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Guatemala’s national forest programme – integrating agendas from the country’s diverse forest regions

E. Oliva Hurtarte, E. Sales Hernández and I. Bustos García

Edwin Oliva Hurtarte is Coordinator, and Ebal Sales Hernández is Coordination Assistant, of the National Forest Programme of Guatemala, National Forest Institute (Instituto Nacional de Bosques, INAB), Guatemala City, Guatemala.
Ignacio Bustos García is Regional Advisor for National Forest Programmes, FAO Regional Office for Latin America and the Caribbean, Santiago, Chile.

A highlight of Guatemala’s national forest programme is a focus on policy dialogue at the subnational level through Forest Policy Round Tables in the country’s nine forest regions.

Guatemala’s national forest programme (NFP) has been running continuously for 17 years. Formulation of the NFP began in 1989 under the name “Forest Action Plan for Guatemala” and has continued since 2003 under the title “National Forest Programme”. This article outlines the advances that have been made in the implementation of the NFP, particularly:

The creation and operation of the Forest Policy Round Tables is especially important in a country of such great cultural diversity. The process of their organization and the progress they are making – for example in the definition of regional forest agendas – provide a solid basis for sustainable forest development.


Guatemala’s location in Central America on the bridge between two major continental masses (Figure 1), and its diversity in terms of soil, topography, rainfall, temperature, altitude, etc., are responsible for the presence of a wide range of ecosystems and species.

Guatemala has 3.9 million hectares of forest, accounting for 36 percent of its land area (FAO, 2006). Almost 70 percent of the forest area is concentrated in three departments – Petén (52 percent), Alta Verapaz (10 percent) and Izabal (7 percent) – and 54.6 percent of the total is located within protected areas. Some 37.8 percent of forest lands are State owned, 38 percent private property and 23.1 percent municipal or community property. Since 1990, about 54 000 ha of forests have been lost each year, while an average of 10 000 ha of plantations has been established each year.

The existence within the country of four major ethnic groups (Maya and Xinca indigenous groups, mestizos or ladinos, Afro-American Garifunas and whites) is an important sociodemographic feature. The Mayas are divided into 20 ethnic groups, with different languages and customs. Indeed, 23 languages are spoken in the country, and there are at least as many cultures. The country’s multicultural wealth is of great significance in the design and implementation of forest and environmental policies, which must arise from a consensus of the population.

Geographical location of Guatemala

Areas of National Forest Agenda activity


In 1986, the Government of Guatemala applied for support from FAO to draw up a plan that would govern the use, management and conservation of forest resources, defining short-, medium- and long-term objectives, aims and strategies. In 1989 a start was thus made on drawing up the Forest Action Plan for Guatemala, with support from FAO, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA), the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), Germany, the Netherlands and the United States. In 1991 the basic document and project outline were submitted for consideration by the various national sectors. In March 1992 the plan was presented to the international community.

The Forest Action Plan for Guatemala had a ten-year time frame and remained in force until March 2003. It identified 29 actions and 17 projects covering five main areas: forestry in land use, fuelwood and energy, ecosystem conservation, forest industries, and institution building (MAGA and FAO, 2003).


The Forest Action Plan for Guatemala was revised in late 2002 and early 2003. A consensual view of the country’s forest sector was obtained through an analytical process involving 450 people from all over the country and from various sectors. Institutions managing the process included the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Food; the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources; the National Council for Protected Areas; and the National Forest Institute (Instituto Nacional de Bosques, INAB). The process enjoyed input from individual and institutional advisers, expert and regional consultative bodies and a Forest Action Plan implementation office.

Revision of the Forest Action Plan for Guatemala focused on analysing and developing strategic objectives for four main areas of the forest sector (forest conservation and protection, production and sustainable management, trade and industry, and environmental services) and one cross-sectoral support area (institution building). Proposed solutions to forest problems were adopted as the National Forest Agenda for 2003–2012 (Figure 2).

In view of the success of the Forest Action Plan in raising consciousness of the importance and problems of forest resources, promoting and implementing action and strengthening the linkages among forest-related institutions, INAB decided to support its continuation in the form of an NFP starting from 2003. Guatemala’s NFP is based on the concept agreed on in 1997 within the international dialogue on forests, particularly the Intergovernmental Panel on Forests (IPF) and the Intergovernmental Forum on Forests (IFF). A permanent project to coordinate implementation of the NFP was created within the INAB structure. It works in close relationship with local forest authorities and various organizations, particularly with the subnational Forest Policy Round Tables.

Agriculture and forest land: land-use planning is a key objective of Guatemala’s national forest programme
FAO/FO-0670/S. Braatz


In Guatemala, the NFP is seen as a process for defining and agreeing on a new concept of forest and environmental development to be attained through participatory analysis, design, and implementation of the policy, strategy, mechanisms and actions proposed in the National Forest Agenda. Its aim is to achieve sustainable forest and environmental management, through sustainable productive and protective forest activities, so that “by the year 2012 the development of the Guatemalan forest sector will be based on principles of sustainability, thus contributing to human well-being and economic, social and environmental development; to land-use planning; and to the shaping of a forest culture within the country – through participatory management by all the stakeholders” (Programa Forestal Nacional de Guatemala, 2003). As part of the NFP framework, national legislation promotes forest development and is fully in accord with the National Forest Agenda.

