Strengthening institutional support for the Centro para Conservacion de Biodiversidad de Guatemala

Guatemala’s economy is based on agriculture. 13% of the land is farmed, while 12% is occupied by National Parks and Reserves. The country is home to over 8,000 plant species, many highly endangered. Therefore it is important to discover and use improved land management techniques for agro-ecosystems such as coffee plantations. However many Guatemalans do not understand the importance of natural resource management because they do not know how severe the problems are.

Lorena Calvo gained her degree in Biology from Del Valle University in Guatemala. After several years of working at La Aurora National Zoo in Guatemala City (latterly as its Director), Lorena gained a Fulbright Scholarship to study for a Masters degree in Tropical Ecology at the University of Missouri in St Louis. On her return three years ago, Lorena founded a new NGO, the CCBG.

Lorena’s mission is to build the CCBG into an influential and professional Centre where educators and young biologists can devote their energy and enthusiasm to the conservation of natural resources in Guatemala. ‘ I want them to make a difference’.
The CCBG focuses on three main problems: lack of environmental education and awareness in young people, lack of professional training and lack of basic natural history knowledge due to a lack of research.

Only 30% of Guatemalan children go to nursery school. While some 60% attend primary school, only 20% continue on to secondary school. Hardly any of these children receive any sort of environmental education. Lorena runs one of the rare organisations that provides this: the Environmental Library for children based at La Aurora National Zoo in Guatemala City. Its main objective is to introduce subjects such as ecology, natural history and biology to children through its collection of specialised books, and through regular courses and workshops.

Over the past three years the Library has taught over 3,300 children. ‘I want to teach children how to make appropriate decisions in the future that will enable them to continue with the development of our country but also to allow us to preserve our natural heritage. Most of all, I want the children to enjoy what they study – learning how to use natural resources in a wise manner can be fun.’

CCBG’s research work focuses on the biodiversity and ecological dynamics of coffee plantations. Coffee is the main income crop in Guatemala. Appropriate management of these plantations can help to mitigate the extinction of species. Currently there is little even basic knowledge of what flora and fauna exist – in fact Lorena herself wrote the first two books in Spanish on Guatemalan wildlife. While supporting various research projects based on coffee plantations, the CCBG also offers training courses and workshops for Central American professionals, working in collaboration with organisations such as the Wildlife Trust and the American Museum of Natural History.

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