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The Trifinio area
Protecting the cloud forest
Proposed strategy for dealing with the challenge
Institutional structure for executing the program
Progress achieved by the program
The challenge for today and tomorrow



Biosphere Reserve La Fraternidad

In the Montecristo Massif, the territories of El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras come together at a point called Trifinio. Around this point is an ecological zone consisting of some 12,000 hectares of cloud forest, one of the largest of its kind in Central America. The area is virgin forest and harbors many endemic species of flora and fauna considered in danger of extinction. The Massif also contains mixed forest formations of pine, oak, liquidambar, tropical dry forest, and subtropical humid forest.

The pressure of the local population on these natural areas has caused degradation of the prevailing ecosystems. This situation calls for action to conserve natural resources on the one hand and, on the other, to offer the inhabitants other opportunities to earn a living for their families without having to resort, as the only chance for survival, to extracting increasingly scarce forest resources.

To deal with the problem, in 1986, the governments of El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras concluded a technical cooperation agreement known as the Trifinio Plan with the General Secretariat of the Organization of American States (GS/OAS) and the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA). It provided financing by the five signatories and by the European Economic Community (EEC). The unique characteristics of the Plan area led the authorities of the three countries to protect part of it by establishing in 1987 the La Fraternidad Biosphere Reserve, comprising the Montecristo cloud forest (the Reserves' nucleus) and a surrounding buffer zone suitable primarily for forestry. As soon as the Plan was presented, in 1988, the countries began the dissemination and negotiation processes essential to its implementation. Through successive documents of understanding among the parties, the agreement has been extended to the present.

The Trifinio Plan consisted of a socioeconomic assessment and a strategy for regional development, based on a set of 29 trinational development projects and numerous national projects presented at the profile level. Among the elements shaping the strategy is the need for actions in the energy sector. This sector is closely related to environmental deterioration because of deforestation caused by the heavy demand for fuel wood. It was therefore considered necessary to promote activities to increase the energy supply through reforestation and to reduce household energy consumption with better-designed stoves that would use less firewood.

The Government of Finland expressed an interest in supporting this idea and agreed to contribute US$ 1 million through the Finnish International Development Agency (FINNIDA) to execute a Program for Energy Conservation and Environmental Protection (PREPA). The governments of the countries participating in the Trifinio Plan endorsed this Program, and if was decided that the GS/OAS, through its Department of Regional Development and Environment (DRDE) would be the executing agency. On December 5, 1991, an agreement to this effect between the GS/OAS and the Government of Finland was signed at OAS headquarters.

Transport of firewood

The Trifinio area

The region selected by El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras for the Trifinio Plan consists of about 7,400 km2, of which about 85% is equally divided between Guatemala and Honduras and the remaining 15% belongs to El Salvador. The area is predominantly rural; more than half of its estimated 572,000 people cannot read or write. Although 80% of the area has forestry potential only 18% is wooded. It contains the sources of the Lempa river, which is shared by the three countries. It is mainly semiarid, 75% of it on slopes exceeding 25%. The average annual precipitation ranges from 500 mm to 1,600 mm, the average temperature from 15°C to 25°C and the evapotranspiration from 900 mm to 1.600 mm. The annual consumption of firewood in the region is estimated at 700,000 m3, equivalent to the deforestation of 5,000 ha a year.

Protecting the cloud forest

The general objective of PREPA is to strengthen the local institutional capacity to rationalize energy supply and consumption, thus helping to solve the problems of demand for firewood, the management of renewable natural resources, and environmental preservation in the Trifinio area. Its specific objectives are the following:

- To establish at least one demonstration unit in each country to promote energy rationalization through integrated development of three components: environmental education, reforestation, and the installation of improved stoves.

- To reforest with "energy forests" about 1,000 ha in selected areas, distributed proportionately among the demonstration units of the three countries.

- To introduce approximately 3,700 improved stoves.

- To identify and take advantage of the community organization system in the area to provide appropriate technical assistance to the beneficiaries of the Program.

- To establish in each demonstration unit the basic infrastructure for giving courses on subjects such as manufacture of improved stoves, community training, environmental education, and agroforestry practices.

- To prepare two preinvestment studies: 1) an analysis of the feasibility of growing fruit trees in the demonstration units, and 2) an analysis of the feasibility of extending rural electrification in the Trifinio region.

Proposed strategy for dealing with the challenge

The strategy of the Program is to incorporate community and producers organizations into a program of action based on demonstration units that can serve as models for a process of technology dissemination. The inclusion of these groups will make it easier to teach beneficiaries the techniques of reforestation and the manufacture and use of improved energy-efficient stoves. In a multiplier effect, the beneficiaries, in turn, can then pass on what they have learned to neighboring communities, contributing to natural resources management and environmental conservation in the Trifinio area.

