Freddy Molina is a board member of the Asociacion Coordinadora Indigena y Campesina de Agroforesteria Comunitaria Centroamericana (ACICAFOC). In English, this translates into the Coordinating Indigenous and Peasant Farmers Association on Community Agro-Forestry in Central America. ACICAFOC is a non-profit, social community-based organization from Central America, which brings together associations, cooperative societies, federations and grass roots organizations lead by small and medium agro forestry producers, indigenous peoples and farmer peasants. These groups work for the access, use and management of the natural resources, seeking food security and economic sustainability for their communities in harmony with the environment. ACICAFOC is also a founding member of the Global Caucus on Community Based Forest Management. Mr. Molina was recently at the United Nations Forum on Forests and answered some questions about his community, forests, and the UNFF.
1.Where do you live?
I live in one of the neighbouring communities of the Maya Biosphere Reserve in the District of Petén, Guatemala, C.A. This reserve is two million one hundred thousand hectares in size, and is made up of national parks, biological corridors, community concessions and industrial concessions.
2. Tell us about the community and forests where you live
My community bears the name of a tree, "El Caoba" (the mahogany tree -- Swietenia macrophylla) and nine (9) communities belong to my organization. We came together around our community forest concession, as its natural guardians, across 100 km. With regard to our forests, we used to consider them our enemy. We would deforest our lands to plant corn and beans and create pastureland for cattle. Now the forests are our allies, since the Government of Guatemala has given us a community forest concession, which provides us with a livelihood, education and health through sustainable management.
3. What does ACICAFOC do, and what is your role in the organization?
ACICACOF is a community-based process that belongs to us. It has supported us a great deal in developing local capacity, it has helped us see things differently, and has given us a new outlook through experience-sharing and by clearing the way for us at all levels where we now participate actively -- not like before, when others spoke for us to achieve projects that would supposedly benefit our communities. I am the President of this distinctly community-based Central American organization.
4. What are the main problems faced by your community and your forests?
We have begun generating jobs, improving the quality of life, training, decreasing poverty, changing attitudes, fostering respect for the forest and teamwork. But so far we have not managed to involve all of our neighbours because these are new processes. Those who have not yet benefited from these processes continue to destroy the forest, which is why we are creating comprehensive programs linked to the forest, such as non-timber resources, eco-tourism, environmental services for organic production, etc.
5. What is your national government’s approach to the rights of indigenous peoples and communities, and to forest management?
Thanks to international conventions, external pressure, the involvement of our indigenous people in the government and the peace agreements, a lot of ground has been gained. There is still a long way to go, even though indigenous peoples are receiving some recognition and racism has decreased in recent times. In relation to forests, the issue of community forest concessions in Guatemala is an outcome of the peace agreements (nearly half a million hectares in community hands).
6. Is this your first time at the UNFF? What do you think of this process? What do you think you have gotten out of this process, or what do you expect to get out of it? Are you happy you participated, and do you feel that it was a good investment of your time?
This is my second time. This process is good and can be even better. I had the opportunity to give a presentation on our experience. I think that my experience has strengthened those of us who have always believed that the best way to save our forests is to involve communities in sustainable management. I also showed that the Guatemalan experience must be taken into account.
7. What did you think of your government’s behaviour at UNFF 4? Particularly in relation to the rights of indigenous peoples and communities? And what did you think of the way the other Central American countries acted?
I returned to my country very happy, there was a good representative of the Government. We managed to coordinate our position with regard to the rights of indigenous peoples and communities. I think it is important to have a good team with a Central American influence.
8. If you had to send a message to the UNFF regarding a recommendation for “action”, what would it be? What could the UNFF do for the communities that depend on the forests of Guatemala?
I would recommend worldwide community dialog, and joining forces to achieve international support that is direct, not through middlemen. We should also always make sure that new alliances, communities and other groups have strategic plans aimed at true community empowerment; we must put a stop to making money off of the poverty and ignorance of our peoples.
For more information on ACICAFOC, see http://www.acicafoc.net/
Interviewed by Jessica Dempsey