The Chico Mendes Reforestation Project works with the local Indigenous people of Cantel, Guatemala to bring environmental health and justice back to the community. Since 2017, the Onaway Trust has been supporting this project to plant over 15,000 native trees a year, bringing countless benefits to biodiversity and the local population.
Established in 1998, the Chico Mendes Reforestation Project is a non-profit organisation working for the conservation and preservation of forests in Guatemala. The organisation is based in the village of Pachaj in the municipality of Cantel, just outside of the city of Quetzaltenango in the central highlands of Guatemala. The region is home to the K’iche’ people, an Indigenous Maya community whose name appropriately translates as ‘many trees’.
The organisation has an established tree nursery which produces thousands of native tree saplings annually, grown from seed sustainably sourced from the local mature forests under a seed harvesting programme. Trees grown at the nursery are planted in the community areas and common land of the municipality, along water sources and in the local forest reserve to encourage regeneration of degraded areas.
Run by local Indigenous people, the project works with school children aged 12 to 16 years old to run an environmental education programme and also accepts international eco-tourist volunteers who work in the nursery and carry out in-field tree planting activities. Trees from the nursery are also donated to local schools and families, churches, water committees, people with private forests, and to local forest reserves.
Through the planting of tree species endemic to the area, the project not only strives to counteract environmental degradation, protect forests from further exploitation and improve biodiversity, but to empower the next generation of Indigenous Guatemalans to take back control of their land. In this way, they can continue the mission of the organisation’s namesake, Chico Mendes, the Brazilian environmental activist who was murdered while peacefully defending the Amazon rainforest and the Indigenous peoples who live there.
The WWF reports that Guatemala is among the top ‘at risk’ nations to the effects of climate change globally, and reforestation provides a practical and low-tech approach to the mitigation of regional anthropogenic effects and global climatic change. Thanks to the continued support of the Onaway Trust, the Chico Mendes Reforestation Project can work towards a more positive future for the native forests of the Guatemalan highlands, the flora and fauna which inhabit them, and the local people who depend on them.
“With each tree planted, soil bag filled, and weed cleared, we sow the seeds of environmental justice in Guatemalan indigenous communities.”