1 Cada resumen se presenta en el idioma oficial de comunicación con la FAO del país
(Each brief is presented in the official language of communication with FAO of the corresponding country)
(Chaque résumé est presenté dans la langue officielle de communication avec la FAO du pays correspondant)
Belize covers an area of 22 965 km2 along the eastern coast of central America, east of Guatemala, between latitudes 15° 33' and 18° 30' north, and longitudes 87° 28' and 89° 16' west. The maximum altitude is about 1 100 m. A low coastal plain occupies the greater portion of the northern half and eastern fringe of the country. A mountainous range, the Maya Mountains, of an average altitude between 300 and 600 m, occupies the south-western half.
The climate has a well marked dry season from February to May and a continuous wet season from June to December.
Population amounts to 160 000 habitants approximately, corresponding to a density of 7 habitants per km2. Annual growth rate if 2.80%.
1. Present situation
1.1 Natural woody vegetation
1.1.1 Description of vegetation types 1
Broadleaved forests (NHC and NHc/NHO)
• Broadleaf forests, rich in “lime-loving species”: they are part of a far more extensive forest, covering much of the Petén zone of Guatemala. The predominant tree is sapote (Achras zapote). The breadnut or ramon (Brosimum alicastrum) is dominant locally. Mahogany (Swietenia macrophylla) is also dominant locally. The number of tree species amounts to 300 to 400. The palm Crysophila argentea is well represented, as well as cohune palm (Orbignya cohune). Annual rainfall varies from 1 300–1 500 mm to 1 500–2 300 m in the north and west of the country. These forests have been almost completely exploited in the north for their mahogany and have been almost entirely destroyed by agriculture. The height varies from 15–20 m to 30–35 m.
With increasing moisture chiquebul (Achras chicle) and bullhoof (Celtis hottleyi) tend to replace sapote and ramon. Ironwood (Dialium guianensis) becomes a prominant tree on the deeper soils.
• Broadleaf forests moderately rich in “lime-loving species”: these are evergreen and semi-evergreen seasonal forests, commonly developed along the river banks. Dominant trees are generally 30–35 m high. Their canopy is very often broken and floods may periodically destroy part of the forest. The flooded areas are then usually colonized by bamboo and cane. Quamwood (Schizolobium parahybum), Orbignya cohune, cotton tree (Ceiba pentandra), bribri (Inga edulis), Ficus, santa maria (Calophyllum brasiliense), mahogany and sillon (Lucuma sp.) are among the more prominent trees. The soil is deep, well drained and very fertile, and is much in demand for “milpa” (local name for shifting cultivation). It is why there are few examples of the forest in the original virgin state.
• Broadleaf forests with occasional “lime-loving species”: these high forests (25–35 m), have a similar composition as the previous ones, but with an increased proportion of Sweetia panamensis, Acacia dolichostachya, banak (Virola koschnyi), Simaruba glauca, yemeri (Vochysia hondurensis), Vismia ferruginea and nargusta (Terminalia obovata).
• Broadleaf forests with few or no “lime-loving species”: these forests are characterised as Calophyllum brasiliense - Terminalia obovata forests. Mahogany is still present but rarely denser than one tree for 20 ha. Vochysia hondurensis, Virola brachycarpa, Vismia ferruginea, negrito (Simaruba glauca), Guarea excelsa and Aspidosperma megalocarpa are slightly less abundant than in the previous type. On the slopes of the Maya mountains the average height of the trees drops slightly from over 30 m to around 20 m and Euterpe palms and tree ferns (Alsophila sp.) become fairly common.
• Transitional broadleaf forests: these forests show distinct signs of instability; there is a more marked tendency for segregation. Height is generally lower, the canopy is more level and there are few conspicuous emergent species. The soil profile indicates that there is a steadily increasing loss of fertility through leaching. Most typical species are: hogplum (Spondias mombin), sapote, santa maria, chiquebul, nargusta, Vismia ferruginea, Virola sp., yemeri, Simaruba glauca, Acacia costaricensis, Sweetia panamensis, Crysophylla argentea, Xylopia frutescens, Dalbergia stevensonii. Miconia sp. is becoming prominent in the shrub layer. Mahogany is present in varying density. However, it can be suddenly very abundant, being favoured by a more open canopy and soils rich in quartz pebbles and hence well-drained.
