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Cattle ranching raises concerns

Cattle ranching raises concerns
February 15
21:52 2019 NEWSPAPER- News Staff - 

The Ya’axche Conservation Trust is calling on the government, particularly the Lands Department, to address a reported land grab situation by squatters conducting illegal cattle ranching in a de-reserved area outside the Maya Mountain North Forest Reserve in Toledo.

According to Ya’axche Conservation Trust Executive Director, Christina Garcia, in 2015 the government de-reserved 2,310 acres of land in the area with the intention of dividing the lots and distributing land to residents in neighboring communities. Since then, however, that process has not taken place and squatters have moved in and cleared some 50 acres for themselves to conduct farming and cattle ranching.

Toledo District, Belize

Garcia says the matter is urgent because the activities in the de-reserved area, which includes cattle and milpa farming, have started affecting communities outside of the area and projects within the 33,000-acre reserve. These ranchers often use chemicals not approved by the Belize Agricultural Health Authority (BAHA), which is harmful to the agroforestry concession in the area that sees a number of cacao farmers growing plants organically.

The de-reservation is adjacent to the agroforestry concession which is managed by Ya’axche and the Trio Farmers Cacao Growers Association. The agroforestry concession agreement was approved in 2015 by the Forest Department and since then the Association, comprised of 31 farmers and their families, have used smart agriculture practices such as inga alley cropping and cacao agroforestry to enhance their livelihoods within the 936 acre concession. Up to date they have planted 270 acres of organic cacao and are currently in full production mode. They are not allowed to use chemicals or pesticides within the area.

According to Garcia, chemicals have been drifting into the concession area. She says cattle and sheep often wander into the concession area and trample on crops. The cacao farmers have even lost around 2 acres worth of cacao crops because of fire which spread from the de-reservation because of unauthorized slash and burn practices utilized by the cattle ranchers.

She said there is also a threat of contamination and sedimentation of the Trio river, which stands to affect the nearly 3,000 local inhabitants that use the river. The situation has gotten so bad, Garcia says, that some farmers have even built make-shift fences well into the river.

Garcia says Ya’axche has tried for the last three years to have the matter addressed, however, it seems the situation is not top priority for the Lands Department to deal with. Ya’axche is urging the government to review the matter and decide officially what will become of the de-reserved area. Garcia says Ya’axche also believes there needs to be a buffer area between the de-reservation and the concession area.

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