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3 Tendencies during the last few years and the current situation of the forest sector

3.1 Importance of the forest sector at the economic, environmental and social levels

Belize has a forest cover of approximately 79 percent (CSO, 2000); the broadleaf forest is around 70 percent while the pine forest is 2.98 percent (see Table 5). The remaining 5.59 percent is made up of bamboo, shrubs, mangroves and palms.

Under the direction of the National Protected Areas System plan for Belize (1995), an extremely significant effort has been made, conscientiously and deliberately, to put at least a portion of each of the main forest ecosystems into the system of protected areas, considering the conservation of biodiversity vis-à-vis the conventional management of the timber resource and that of watersheds, even though these continue to be important considerations. The goal is to put at least 10 percent of each forest ecosystem under some type of protection. Even though this goal has not been achieved for all types of vegetation, there is currently a good level of representation under protection status of the different areas that, in many cases, exceeds the requirement of the programme.

Table 5 Forest cover in hectares, 1994

Forest class

Area (ha)

% of total coverage

Broadleaf forest

1 419 000


Open broadleaf forest

12 031


Pine forest

57 625


Open pine forest

7 307


Thicket and other degenerate broadleaf forest

84 838


Herbaceous and scrub

18 859


Bamboo and riparian vegetation

11 527


Coastal strand vegetation

2 483


Mangrove, medium and tall

7 820


Mangrove, dwarf

23 460


Saline swamp, palmetto and mangrove

34 487



41 963



1 721 400


Source: Land Information Centre, 1994, in NBSAP, 1997.

With timber resources exhausted in national land, there has been a change in the silvicultural practices of concessions in private and public land to the forest reserves that represent the last remaining timber stocks, according to the last national inventory. Studies in the past showed that only about 14 percent of forested land are suitable for timber production; of these, 4.4 percent are within national land and the remaining 9.6 percent are in protected areas and private land. This classification of land suitable for the development of productive forest activities is not reflected in Belize’s forest policy.

Figure 2 Types of permits given for timber exploitation in 1998 and 1999

3.1.1 Non-timber forest products (NTFPs)

Non-timber forest products require special attention since they also have a great potential use as a sustainable resource. Examples are latex extraction for chicle (Manilkara zapote, fam. Sapotaceae) and the use of medicinal plants. Other NTFPs are honey, raw materials for handicrafts, xate palm leaves (Chamaedorea spp.), houseplants, spices, oils, pharmaceuticals, forest tree seeds for nursery propagation, orchid plants, posts for construction and wild fruits.

Currently, species such as the xate palm, found in protected areas of Belize, are being harvested illegally by people coming from Petén, in Guatemala. The harvesting and export of xate palm leaves represent an industry of approximately US$30 million in the region. The Belize Forest Department is just beginning to consider applications from Belizeans to harvest the palm, whose leaves are used for floral arrangements in the United States and Europe. Another species that requires attention is the thatch palm (Sabal mauritiformis), traditionally used for roofing in rural housing and now in much demand in the tourism industry.

3.1.2 The National Protected Areas System (NPAS)

Although the declaration of forest reserves has been part of management and modernization in developing the forest industry, conservation in Belize dates back to 1920. Five of the existing forest reserves (Freshwater Creek, Sibun, Silk Grass, Vaca and Columbia River) were created in 1930 (BELIZE’S INTERIM FIRST NATIONAL REPORT, 1998). The most recently declared reserve was Terra Nova, in 1994. Today approximately 50 percent of state forests are considered protected (Castañeda, 1996).

Belize is the country in the region with the highest proportion of its territory under biodiversity conservation actions. It should be stressed that Belize gives importance to both the conservation of its marine resources and also to the growing interest in conserving its cultural patrimony (García, 1996).

NPAS in Belize covers approximately 1 033 220.96 ha, representing about 45.3 percent of the national territory. However, only 38.3 percent (874 568 ha) correspond to forest reserves; the remaining 7 percent are marine reserves.

The administration of NPAS is under the responsibility of the Forest Department within the Ministry of Natural Resources; this Ministry is under the portfolio of the Deputy Prime Minister. There are two other agencies that can also declare and administer protected areas – the Fisheries Department and the Institute of Archaeology (Manzanero, 1997).

Within the remit of the Forest Department, NPAS can declare protected areas when and where it is considered opportune. Moreover, as its mission, it can preserve and protect the principal natural and cultural resources of the country through mechanisms that permit the involvement of the inhabitants who benefit through their participation, by using the natural resources appropriately.