• Transitional low broadleaf forest: this is a type of low forest with an irregular canopy (“broken ridge”). The height of the main canopy varies from 5 m in some places to 10 m, or seldom a bit higher; however, emergent trees may be as high as 20 m. Yemeri, Dalbergia stevensonii and Tabebuia pentaphylla are among the species of the prominent trees. Common species in the shrub layer are Rinorea spp. and Miconia sp.
• Marsh and swamp communities: marshes have a perched watertable 3–7 months of the year, while swamps have a high watertable all year round. In the north, where most of the wet land associations are marsh communities, the most prominent tree is pucte (Bucida buceras), 15–25 m high. There is also one very conspicuous type of low marsh forest, dominated by chucum (Pithecolobium albicans), 4–6 m high and with a very level canopy. The other communities have a very broken canopy. The high swamp forest is restricted to the southern part of the country. There are also palm swamps.
• Coastal formations: mangrove swamps occupy 75 000 ha with the following species: Conocarpus erecta, Laguncularia racemosa, Rhizophora mangle and Avicennia nitida, Littoral forests cover a narrow coastal strip on recent dense sands.
• Cohune palm forest is common throughout Belize. Cohune palm is an indicator plant for the farmer in search of good milpa land. Half of all subsistence crops are planted in the corresponding soils.
Coniferous forests (NS)
Shrubland with pine: they are known locally as “broken pine ridge” and consist of Pinus caribaea with Byrsonima crassifolia, Miconia sp., Xylopia frutescens, Tabebuia pentaphylla, Dicranopteris ferus, Aspidosperma megalocarpon and cutting grass. Individual pines may rise to 15–20 m, 10–15 m above the level of the main plant cover.
Pine forest and orchard savanna: these open pine forests with grass layers include also broadleaved species such as Quercus olivifolia, Q. hondurensis, Q. sapitofolia, Clusia sp., Tabebuia pentaphylla and palms.
Scrub formations (nH)
According to (1) there are about 46 000 ha of scrub formations, originating mostly through degradation of closed forests.
1 The description of the vegetation types is extracted from (1).
1.1.2 Present situation of the woody vegetation
The following table gives area estimates at end 1980 by main categories. The data are mainly based on (1) and (8), taking into account the deforestation rates (see section 2.1). It is estimated that there are no virgin forests left in the country, all having been creamed mainly for mahogany, cedar and pine.
Areas of natural woody vegetation estimated at end 1980
(in thousand ha)
|Broadleaved and Coniferous||891||891||463||1354||525|
The following table, giving ownership by broad vegetation types, is based on (8):
|Broad vegetation type||Private areas||State areas|
|Closed forest (broadleaved)||616||37.3||1034||62.7|
|Woodland and pine||13||13.7||85||86.3|
|Mangrove and swamp||141||58.4||100||41.6|
|Open areas and grassland||70||31.2||153||68.8|
Assuming that from 1976 to 1980 there has been no major change in the forest ownership, we can consider that 40% approximately is private forest and 60% is state forest.
It is interesting to note that about 60% of the mangroves and swamp is in private land, and that on the other hand more than 85% of the pine forest is state property a situation almost opposite to most of the other central american countries.
Legal status and management
The gazetted reserves cover 395 000 ha of closed broadleaved forests (NHC), 44 000 ha of woodlands and pine forests, 3 000 ha of mangroves and swamps and 41 000 ha of open areas and grasslands (8). The management consists mainly of fire protection and control of logging operations. Priority is presently given to the preparation of management plans for the following areas:
predominant pine forests
Southern Coastal Plain
During the past two centuries forest exploitation was confined almost exclusively to the extraction of mahogany and cedar for the export market. Now these two species have become more scarce and can be found only in less accessible areas, the so-called secondary hardwood species have gained in importance, particularly on the domestic market.