The specific objectives of the NFP are:

Organizational chart of NFP implementation


The NFP implementation strategy envisages three separate bodies responsible for management, advisory services and monitoring (see Figure 3). The NFP Implementation Support Project within INAB coordinates and supports the various actors implementing the NFP. It supports, for example:

Public and private forest-sector interest groups were thus identified in each region, and relations were established between them and the national and regional authorities. This task entailed the establishment of formal agreements, the definition of internal rules of procedure and measures to obtain legal status. This led to the creation and strengthening of regional Forest Policy Round Tables and thematic fora addressing topics relevant to the organization of forestry activities, such as the National Standards Council for Sustainable Forest Management and the Environmental Services Group.

From the outset, medium- and long-term plans were developed encompassing training of staff from local organizations in strategic planning, participatory appraisal to identify forest potential and problems, and the formulation of a forest development agenda for each region, including the preparation of strategic and operational plans, which have been progressively put into effect.

Location of Guatemala’s forest regions


Forest Policy Round Tables (Mesas de concertación y política forestal) are autonomous mechanisms for subnational dialogue, made up of about 30 organizations or groups including the central government, local authorities, NGOs, civil-society bodies and private companies involved in the production, conservation, protection and use of forest resources. Their aim is to promote socio-economic development through activities in line with national forest policy and to find solutions to problems affecting the sector within the framework of regional forest agendas.

Following the establishment of the first Forest Policy Round Table, the Las Verapaces Round Table, in 2002, INAB began to promote round tables on the same model through information activities and provision of organizational and technical support and financial resources. Round tables have since been set up in each of the nine forest regions defined by INAB (Figure 4).
Conceptual, methodological and operational guidelines were drawn up and regional presentations were made on the NFP process and the National Forest Agenda to the various stakeholders. The round tables were planned and established with input from local stakeholders.

The Forest Policy Round Tables are relevant to the geographic, cultural and productive features of each of the country’s regions. They also act as advisory bodies for feedback on the NFP in general and the National Forest Agenda in particular, contributing not only to sustainable management of forests and forest land, but also to environmental sustainability in general and to good governance.

The Forest Policy Round Tables:

Forest Policy Round Tables at work in Regions I and III
E. Oliva

Achievements in implementing Forest Policy Round Tables

The creation of the round tables – in itself a major achievement in terms of the importance and progressive influence of these participatory mechanisms –
has allowed progress to be made in establishing dialogue at the regional and national levels to focus on the improvement and sustainability of forest management processes and Guatemala’s forest development in general. Other achievements include:


The National Forest Programme Faci-lity supports Guatemala’s NFP through a three-year partnership set up with INAB in February 2004. Through this arrangement, ten organizations of peasant farmers and indigenous people, NGOs and university institutions have carried out participatory activities to strengthen the Forest Policy Round Tables, formulate and launch departmental and local plans and agendas for sustainable forest management, improve forestry education and boost forest certification by supporting the determination of national standards for sustainable forest management. Preparations are currently under way to launch new activities for six more organizations. It is notable that in Guatemala the Facility funds have never been used by the government institution, INAB, but have rather been allocated by INAB to these partner organizations to broaden and increase the participation of various national and local stakeholders in the NFP.


National and regional forest stakeholders have raised a series of issues for implementation of the NFP in terms of pursuing the National Forest Agenda and improving conditions for social, economic and environmental development by enhancing the role of forestry at the regional and local levels. They have particularly emphasized the following challenges:

Mayan woman going to collect fuelwood: Guatemala’s NFP considers the diversity of forest stakeholders to overcome longstanding causes of resource degradation and involve them in sound and sustainable forest management and use


Seventeen continuous years of participatory formulation and implementation of the Forest Action Plan for Guatemala and the NFP demonstrate the constant interest of successive national governments and the various stakeholders in carrying this process forward. Important achievements of the NFP include:

It is especially noteworthy that the various actors have adopted the principles and aims of the NFP, a factor that encouraged the creation of the Forest Policy Round Tables in all the country’s forest regions. These round tables have already begun to contribute to well-planned forestry development and will be increasingly successful inasmuch as they spring from the very roots of the country’s rich cultural diversity.


FAO. 2006. Global Forest Resources Assessment 2005 – Progress towards sustainable forest management. FAO Forestry Paper No. 147. Rome.

Ministerio de Agricultura, Ganaderia y Alimentacion (MAGA) & FAO. 2003. Plan de Acción Forestal para Guatemala. Memoria a 10 años. Guatemala City.

Programa Forestal Nacional de Guatemala. 2003. Agenda Nacional Forestal de Guatemala. INAB/MAGA. Guatemala City.

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