Recognizing the importance of the protected areas, the Ministry of Natural Resources appointed a Task Force in October 2003 to develop a policy and plan for Belize’s protected areas system. Subsequently the Cabinet endorsed this initiative, which comprises five components. The first is close to completion. This component seeks the formulation of a comprehensive protected areas policy, through which a qualitative foundation of the planning process is to be established. It is expected that a draft policy, which will set out guiding principles and criteria for the protected areas system, will be submitted in November 2004 to the Ministry of Natural Resources and at a second stage to the Cabinet for its revision and endorsement.

The second component of this planning initiative is currently under way. It seeks to assess the present status of the protected areas system and to evaluate opportunities as to how it can be recharacterized with reference to its vastness, representativeness, adequacy, balance and coherency. This component will determine whether the existing protected areas provide sufficient habitats for protected species and whether there are ecosystems not adequately represented or taken into consideration by the existing protected areas.

The third component will address the management procedures and sustainable use of protected areas to assess and evaluate the current administration and management procedures employed by the various protected area managers and impacting agencies. It will examine their ability to achieve fully through additional procedures and adapted legislation.

Perhaps most important, the planning initiative will attempt to identify and quantify in economic terms the benefits derived from protected areas. It is theorized that the small contribution of the forestry sector (and by extension, protected areas) to economic growth may be the result of a lack of general understanding of the range of goods, benefits and services that are derived from forest resources.

The fifth component will seek to develop guidelines to improve the management structure of the protected areas system in terms of coordination, efficiency and effectiveness, with a comprehensive set of monitoring procedures in place.

3.1.3 Climate change projects in the sector, in land use and silviculture

Belize has potentially at least 600 000 tonnes of carbon that could be traded on the international carbon market, based on the availability of 182 478 ha of land suitable for developing forest projects that would qualify under the Clean Development Mechanism of the Kyoto Protocol.

The country has made various climate change proposals in the past, but only one qualified under the land use and forestry sector, while another one is currently being planned. These projects are the following.

• The Rio Bravo Carbon Sequestration Project. The Rio Bravo Conservation and Management Area (RBCMA), owned and managed by the non-governmental organization (NGO) programme for Belize, developed one of the first projects of joint implementation. The project started in 1995 and was supported and funded by five power companies of the United States. The contract specified that the NGO would be financed to measure the effect of silvicultural interventions on carbon sequestration and to carry out a fire prevention programme. The project also bought 23 935 ha of forested land that were threatened by deforestation.

• Project for the Reforestation of Mountain Pine Ridge. This is an initiative to reforest the areas of the Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Reserve that were devastated by the southern pine beetle (Dendroctonus spp.). The project is in its preliminary phase, but the objective is to get the carbon credits to fund the reforestation, based on the premise that natural regeneration would be impossible because of the lack of seed plants.

3.2 Tendencies in recent years

3.2.1 Use of the resource

At the end of the 1980s and the beginning of the 1990s, with the arrival of new technologies on the market and the implementation in the country of land use planning principles, it was concluded that even with 79 percent of forest cover, only 73.4 percent of this coverage could be considered as forested and, of this, only 14 percent suitable for sustainable timber production. The rest of the coverage was to be managed more for the conservation of biodiversity and for the production of environmental services.

Notwithstanding these advances, to date there is no forest inventory to guide managers on the availability of forest land in the country. According to the Forest Department, forest inventories are currently required in order to register yearly the blocks of forests given as concessions. There are indications that the harvests of mahogany and pine far exceed the annual allowable cut. This means that there is a high percentage of illegal logging that needs to be evaluated. It should also be noted that the current system of licences and the types of licences and permits have contributed to the unsustainable use of the timber resource. Plantations

The existence of such high forest coverage may be the reason for the little interest shown in developing forest plantations.

To date, it appears that there are about 3 000 ha of plantations in the whole country, which include some pine research plots of the government in Punta Gorda and some small private mahogany plantations. The Forest Department is currently analysing the viability of conditioning the granting of forest licences with an obligation to carry out enrichment planting. Requirements and incentives would need to be put in place. Forest licences

During the colonial era, the British granted very large forest concessions that in general were bordered by rivers and were three miles (4.8 km) in length. The forest was thus managed sustainably and permitted economies of scale. Over the years, the size of the concessions has been considerably reduced, some being granted more on the basis of political ties than on technical criteria, resulting in a lack of integration between forest and industry, since the area is not considered sufficient to supply the needs of the industry in a permanent and sustained manner.

Traditional industrialists, who respect the regulations that govern concessions, are concerned about the way concessions are being assigned, since their industrial capacities are being limited. These industrialists are being obliged to obtain their raw material from third parties who do not always respect the laws. This has obliged the Forest Department to review the current regulations and laws on how licences are being assigned. At the same time, timber harvest moratoria are being considered for certain regions where it is known that no viable timber stands exist. The forest reserves are being considered only for long-term forest management operations.