The following species can be used for veneer and plywood production (8): banak, barba jolote (Pithecolobium arboreum), bastard mahogany or crabwood (Carapa guianensis), bullhoof (Drypetes brownii), ceiba (Ceiba pentandra), cramantee (Guarea excelsa), female bullhoof (Celtis schippii), hogplum, mapola (Bernoullia flammea), nargusta, negrito, red gombolimbo (Bursera simaruba), roble, mayflower (Tabebuia rosea), santa maria, timbersweet (Nectandra globosa), tubroos (Enterolobium cyclocarpum), waika chewstick (Symphonia globulifera) yemeri.
Salvage logging exists for wood felled by hurricanes. The exploitable forest resources are allocated through concessions or licences. Sawnwood is in short supply on the domestic market. One of the reasons is the low price fixed by the government, which is, for sawn mahogany and cedar, about 40% lower than that obtainable on the export market. To cover local demand for these species, the government has stated that no export licence can be granted unless at least 40% of the total volume of sawn primary species to be exported is earmarked for local sale (8).
The output per hectare of exploitable pine forests is estimated at 5 m3/ha while that of broadleaved forests seems to have increased from 5 to 10 m3 during the last decade. The decreasing presence of cedar and mahogany is traded off by an increased use of secondary species.
The annual production during the last 20 years is given in the following table:
|Broadleaved and conif.||73||46||43||34||29|
The production of hardwood logs in 1980 should be about 14 000 m3 for primary species (mahogany and cedar) and 11 000 m3 for secondary species.
About 800 ha of pine forest and 2 500 ha of broadleaved forests are logged every year.
The four major areas of controlled exploitation in 1968 (Deep River, Mountain Pine Ridge and Gallon Jug) covered a total area of 1 100 000 ha approximately (3).
Fuelwood and charcoal: local demand is small. Estimated production of fuelwood and charcoal by FAO amounts to some 75 000 m3 per year (1977 FAO Yearbook of forest products).
The production of chicle obtained by bleeding sapodilla tree (Achras zapote) is declining.
1.1.3 Present situation of the growing stock
Generally speaking, the forests of Belize - whether broadleaved or coniferous - are not very dense, and consequently their growing stock is relatively low.
It is estimated that in the pine forests there is an average volume per ha of 12 m3/ha (VOB), and for the broadleaved forests 60 m3/ha (VOB). (5) mentioned for the Mountain Pine Ridge a gross volume of pine of 12.5 m3/ha (u.b.>7.5 cm dbh) and (4) for the southern coastal plain pine forest 11.5 m3/ha (u.b. > 15 cm dbh). (8) gives a compilation of inventories resulting in an average of 5 m3/ha, (“exploitable volume”). (6) indicates for the Chiquibul forest reserve (broadleaf) 23 m3/ha approximately (o.b.>50 cm dbh), with mahogany and cedar having respectively 0.1 to 0.4 and 0.2 to 0.6 m3 per ha (>70 cm dbh).
Growing stock estimated at end 1980
(totals in million m3)
|Broadleaved and coniferous||N.f1uv||N.f1uc||N.f2|
The first experimental plot was planted at Sarawee (Melinda area) in 1942. Most of this land was replanted the following year. Comparatively large scale planting (40 ha per year) followed until 1954, when the annual rate was increased to approximately 120 ha per year. The high cost of maintenance in this area eventually led to the closing down of the series in 1959.
In the open savannas a series of trials was started in 1947, and by 1959 plantations could be established very cheaply and successfully. In 1960, however, planting was stopped. The Machaca Creek plantations started also in 1947 as part of a Land Utilization and Development Plan. The plantations continued at a rate of about 40 ha per year up to 1959, when planting was discontinued. By 1960 about 1 900 ha of plantations had been established (2).