The ties among the beneficiaries created by the Program facilitate the dissemination of methodologies and results and promote cooperation.

Finally, the Program seeks to establish mechanisms for technology transfers to other projects in the same field in the three countries.

By agreement among the three countries, FINNIDA, and the GS/OAS, the Program covers only the areas surrounding the towns of Chiquimula and Esquipulas in Guatemala, Nueva Ocotepeque in Honduras, and Metapán and La Palma in El Salvador.

Training in establishment of nurseries

The actions called for under the Program include the following:

- The selection of action areas for the demonstration units in the three countries, in consultation with organizations operating in the region and with community leaders.

- The establishment of nurseries to grow plants of the species selected for each demonstration unit.

- The preparation and establishment of plantations in the selected areas.

- The development of an environmental education program to accompany the reforestation work and, at the same time, promotion of the use of energy-efficient stoves. Over time, it is expected that the producers own organizations will provide the technical assistance, with more sporadic support from the specialized institutions.

- The construction and equipping of a community center in each country, with the participation of the beneficiaries, to conduct training community development and environmental education, among other things.

- The preparation of preinvestment studies on the adaptation of fruit trees in the selected areas and on the extension of rural electrification.

Institutional structure for executing the program

The highest governmental authority supervising and coordinating activities under the Trifinio Plan is the Trinational Commission, composed of the Vice Presidents of El Salvador and Guatemala and the representative of the President of Honduras. Reporting to them is the Executive Secretariat, which coordinates the work of the government agencies concerned through offices established in each country. The GS/OAS, through the Executive Secretariat, arranges for the participation of agencies whose activities are related to those of the Program.

The GS/OAS has appointed a principal specialist based in Guatemala City and a field technical assistant stationed in Esquipulas, who directs the work of three environmental education instructors trained in agronomy and forestry, each one stationed in one of the three national areas of the Program. The participating government agencies, both central and local (departments and municipal governments), assign counterpart technical staff and provide logistic facilities. The GS/OAS principal specialist reports to the International Director of the Trifinio Plan, also an OAS official, based in Guatemala City, who coordinates the activities of the Program with other programs and projects under way or being initiated.

The Government of Finland, which chose the Department of Regional Development and Environment of the GS/OAS to execute the activities programmed, takes part in their evaluation through a representative of FINNIDA on the GS/OAS-FINNIDA Executive Committee, which meets periodically to review the progress of the work program and any adjustments that may be needed.

Progress achieved by the program

In setting up the demonstration units, the first step was to identify lands belonging to the central government, the municipalities, the producers, cooperatives and other community groups, and religious congregations whose owners, or their agents, would voluntarily participate in reforestation (nurseries and/or plantations), environmental training and education, and the manufacture of improved stoves. It was found at the outset that it would be better to establish in each country an action area comprising several smaller demonstration units thus to concentrate operations in a single large unit, the scheme that had originally been contemplated.

Before the scheduled activities began, it was decided that agreements should be concluded between the Program and the government agencies, municipalities, and nongovernmental organizations setting out the purpose and duration of the joint activities and the responsibilities to be assumed by each party. Similar agreements with the land owners on reforestation actions were also found desirable. In this case the Program contributes seeds, partial payment of wages, and other inputs required for the nurseries and plantations; necessary tools are provided on loan.

What effect has the Program had on the community, and what changes in the environmental quality have been observed?

Perhaps the most obvious change is in the attitude of many inhabitants toward the possibility of improving their standard of living by modifying their centuries-old traditions of preparing food and working the land.

With respect to community training and environmental education, facilities were at first provided by municipal authorities and the private and governmental agencies operating in the Trifinio area.

The first step was to teach the Program's technical team techniques of community development and forestry extension services, so that the training could be consistent in all three countries, both in the field and in the community centers established for the purpose. The training of local people then began, and by mid-1994 the goal of training some 140 campesino leaders in natural resources management and conservation, so that they could disseminate these techniques to others, had been reached.

Metapán. Preparing campesino leaders

Similarly, a home educator was assigned to each action area to promote the use of energy-efficient stoves, teaching housewives how to build and maintain them and how to train their neighbors. The women were also given instruction in home processing of fruit and in family nutrition.

Currently, three community buildings, constructed by the inhabitants with resources supplied by the Program, are being added to the schools and community centers made available by the agencies operating in the Trifinio area, which are inconveniently located for the Program. The first has been completed in the village of Fraternidad (Honduras), about 16 km from Nueva Ocotopeque. Others were under construction in mid-1994 near Chiquimula (Guatemala) and La Palma (El Salvador).

