There are clear indications that the Guatemalan private sector will support conservation projects, according to World Land Trust (WLT) chief executive John Burton after a successful fundraising visit to assist our partner organisation FUNDAECO in Guatemala.
The visit attracted interest from several leading companies, and WLT’s offer to match donations inspired one business to pledge a donation of US$27,000 for nature conservation in Guatemala during the next two years.
The trip was organised by Marco Cerezo, chief executive of FUNDAECO, and was designed to introduce the idea of environmental philanthropy to Guatemalan business leaders from across a range of sectors. He believed that if John could describe WLT's successful conservation work worldwide, and the Trust's ongoing partnership with FUNDAECO, to key representatives of companies in Guatemala, it would inspire offers of support.
In John's opinion, this was a ground breaking donation, and one that will lead to other similar donations. "This is the first major donation to a conservation project to be made by a private sector company to FUNDAECO, and it suggests that business leaders are willing to work with WLT and FUNDAECO on conservation projects. Private sector firms in the West know that 'going green' makes good business sense. Now at last that concept is gaining traction in Latin America."
Conservation projects in much of Latin America are almost 100 per cent reliant on external sources of funding, but with western economies in recession, funds are starting to dry up. Depending on foreign donations is not sustainable, and the irony is that Latin American economies are growing at a rate of around 4 per cent a year while Western economies are shrinking.
In Latin America the tradition of charitable giving focuses on the alleviation of poverty, and supporting environmental projects is a new departure. In some cases, private sector companies in Latin America have had a negative experience of working with conservation groups, and it was barriers such as these that John and Marco sought to address in their meetings with key business people.
"FUNDAECO is delighted by the success of John's visit to Guatemala," says Marco, "and we look forward to building on these initial meetings with key Guatemalan businesses. We are keen to persuade Guatemalan companies, both large and small, that environmental awareness makes good business sense.
"I agree with John that the almost complete dependency of conservation projects in Latin America on Western donors, although well meant, is not sustainable. Soon, I hope, conservation projects in Guatemala will be able to support themselves without relying entirely on Old World sources of funding. Guatemala has spectacular natural landscapes, rainforest and biodiversity, much of which is under threat.
"It is time for Guatemala to take ownership of the country’s extraordinary natural resources and to understand that conservation of the natural environment has a vital part to play in both strengthening the economy and improving the quality of life for the Guatemalan people.
"The idea of presenting Guatemalan corporations with a ‘challenge grant’ proposal from WLT, one that directly confronts them with the urgency and the decency of taking responsibility for conservation in their own country, is a powerful fundraising mechanism that should be replicated across Latin America."
WLT is providing ongoing support to FUNDAECO’s Laguna Grande Sarstún project by assisting in the purchase and protection of tropical forest and wetlands in an area considered to be the single largest remnant of lowland and flooded tropical rainforest in Caribbean Guatemala. With the support of WLT, FUNDAECO have secured 1,658 acres (671 ha), which is home to a wide range of species including the Manatee and the Mexican Black Howler monkey.
On his recent visit to Guatemala John presented Guatemalan Keeper of the Wild, Ricardo Coc Caal, with a camera for use in the field. Olympus have donated point-and-shoot cameras to WLT for the Keepers of the Wild programme and rangers are providing excellent photographs taken in the reserves they protect.
WLT continues to raise funds to complete the payment for this reserve and to ensure its permanent protection. You can support land purchase in Guatemala through WLT's Buy an Acre. WLT is also funding rangers for FUNDAECO through the Keepers of the Wild Appeal.
Since John's visit to Guatemala, the Mesoamerican Reef Fund (MAR Fund) has confirmed a grant of US$50,000 to FUNDAECO.
The grant will enable Marco and his team to work with the fishermen of Río Sarstún to establish no-take and fisheries-recovery zones in Laguna Grande and King Fish Reefs.
When Marco was advised of the grant, MAR Fund executive director Maria José Gonzales suggested FUNDAECO use the grant to leverage support from WLT for land acquisition.
"The idea of leverage is really working," said Marco. "Although MAR Fund is not a private sector corporation, it shows how the prospect of match funding engages and mobilizes people."