The first mahogany plantation was established in 1928 at Silk Grass (Melinda area), and small plots were planted in 1929 and 1930. Plantation was resumed in 1939 after some small experimental planting in 1938. It continued until 1956 when it was decided that the Columbia River soils were more suitable for mahogany than the acid clays of Silk Grass Creek. “Milpa” plantations (taungya system) were also formed from 1928 to 1932 in the Colombia River area. In 1945 the neglected plantations were almost wiped out by fire, leaving only a few trees. A small mahogany taungya was established in Fresh Water Creek Forest Reserve (North) in 1942, but further development was discouraged by the hurricane of that year. Other minor trials were at Quam Bank in the Cockscomb Basin in 1947 and 1948. In 1949 a series of mahogany taungyas was started at Pueblo Viejo in the Toledo District and continued until 1951. The isolation of the last two areas led to neglect, but the Pueblo Viejo series have survived to the present in spite of losses by fire, hurricane and inadequate tending. Another sporadic series was started at Iguana Creek (West) in 1946, but met with little success and was abandoned soon afterwards. Other records exist of plantations having been established and subsequently abandoned.
The modern series of mahogany plantations at Columbia River were started in 1955. This time a proper access road was built into the area and a forest station established (2).
In the seond half of the sixties small areas were planted with Gmelina.
1.2.2 Areas of established plantations
The area figures of the following table take into account the various losses and the varying times of the plantation series mentioned in the former section. All the plantations are intended to produce, at least partly, wood for industry and are classified here as “industrial”.
Areas of established industrial plantations estimated at end 1980
(in thousand ha)
|PH.1||Total hardwood plantations|
|P..1||Total industrial plantations||0.1||0.2||0.2||0.8||1.2||0.6||3.1|
1.2.3 Plantation characteristics (2)
2. Present trends
2.1 Natural woody vegetation
The deforestation rates for the periods 76–80 and 81–85 have been determined mainly from the expected growth of the rural population. According to (1) the area annually cleared for “milpa” cultivation was in the early 50's of the order of 14 000 ha (35 000 acres) or an average of 0.35 ha per person of a milpero family.
In the following table rural population and the total annually cleared area was calculated using the above mentioned figure. Agricultural population figures are based on (1) and on the FAO Production Yearbook (Vol. 32).
|Area annually cleared 1|
(in thousand ha)
1 To the nearest 500 ha.
According to (3), the annual decrease of the natural forest area (transfer from forest to other permanent uses) in the period 1966–70 amounted to 2 000 ha per year. It is considered that this decrease remains approximately the same.
The following table gives also deforestation rates for shifting cultivation purposes (“milpas”). This table is based on the previous one, assuming that between 40 and 50% of the annual clearing takes place in the NHCf forest, and the rest in second growth forest (NHCa)
|Period||Deforestation (in thousand ha)|
|Clearing for milpa|
(transfer from NHCf to NHCa)
(transfer from NHC to other uses)
It is considered that very little shifting cultivation takes place in the pine forests due to the very poor soils (1).
It is assumed tentatively that the pine forest area (NSf) remains fairly constant, the small losses being balanced by a transfer from forest fallow (NSa) to NSf due to increased fire protection. The area of NSa is estimated to decrease in this way to about 500 ha per year.
Average annual deforestation
(in thousand ha)
1976–1980 and 1981–1985 (projections)
Areas of natural woody vegetation estimated at end 1985
(in thousand ha)
Growing stock estimated at end 1985
(in million m3)
|Broadleaved and coniferous||N.f1uv||N.f1uc||N.f1||N.f2||N.f|
2.1.2 Aspects of deforestation and degradation
Areas in which cohune palm is a dominant or prominent member of the vegetation are likely to be used sooner or later for shifting cultivation. It is suspected that the cohune palm and the maize plant are somewhat similar in their nutrient requirements and that the natural occurrence of cohune is a good indication that the land will support at least one good crop of maize. It would be safe to say that more than 50% of all subsistence crops grown each year are planted on “cohune ridge” soils.