Metapán. Family owned nursery

In reforestation two activities are involved: nurseries and plantations, which may be small forests or annual crops mixed with trees. In establishing the nurseries the Program has used a model responsive to the needs and demands that emerged from community mobilization. Most of them are collective or communal, on public land or land contributed by private persons; some have been established by individuals or families.

An example of a collective nursery is one near Chiquimula installed by the Program on land provided by the Guatemalan Forestry Bureau, which has planted species such as Eucalyptus camaldulencis, Gliricidia sepium, Caessalpinia velutina, Casuarina equisetifolia, Leucaena leucocephala and Acacia auriculiform.

To transport the stocks to the plantations, vehicles are leased or made available by such agencies as the Guatemalan Bureau of Agricultural Services. The plantations may be said to have made reasonable progress in reaching the Program targets in all three areas of the Trifinio. For example, in the Guatemalan area, long-abandoned municipally owned lands by the side of highways and access roads are now covered with forests planted and used by the community. In addition, numerous private farms, some of which already have their own nurseries, are replanting forests for the production of firewood, fences, and other uses.

Esquipulas. Handcrafted furniture made of bamboo

The Program also developed several pilot operations, complementary to those initially planned, to break the campesinos' extraction habits and generate alternative sources of income. Since furniture from the species called "green-and-yellow" bamboo has a wide market both nationally and internationally, a bamboo nursery was promoted and a staff was trained to use and manage it up to the craft production phase. These activities made use of existing facilities on land belonging to Esquipulas Abbey, near the city of the same name, which is the geographic and spiritual center of the Trifinio region and also the center of operations for the Program. Through letters of understanding, the maintenance and management of the bamboo nursery has been transferred to the Trifinio Pilot Project (EEC - El Salvador - Guatemala - Honduras Agreement), with PREPA retaining its right of access to the stock as necessary.

Near Metapán, a network of nurseries was established on lands belonging to low-income farmers and to communities, thus giving the Program a strong social thrust. Under an agreement between the El Salvador Cement Company (CESSA) and the Program, with the cooperation of the Salvadorian Ministry of Agriculture (MAG) and the Lempa River Hydroelectric Executive Commission (CEL), agricultural extension services were provided to farmers and, in particular, to a nursery training scheme organized by the Program on land made available by the Agrarian Agency of the Agriculture Ministry. The species used in this area were teak, eucalyptus, leucaena, and madrecacao.

At the request of the Salvadorian Government, it was decided to establish another development pole for the Program near the town of La Palma, where, with the MAG, nurseries and plantations were set up in four places.

La Palma. Management of a community nursery

Finally, in the Nueva Ocotepeque area in Honduras, several community nurseries were established for the species madrecacao, cypress, and pine. Plantations were set up in various places selected to demonstrate and expand the energy rationalization and environmental protection that the Program seeks to promote.

Losses on the various plantations set up through PREPA have ranged from 8% to 15%, which is regarded as satisfactory in view of the climatic conditions in the area and the characteristics of most of the sites chosen for the plantations. Even a forest fire in the zone of Nueva Ocotepeque, which fortunately was brought under control, resulted in a minimal loss of plants thanks to the quality of the madrecacao stocks.

The participation of the inhabitants and the institutions in reforestation has exceeded all expectations.

In early 1994, a feasibility study on fruit plantations in areas where farmers are participating in the Program had been finished and an analysis of the feasibility of introducing and extending rural electrification in the Trifinio region was under way. The former contains an assessment, a strategy, an methodology for execution, a proposed timetable, an estimate of the human, physical, and financial resources required, and an evaluation of the environmental impact. In view of the findings of this study and its acceptance by the farmers, plans have been made for demonstration projects on some 140 ha, benefiting at least 600 families in the area.

Reforestation in Metapán

A point to note here is that while most of the reforestation in community plantations consists of species to be used for firewood, the family farms attach greater importance to agroforestry, that is, combining farm crops with trees that can provide both firewood and other benefits to the farmer, such as fruits. Thus, at the same time and at the request of numerous beneficiaries of the Program, these demonstration agroforestry activities are based on the introduction of fruit trees, mainly mango, avocados, and oranges. By early 1994 some 24 ha had already been planted with these species. This territory, though small, has a high value because of its multiplier effect.

When the Program activities started, there already existed in the three countries stoves that were more energy-efficient than the traditional open-hearth stoves. For example, in Guatemala, the Ministry of Energy and Mines had distributed some CETA-type stoves made of cement blocks and sand in small workshops set up for the purpose. In El Salvador, the MAG, with the help of the CEL, had promoted the LORENA-type improved stove, molded out of a mixture of mud and sand. Honduras has also used LORENA-type stoves. These stoves and others also used in the three countries were available in the Trifinio region, but at costs ranging from US$30 to US$100 a piece, a very heavy financial burden for the local population.

