Naomi Millner: Collaborations in the Maya Forest
On study leave in late 2016 Naomi Millner returned to the Maya Biosphere Reserve in the Petén region of Guatemala, to finish a collaboration begun with the support of an ESRC IAA secondment. The broader project has brought together scientists and social scientists from a range of disciplines, together with international, national and non-governmental forestry organisations, to investigate community managed forestry. The team have focused on two regions (the Petén in Guatemala, and the North Caribbean Coast Autonomous Region (RAACN) in Nicaragua) where communities have been harvesting timber (especially mahogany) and non-timber products using practices for sustainability for more than 25 years. The project team found that, in the Guatemalan case, the regulations and practices in place were supporting effective regeneration of trees and biodiversity protection, as well as enabling 20 communities to derive a livelihood that moved them above the poverty line. Naomi’s work on the project has focused on the cultural-environmental histories and organisational arrangements that have enabled this success. However, there are important issues for the future including the successional training of young people, many of whom hope to move to the city, as well incipient private interests in the publicly-owned land.
In the Nicaraguan case meanwhile, forest management plans were shown to be almost redundant due to political issues surrounding the titling of indigenous lands, illegal logging, and organisational structures. As part of her secondment, Naomi has been supporting the development of impact pathways for these results, to enable these results to be integrated into future planning in both contexts, as well as to influence policy and practice surrounding community forestry more generally. The team released a short film and eight (Spanish language) policy briefings summarising these findings in both countries in January this year, through meetings with local communities, regional organisations and national government representatives. Naomi hopes to keep working with community partners on a ‘Forest Lab’ that integrates training young people in a range of research methods with ongoing monitoring of deforestation and sustainable practices.