Saving threatened habitats worldwide

Natural remedies from the Laguna Grande forest

8 April, 2013 - 16:48 -- Bethan John
Photograph of Marco Cereza (left) and Ricardo Coc Caal (right)
FUNDAECO logo

Bethan John meets one ranger whose knowledge of medicinal plants is helping some of the poorest people in Guatemala.

Our boat pulls-up to a wooden-planked trail that hugs the creek’s waterway, leading us through the mangroves into the Laguna Grande forest where the roars of Howler Monkeys vibrate across distant trees.

Between 2009 and 2012, World Land Trust (WLT) raised enough funds to help create the Laguna Grande-Sarstún Reserve, 1,668 acres (675 hectares) of lowland and flooded tropical rainforest and home to five cat species, including the jaguar. The reserve is managed by WLT’s conservation partner in Guatemala, FUNDAECO.

WLT ensures the on-going protection of the reserve by supporting ranger Ricardo Coc Caal, through the Trust’s Keepers of the Wild programme. Ricardo is responsible for safeguarding the reserve from illegal hunting and logging.

Ricardo also works with local people to improve their standard of living – from teaching them how to read and write, to working as a rural health promoter.

Medicinal plants from the forest 

Isolated communities within the reserve have little access to modern medicine. It’s a 40 minute boat ride to the nearest small hospital, while for anything more serious a patient may have to travel for at least an hour. Despite FUNDAECO running medical clinics to help tackle this problem, many people still rely on medicinal plants.

Ricardo has an extensive knowledge of the flora found in the forest and describes some of their uses. He explains: “Modern medicine is rarely used by people here; communities only sometimes have access to them when they can go into town or if they have a very serious illness. So the natural plant medicine is very important and helps communities fight many health problems.”

Working with local people

Working with local people is crucial to the long-term success of FUNDAECO’s conservation projects and the NGO is committed to improving the lives of some of the poorest people in Guatemala. This includes providing information about reproductive health to more than 10,000 women and girls, and helping people to create jobs that are in sympathy with the aims of nature conservation.

Although WLT’s primary focus is on funding land purchase for conservation, the Trust recognises the importance of balancing the needs of local people with the needs of conservation. All the Trust’s partners across the world run social projects for people living in and around protected areas, and it is inspiring to witness a successful conservation programme in Guatemala that is so clearly of benefit to the local community.

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