Headline — 07 December 2012
Illegal xate harvesting by Guatemalans “an acute problem”
“…xaté populations in the Chiquibul Forest are under stress, and if adequate management and conservation measures are not set in place, the species may face commercial to local extinction.”

Whereas recent reports of illegal activities inside the Chiquibul Forest have been shining the light on illegal logging and gold panning, illegal xaté harvesting activities by Guatemalans inside Belizean territory, reported since the 1970’s, has been picking up again, according to Boris Arevalo, researcher at Friends for Conservation and Development (FCD).

FCD describes illegal xaté harvesting as “an acute problem,” and in January 2010, FCD had warned of the potential decimation of the native palm sold as a pricey exotic species on the foreign market.

According to Arevalo, Belize has lost an estimated BZ$1.2 million worth of xaté from illegal harvesting activities inside the Chiquibul Forest, including the Chiquibul National Park and the Caracol Archaeological Reserve.

The FCD, working in partnership with El Centro Agronómico Tropical de Investigación y Enseñanza (CATIE) and the FAO/FLEGT Support Programme, undertook a study between January and November 2012 to determine how much xaté is still in the Chiquibul Forest, to estimate its productive capacity, and to estimate the gross economic value of illegally harvested and available xaté stocks in the forest.

“Illegal harvesters have managed to extract over 14 million leaves of C. ernesti-augusti [xaté] worth US$624,592.00…,” said the report, “US$309,211.00 for the Chiquibul Forest Reserve alone.”

A formal presentation of the study, “An assessment of xaté populations and the effect of habitat complexity on xaté stocks in the Chiquibul Forest, Belize,” will take place at the Belmopan Convention Hotel at 9:30 a.m. on Friday, December 7, 2012.

“This study shows evidence that targeted xaté populations in the Chiquibul Forest are under stress, and if adequate management and conservation measures are not set in place, the species may face commercial to local extinction,” said the FCD’s 16-page research report.

It added that, “Many Guatemalan nationals from the adjacent villages have been illegally harvesting xaté leaves from the Chiquibul Forest, a region which has the greatest potential economic value of xaté in Belize.”

Arevalo told Amandala that although there is some xate stock left, it is not enough for anyone in Belize to undertake a sustainable harvesting venture. He said that there must be intervention efforts to stop illegal and unsustainable xaté harvesting, which would give the local population inside the Chiquibul enough time to recover.

He said that there is economic potential there, although the potential revenue is not as large as what is earned from the sale of timber.

Arevalo also notes that although FCD had thought that illegal xaté extraction is on the decline, they have noticed an increase in trails over the last month, indicating that activities are on the rise again.

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