The present vegetation of some parts of Belize does suggest that among the species, cohune palm which is resistent to the nibbling and bruising of stone implements, red gombolimbo (Bursera simaruba) which is sprouting after fire and Belotia campbellii (which has a high regeneration rate after fire), have increased in frequency as a result of the long period of Mayan occupation. Annual burning of new tracks of forest for milpa was indeed almost certainly common practice amongst the ancient Maya, but they may also have had a system that allowed for permanent cultivation, probably through fertilization by yearly flooding. This does not apply to the poor soils of the Mountain Pine Ridge where it seems clear that neither the ancient Maya nor the modern Maya indians have practised agriculture (1).
The degradation in the pine forests, is therefore caused chiefly by fire, induced mainly by man. Fire might occur also in broadleaved forests, if there is a lot of fuel accumulated coming from debris of hurricane damage.
2.1.3 Trends in forest utilization
No significant changes are expected until 1985 in the total production of timber and in outputs per ha, except for a slight increase in broadleaved forests (11–12 m3/ha). The relative importance of mahogany and cedar may decrease in favour of the other hardwood species mentioned in section 1.1.2 (under the heading “timber utilization”). However the total number of hardwood species utilized should remain around 20.
Areas of established industrial plantations estimated at end 1985
(in thousand ha)
|Age class||0–5||6–10||11–15||16–20||21–30||31–40||> 40|
|PHL 1||Swietenia macrophylla||0.3||0.3||0.1||0.7|
|PHH 1||Gmelina arborea||0.1||0.1||0.2||0.2||0.6|
|PH 1||Total hardwood plantations||0.1||0.1||0.2||0.2||0.3||0.3||0.1||1.3|
|P..1||Total industrial plantations||0.1||0.1||0.2||0.2||1.1||0.9||0.6||3.2|
No significant changes are expected to take place during this period.
(1) Wright, A.C.S. et al. 1959 “Land in British Honduras” - London Colonia Research Publications No. 24 - London
(2) Anonymous 1965 Reply to Questionnaire on Man-made Forests to British Honduras
(3) Forestry Department, British Honduras 1968 “Progress Report 1960–65 by the Forestry Department of British Honduras prepared for the Commonwealth Forestry Conference 1968”
(4) Land Resources Division 1972 “An Inventory of the Coastal Plain Pine Forests, British Honduras”- by M.S. Johnson and D.R. Chaftey - Surbiton (U.K.)
(5) Land Resources Division 1972 “A Forest Inventory of Part of the Mountain Pine Ridge, British Honduras” - by M.S. Johnson and D.R. Chaftey - Surbiton (U.K.)
(6) Land Resources Division 1972 “An Inventory of the Chiquibul Forest Reserve, British Honduras” - by M.S. Johnson and D.R. Chaftey - Surbiton (U.K.)
(7) Forestry Department, Belize 1974 “Progress Report 1966–72 by the Forestry Department of Belize prepared for the Tenth Commonwealth Forestry Conference, 1974”
(8) FAO 1978 “Forestry Development, Belize Project Findings and Recommendations.” FO:DP/BZE/75/008 - Terminal Report - Rome
Distribution of total area according to vegetation classification by Wright et al. (1)
|Broadleaf forest rich in “lime-loving species”|
Deciduous seasonal forest (15–21 m)
Deciduous semi-evergreen seasonal forest 24–30 m
Broadleaf forest moderately rich in “lime-loving species”
Evergreen and semi-evergreen seasonal forest
Broadleaf forest with occasional “lime-loving species”
Evergreen seasonal forest
Semi-evergreen seasonal forest
|Broadleaf forest with few “lime-loving species”|
Evergreen seasonal forest
Semi-evergreen seasonal forest
Transitional broadleaf forest rich in “lime-loving species”
Transitional broadleaf forest poor in “lime-loving species”
Semi-evergreen seasonal forest
Evergreen seasonal forest
|Transitional low broadleaf forest and shrubland|
Rich in “lime-loving species”
Poor in “lime-loving species”
|Shrubland with pine||17||0.7|
|Pine forest and orchard savanna|
With “lime-loving species”
Without “lime-loving species”
|High marsh forest||178||7.8|
|Low marsh forest||32||1.4|
|Herbaceous marsh and swamp||60||2.6|
|High swamp forest||9||0.4|
|Cohune palm forest||121||5.3|
Total land area