3.2.2 Industry

There are 45 sawmills in Belize with an established annual capacity of 200 000 m3.

Figure 3 Main lumber industries and their production

The industry works at 50 percent of the existing capacity; data from 1999 indicate that three sawmills processed 18 percent approximately (one with 9 000 m3 per year and the other two with 4 000 m3 each per year). Another ten sawmills worked at 30 percent of the capacity, with an installed capacity of 3 000 m3 per year; and the remaining 52 percent are concentrated in 32 sawmills that have an installed capacity ranging from 500 to 2 000 m3 yearly.

According to the statistics of the Forest Department, the national forest industry processed 60 145 m3 in 1999, of which only 39 percent came from legal forest concessions given to the industry.

Table 6 Production of the main species in m3


Total national production

Sustainable production










    Barba Jolote





    Billy Webb













    Black Cabbage

1 268.5






    Buffet Tree









1 013.8









1 128.2















    John Crow Bead





6 588.0

4 078.8



    Male Bullhoof

1 064.0




    Monkey Apple





1 577.6





1 552.7





25 278.4

24 215.1

7 465.1

10 108.9

    Red Silion








    Santa María

6 910.5

4 655.6
















    White Breadnut





5 044.2

5 570.0




56 452.7

46 687.0

10 429.9

20 057.1

    Other species

4 117.2

2 046.6




60 570.0

48 733.7

10 560.3

11 411.1

With regard to the high percentage of processed pine, it is worth analysing whether this is a consequence of the fact that the high raw material offer was available to the industries as a result of the damage caused by the southern pine beetles.

As for mahogany, of the total m3 processed, 86 percent was exported, while the remaining 14 percent was processed in the country for furniture shops elsewhere. This has provoked strong criticism by woodworkers, who would back a policy to ensure that this lumber be processed within and for Belize, thereby improving the processing output of the national industry.

Figure 4 Production by species

3.2.3 Protected areas

When Belize achieved independence in 1981, the National Parks System Act and the Wildlife Protection Act were enacted. Within this legal framework, the first protected area was established in 1982 in independent Belize: Half Moon Caye Natural Monument.

By June 2000, the system had more than 60 protected areas, including public and private reserves (PROARCA, 2004). This total has grown with the addition of various small protected areas. Others are being promoted for their inclusion in the National Protected Areas System. Of the 60 reserves in the system, 57 have statutory declaration status and only three are private reserves, of which only the Rio Bravo Conservation and Management Area has been legally established. The protected areas have different designations: forest reserves, national parks, nature reserves, wildlife sanctuaries, national monuments, archaeological reserves, private reserves and marine reserves. These designations indicate the type of activities that can be carried out in the respective protected areas. The area for these various categories of protection is detailed in Table 7.

Table 7 Area by category of the National Protected Areas System


Ha (legal)

Ha (GIS)1

Forest reserves

407 326.63

411 078.75

Private reserves

113 090.55

107 648.73

Crown reserves

Nature reserves

45 237.23

44 399.43

Natural monuments

6 297.03

6 301.09

Wildlife sanctuaries

150 079.33

150 079.33

National parks

152 538.13

159 972.77

Marine reserves

158 652.08

158 652.08


1 033 220.96

1 038 132.18

1 Geographic information system.

3.3 Conclusions on the tendencies and current situation of the forest sector

Fourteen percent of Belize’s forests can be dedicated to sustainable forest production.

The National Protected Areas System has enabled a more advantageous policy, backed by the state, that has resulted in 45.3 percent of the national territory under protection, including marine reserves. Protected areas under forest cover represent 38.3 percent of the national territory, but with proper land use planning techniques the area would increase to 40 percent and the total to 47 percent of the national territory.

Potential land suitable for the development of forest projects within the Clean Development Mechanism of the Kyoto Protocol is significant and could constitute an important funding mechanism to support reforestation.

Unfortunately, investors in the forest sector do not have clear guidelines on how to continue investing in the sector, especially since there is no security with respect to the supply of raw material in a continuous and sustainable manner.

The installed capacity of the forest industry is 200 000 m3 annually. Currently the industry is operating at 50 percent of its capacity, which causes one to think that a higher demand for lumber, as a result of a growing population, will not require new installations to process the primary raw material. In the case of secondary processing, should additional investment be required, it should be used particularly for drying equipment, equipment for furniture manufacture and similar.

Pine, even when it covers only 3 percent of the national territory, compared to 70.4 percent of broadleaf forest, supplies 50 percent of the lumber currently consumed by industry.

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