Community Baboon Sanctuary

The Sanctuary was established in 1985 to protect one of the few remaining healthy populations of black howler monkeys in Central America. The monkeys are referred to as “baboons” because, when African people were first kidnapped for slavery, they had not encountered anything similar before. They assumed that the monkeys had to be baboons as those were the only comparably loud primates that they knew of.

When it was first established, the sanctuary was the only wildlife management project that was completely voluntary, and dependent on co-operation from local land-owners. Eight villages and dozens of land owners make up the participants.

Rural Villagers participating in the sanctuary have a respect for the monkeys which are abundant in their area. Landowners responded quickly responded to the need to preserve the monkeys’ land. Nearly all the land-owners on the 46km^2 sanctuary have signed a voluntary conservation pledge, committing themselves to make sure that their practices with their land work in unison with the needs of the wildlife. Each landowner follows their own individualised conservation plan to protect the monkeys’ habitat.

Individual plans include protecting forests along riverbanks, leaving feeding trees when clearing land, and maintaining forest corridors around farmed areas, so howler monkeys can still travel freely. Management practices benefit landowners by reducing erosion, preventing river situation and allowing for more rapid forest regrowth under slash-and-burn farming. Land owners can continue their normal agricultural methods, while locals show visitors around on guided tours, and provide information on things like the Creole language. Tour routes wind around each other. A museum at the main center allows visitors to learn about the area’s culture and history,

The black howler monkeys are one of six species of howler monkey present in Central and South America. It can be heard over a mile away. They normally live in small groups and travel between trees to feed. They have similar facial expressions to humans.

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Belize Agricultural Industry

Agriculture and tourism are the main sources of employment for many Belizean people, but Hurricane Earl in Summer 2016 greatly affected the agricultural sector. Loss of revenue has had a large impact on the Belizean economy. Damages are estimated around US$183.6 million, with BZS$ 100 million of this just from the impact to agriculture.

Belize’s exports have been contracting, which on top of damage from the South East of Corozal District to the North of Toledo, has had a large impact. Sugar was generally least effected, apart from the loss of infrastructure, but this year’s cane might be damaged. There was a spike in cattle diseases due to the flooding that the hurricane caused. When agriculture has been weakened, historically, so has the rest of the economy.

Banana

In October 2015, Fyffes stopped buying Belizean bananas, causing a major economic decline, resulting in thousands of unemployed locals and millions of BZD lost.

Papaya

Fruta Bomba closed in June 2016, after 20 years of Belizean operation; a press release in February 2016 indicated that economic conditions after 2007’s Hurricane Dean hindered company attempts to rebuild their organisation. Fruta Bomba used to be Belize’s main employer but 251 people were left without a job.

Shrimp

In November 2015, a virus plague hit the shrimp industry, causing shrimp farms to face losses in raw produce and in investment. The infection was probably transmitted by birds that visited the ponds for the shrimp farms’ aquaculture. 600 workers were laid-off, and there were losses of BZ$30 million.

Sugar cane

Sugar makes up 60% of Belize’s exports. In July 2016, several tonnes of molasses (syrupy type of refined sugar) were lost in Orange Walk district. 3,900 tons of molases (worth BZ$432,666) was lost in Hurricane Earl; the Belize Sugar Industry said that cane farmers should cover 65% of the losses from this. Cane Farmers protested, as the losses were taken directly from their pay.

 

The Statistical Institute of Belize has documented instability in agriculture in Belize for years. In 2014, according the the SIB, agriculture had a GDP of BZ$381 million, with marine products with BZ$112.34 million. Marine production slowed in the 4th quarter of 2015, due to the decline in shrimp production. Banana shipments decreased by 25% (7,000 tons) due to dry weather affecting the plants.

Livestock fared poorly in the same time. Sugarcane deliveries started in December in 2015, a month earlier than in the previous year.  Citrus deliveries saw an unusual increase too. Purely in June 2016, exports across the agricultural industry declined by 30%. Marine products declined by more than 50%. Exports for bananas declined by 1/3.

Maya Lands and Oil Dispute

In Belize, people who buy land only buy the surface (and the right to dig down to build surface-based projects, such as house foundations and planting fence posts).

This is because, in Belize, due to the predominant rock type being limestone, there are many branching cave networks carved out by underground rivers throughout the country. The blue hole, a popular diving site, was formed by one of these cave networks collapsing, and the sea water pouring in to fill the space left behind. On the main land, many of these caves were used by the Maya people before the European colonisation of Meso-America. The Maya believed that there were steps up to heaven and down to hell, and that the cave networks were linked into these steps. Thus, caves were very spiritually important to the Maya people. Many burial sites were made within the cave networks. They were also used for sacred rituals, including human sacrifices, on occasion.

When North American buyers came in to buy land, the government was concerned that, should they find a Maya cave, they would use it as a tourist attraction, disrespecting the original culture, possibly damaging it, and the money produced from this would be leaked out and not even help the local economy to thrive. To stop this happening, the Belizean government decided that land rights were only applicable to the surface of the land, and that should a greater depth be needed for something, the government had to be consulted.

The Maya in the South of the country, in Toledo district, claim right to the lands in their district, which was, largely, respected. However, the government decided to allow oil companies from outside to look for oil resources in the south of the country.

This has raised issues with Maya people, not just because of the lack of farmland. Maya generally practice a subsistence lifestyle, so that they only produce so much food as they need to survive, and they farm in the forest using slash-and-burn methods. Their practice has worked for hundreds, if not thousands, of years in the forests without any noticeable negative impacts to the overall environment. However, this is threatened by oil companies. Oil wells can often leave exposed, or more exposed, oil at the surface of the land. Oil, for obvious reasons, does not mix well with slash-and-burn farming. Oil wells mean large sections of Maya land cannot be used, threatening their livelihoods.

Other concerns are that the Maya will gain little financial benefit, as very few of them will actually be employed by the oil companies. The few who are employed are likely to only be so for the short term, and to have low wages while they are. Some say that no Belizean should be happy with the current format for exploiting oil, with the company taking 95% of the total profit, and nationals only gaining 5%. It could also impact organic cocoa farming, which is a substantial portion of the Belizean economy.

This is what lead to a campaign by the Toledo Alcade’s Association and the Maya Leader’s Alliance to declare the Mayan people’s stance on oil exploitation in 2012. One MLA spokesperson said that they could not begin to discuss oil exploration without a proper acknowledgement of the Maya land rights, as, in law, their “free, prior and informed consent” is needed, as they are the owners of the land that US oil companies intend to extract from.