Improved stove, CETA-type

At first, however, with the help of the agencies mentioned, the Program distributed CETA stoves in Guatemala and Honduras and LORENA stoves in El Salvador, while at the same time studying alternatives to reduce these costs. As a result, a new, better, lower-cost stove was designed, of the right size for the space available in the houses, extremely durable and efficient, constructed of locally available materials (firebrick and a mixture of earth, sand, and molasses), and easy enough to build and maintain that the housewives can do much of the work. Dubbed the "Finland" stove, it is being promoted and installed throughout the Program area. Housewives are given training for this purpose and also are helping to train other housewives. The homeowners must contribute such elements as the base, the prepared mixture, the main stove lid, and pieces of scrap iron. The Program provides the bricks, secondary lids, the chimney, the mortar, and technical assistance. The cost is about US$15, and by the beginning of 1994 more than half of the nearly 3,700 stoves planned for installation under the Program were in use saving up to 3,600 m3 of fuel wood.

One of the greatest challenges faced by the Program was to convince people of the advantages of this type of stove compared to others. This was done by studying the efficiency of the Finland stove, which showed that it used over 30% less fuel wood than traditional stoves or hearths. This lower consumption represents an annual saving per stove of about 1.8 m3 of fuel wood, or estimated savings of about US$36, equivalent to the cost of two new stoves.

The challenge for today and tomorrow

Currently (mid-1994), efforts are being made both to reach the targets set for the Program during its lifetime and to raise the consciousness of the people living in the Trifinio region so as to lay the ground work for the post-Program period. Three specific lines of action have been opened: reforestation, reduction of demand for fuel wood, and environmental awareness. These will in turn have an impact on: soil conservation to support subsistence agriculture; enhanced capability to regulate the basins of rivers originating in the Trifinio; training of government institutions and producers' associations to assume their proper roles and responsibilities in the immediate future; and conservation of the cloud forest of the La Fraternidad Biosphere Reserve.

Some of these objectives have been partially met. For example, the people in the Taco River basin, which supplies household water to Chiquimula, decided, through their deputy mayors, that it would be best to start with the upper part of the basin. They selected the neighborhood of the remote village of La Catocha to establish two communal plantations and install some improved stoves.

In other places, such as the villages of Los Cimientos (Guatemala) and Fraternidad (Honduras) the people organized themselves into farmers' committees, to take part in theoretical and practical courses on natural resources conservation, in the establishment of nurseries and in the construction of improved stoves.

Demonstration of construction of a Finland type stove

On the Salvadorian side, the start-up of activities in La Palma was not easy, because of the suffering and distrust of the people after twelve years of internal conflicts in that country. However, the Program succeeded in identifying some leaders who facilitated the organization of a group of farmers for a successful training course of the kind described above.

To introduce the Finland stoves, the housewives in each village were organized and given practical demonstrations. This component of the Program has been enthusiastically received by the people in the area. The demand for the stove around La Palma is one of the highest in the Trifinio region, and its success helped the Program to consolidate its presence within a short time. The Program's drawing power, its ability to attract farmers and housewives to meetings where they can learn something new from the experts, became evident.

In Metapán, the work has been done with independent farmers and with the few organized groups existing in the area because of the individualistic nature of the people.

The response from the various government institutions and nongovernmental agencies operating in the Program area has exceeded even the most optimistic expectations. The Program is cooperating effectively with a variety of agencies and projects of all three countries in the Trifinio region. In addition, the Spanish Cooperation Agency, which participates in the Guatemalan National Forestry Extension Network, recently requested the Program's cooperation to transfer the technology of the Finland stove and built demonstration stoves in its operating area outside the Trifinio region. The Program has also cooperated with other agencies and projects, among them the Centavo Foundation (Guatemala), the Guatemalan Bureau of Agricultural Services (DIGESA), the World Vision Foundation (Honduras), the Comayagua Valley Development Project (Honduras), and the Central American Forestry Action Program of FINNIDA (PROCAFOR) for Guatemala, to transfer this technology to areas outside the region, in illustration of the multiplier effect of certain Program components.

Although the targets defined in the Program are modest compared to the population and size of the region, the seeds that have been sown, once the initial inertia was overcome, show that no difficulties will be encountered in gradually extending operations of this kind to cover most of the population. It is therefore recommended that external financial support be sought to consolidate what has been done through the Program and to expand its field of action.

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