Executive Director of Friends for Conservation and Development, Rafael Manzanero. © Jason Houston
In 2006, Friends for Conservation and Development (FCD) in Belize consisted of a handful of volunteers implementing a few isolated environmental activities like tree planting and clean-up campaigns. But when the organization applied for CEPF funding to improve management of the Chiquibul-Maya Mountains in the Mesoamerica biodiversity hotspot, Grant Director Michele Zador saw potential.
FCD received a CEPF grant for US$439,000 and today, some 10 years later, the organization employs more than 30 local people and is a major influencer in the western part of Belize.
“At the time, Chiquibul was a high priority KBA [Key Biodiversity Area] for CEPF—it was under a lot of pressure from migrants coming in,” Zador said. “FCD showed a lot of promise. They were highly respected in the region, showed a lot of enthusiasm and were clearly committed.”
“It’s amazing to see how that CEPF funding in those early years has been transformative not only for FCD and for the KBA, but arguably for the country,” Zador said. “FCD has served as a model, demonstrating how civil society organizations can be in the vanguard to conserve the biodiversity of a site while, at the same time, helping the communities that live and depend on that ecosystem.”
The Chiquibul Mountains in Belize. 2015 © Tony Rath Photography / TonyRath.com
To learn more about the organization’s journey, we spoke with FCD Executive Director Rafael Manzanero. Question: Why was CEPF funding critical to your organization?
Answer: In reality, FCD would not have become a vibrant organization without the confidence given by an international organization such as CEPF. We had been a group of volunteers since 1989 and had not taken the step forward to more formally organize ourselves. Due to the CEPF KBA project, we were there at the right time to undertake the management of an ecosystem.
Q: What did your CEPF-funded project aim to do? Was it successful?
A: The CEPF-funded program sought to institute a management portfolio in the core areas of the Chiquibul-Maya Mountains, namely in the Chiquibul National Park and the Bladen Nature Reserve. Despite challenges, it was successful in all facets of the program—on-the-ground management was established and continues to this day; public awareness and local support was generated; national and international partnerships were created and expanded; and co-financing was generated beyond expectation.
FCD has been working to protect biodiversity in Belize for more than 10 years. © FCDQ: Beyond the specifics of the project, how did working with CEPF help your organization?
A: The CEPF project was the first major investment in the Chiquibul-Maya Mountains KBA. Beyond the outputs, CEPF challenged us to do things that had never been done before. FCD was at a critical point in its existence. The FCD name tended to disappear in a whisper. If we had not been placed at that time at the helm of the project, I believe that FCD would still be relegated to being a name alone. In a way CEPF gave breath to FCD at a time when it was destined to die out.
Q: It’s been about 10 years since your CEPF grant. How is FCD doing now?
A: FCD has built on each and every component of the CEPF initial program. Today, we are the only nongovernmental organization with an assertive management presence in the Chiquibul Forest, working closely with the Forest Department and national security agencies with the aim of protecting the biodiversity of the park. Our zone of influence in terms of biodiversity conservation is in over 480,000 acres of tropical forest or 8 percent of the terrestrial mass of Belize. But there is more to do. Our recent strategic plan calls for us to pioneer adaptive management of the Chiquibul Forest so that we can help improve the ecological and cultural integrity of the western Chiquibul-Maya Mountains block.
Q: Anything else you’d like to add?
A: CEPF came as a gift to us. We have cherished it for the species that cannot talk—we believe that they have a more stable environment and home due to the support granted in 2006. It is a huge responsibility that we embrace wholly and we are grateful for the opportunity. For the people of Belize, they have come closer to understanding the true value they hold in their hands. We thank Michele and all others who trusted in us. The conservation effort continues.