the Petén, Guatemala and Quintana Roo, Mexico. These committees are a forum for dialogue between producers, social organizations and government institutions linked to the seed’s use and development. As a result, target producer groups have strengthened their technical and organizational capabilities, and this has helped boost the marketing of products derived from the seed (like ramón coffee and flour) in different areas including fairs and festivals.


Chicle is a gum or latex extracted from the sapodilla tree (Manilkara sapota), one of the most abundant species in the Selva Maya. The chiclero, or chicle producer, selects appropriate trees, climbs them and makes “V”-shaped cuts to extract and collect the latex. The latex is then cooked in pots over low heat, stirring carefully to prevent boiling and spills. Once it coagulates, it is cooled and placed in wooden molds called “marquetas”, which is how it is traditionally marketed.
Chicle has played an important role in the economic development of the people living in the Selva Maya and was their income base until a few years ago. Currently its use is still important for multiple reasons. Since it is an extractive activity, forests are not deteriorated to produce it, and on the contrary, its extraction promotes environmental conservation. It generates jobs and income in the rainy season, when it is not possible to conduct other activities such as farming, beekeeping or timber extraction. Additionally, it fosters cultural roots in communities to the extent that sapodilla trees are the only trees not felled when preparing a plot for the milpa, or crop field.


Various palm species of the genus Chamaedorea are known as “xate”. These palms grow in the understory of mature primary and secondary forests in the Selva Maya (Belize, northern Guatemala and southern Mexico). Xate palms are used in floriculture. Although they are small compared to other palms, they are used in large flower arrangements as background and filling, or to complement and support other flowers and foliage. Xate is also used as an ornamental plant.
Xate has great commercial importance in Europe and the United States and is one of the more appreciated palms for ornamental use. In Guatemala, xate export is based on a high proportion of palms collected in their natural environment, and harvesting is significant in forest concessions in the Maya Biosphere Reserve Multiple Use Zone. Xate and other non-timber forest products are highly important in generating income for populations settled in this area, which is an important factor for forest conservation.


Forestry in the Selva Maya has occurred for many years. Due to a lack of regulatory mechanisms, it was often done unsustainably. However, there are institutional mechanisms capable of organizing areas rich in vegetation and reconciling the different economic interests in land use. To avoid forest devastation and make it possible for communities to produce timber without compromising natural resources, it is crucial to adopt an organizational vision capable of performing functions of planning, execution and protection, but above all that takes into consideration necessary measures to ensure the perpetuity and sustained yield of forests. This is being done in forest concessions in the Maya Biosphere Reserve Multiple Use Zone in Guatemala, some Mexican ejidos, or communal lands, and in forest reserves in Belize.
Species of potential use recognized for their wood quality include: mahogany (Swietenia macrophylla), with high market value, threatened by habitat loss; red cedar (Cedrela odorata) whose wood is resistant to termites and highly prized for its quality; tzalám (Lysiloma latisiliquum), a species used in places that have been previously burned and highly prized by carpenters and joiners; chechen (Metopium brownei), used in construction and the production of fine furniture, handicrafts and musical instruments; pucté (Bucida buceras) and granadillo (Platymiscium yucatanum), used in construction and for making fine furniture, components of boats, instruments and crafts.


Forest concessions

It is easy to talk about the sustainable use of resources, but in practice, a continuous and persistent effort is required. Fortunately, initiatives exist that confirm it is possible. After the creation of the Maya Biosphere Reserve in 1990, forest concessions for the integrated management of natural resources were promoted as the main instrument in the multiple-use reserve. The Association of Forest Communities of the Petén (ACOFOP) was created in 1995 from the need to represent the rights of community forestry organizations and strengthen partnerships. The entity is now comprised of 24 member organizations and is recognized nationally and internationally for the good management of natural and cultural resources of the Maya Biosphere Reserve.
Community forestry organizations, members of ACOFOP, use forest resources in a sustainable manner under management plans and international certification standards. Initially, the use of high-value timber species such as mahogany or cedar was the main source of income. However, many organizations have succeeded in diversifying their management, also using other timber and non-timber products, such as xate leaves, ramón seed, pepper, and chicle or latex, among others, and by developing community and ecosystem tourism services. Comprehensive forest management has been achieved through these efforts, providing income to communities while ensuring the good condition and conservation of forests.


The Ministries of Agriculture in the Petén, Guatemala and Belize are well aware of the importance of agricultural production with an ecological perspective and a firm and permanent intent exists to promote sustainable rural development models. The Adaptive Agroecological Model is a successful case in point, which promotes establishment of mixed home gardens with local species used in the local diet. A good economic alternative for local inhabitants that also benefits the environment (as compared to monoculture) is producing staple crops such as beans and corn that provide food security for families, combined with fruit and timber species that provide products for home consumption and marketing/small-scale exchange.

Silvopastoral Systems

Extensive cattle ranching around the Selva Maya has become a problem of great magnitude. Because of the belief that animals do not eat grass if there are trees in pastures, the forest has been devastated to an unprecedented degree.
The reality is the opposite: animals need shade to ruminate and thus gain weight and meet their physiological, physical and chemical needs. Agriculture ministries and secretariats in the region are working with ranchers to transform extensive livestock production to a semi-intensive system. This allows for sustainable food production in the Selva Maya Buffer Zones.



In the Petén region of Guatemala several civil society organizations and the Administration of the Yaxha-Nakum-Naranjo National Park (PNYNN) decided to undertake sustainable development through a territorial approach, covering areas ranging from the head of the Melchor de Mencos to El Naranjo, San Clemente and Ramonal II, in Flores, and the PNYNN.
The territory’s natural, cultural, social and economic capital offers potential for development through provisioning ecosystem services, sustainable tourism and sustainable production. These activities are promoted with the intention of consolidating them as drivers of development in the region.
To meet organizational needs, the Association of Organizations of the Yaxha Region (ASODESTY) was created, and provides a space for dialogue and management that brings together the efforts of organizations and the local population. One of its purposes is to facilitate the integration of production-oriented development and conservation organizations in the southern region of the PNYNN. Another is to coordinate and channel investments and governmental, non-governmental and cooperative projects interested in supporting the comprehensive and sustainable development of the Yaxha territory.