Costa Rica: community mapping and sustainable management of forests

Mariana Lucia Porras Rozas

Mariana assists communities in their mapping efforts and management of their forest. Photo: thanks to Conor Ashleigh

Mariana Lucia Porras Rozas or Mariana is from Costa Rica and works for COECOCEIBA. Mariana worked in several mapping projects together with the communities living in forest settlements. She has also worked with the indigenous women of  the Abrojo Montezuma for their local livelihoods. In Costa Rica, Mariana said that in the 70s and 80s the government, through the Instituto Desarollo Agrario (IDA), distributed land to  peasant families for them to farm on and  manage the land. These are lands which were acquired properties from private owners and later on provided for rural or farming settlements. These lands would belong to the peasants after a period of time.

Within these lands are also forest reserves. The communities had to carefully plan for the establishment of the farm settlements where they developed a system on how to protect and preserve wetland areas, steep slopes, the rich biodiversity within these forests and how to fortify aquifer recharge areas.

Communities, together with organizations like COECOCEIBA conducted studies on the rich biological diversity preserved in these area and documented these, including the presence of endangered species, endemic species and key species for the reproduction of wildlife.

Mariana shared that the “legal” ownership of these land areas was defined in the Forest Act 7575 which shows ownership of these lands entitled to the government. However, the due to history as territories originally belonging to peasant settlements; environmental organizations and farmers believe that these lands are “community forests or territories”.

From the mid-90s, peasant communities and organizations worked with COECOCEIBA to employ local and community traditional knowledge which would implement sustainable management strategies. These peasant communities have converted many tracts of land into forest areas and have transformed them for ecological activities.

They also set up an agenda for managing the community forests that would ensure that the forests and biodiversity within will be sustainably managed and protected. Mariana stressed that bioprospecting is controlled and indiscriminate extraction illegal.

The communities, together with groups like COECOCEIBA, started their “community mapping” where they mapped their territorial boundaries and clearly marked the forest area, worked on the restoration of tropical forest areas, built a biological inventory of flora and fauna, established information centers for the communities to understand the lay-out of the forest and the resources within.

The communities also regularly organised workshops on forest management, conducted program monitoring and control of forests, conducted diagnostic and nurturing trainings on plant and animal. In anticipation of potential visitors and tourists who would like to explore their forests, the communities also established eco-tourism programs in order to protect the forests from  tourists who visit the area. The peasant community believes that there are several sustainable approaches in  managing the community forests and they work together with groups like COECOCEIBA in implementing these, such as establishing and protecting areas as national parks and ensuring that the protected/reserve areas are integrated into the indigenous and rural economy.
Currently, the communities together with COECOCEIBA are working together to make the right to land as a legal right or passed into law so that the next government which comes into power will not be able to take the land back.