Business incubation motivates fire management
The crucial link
People protect what they depend on. Toledo is no exception. For example, five communities - Bella Vista, Bladen, Medina Bank, San Isidro and Trio - live around the Paynes Creek Protected Area and its adjacent Forest Reserves. They farm and collect from the forest areas. Their proximity creates an incentive to manage damaging dry season fires that destroy forests and livelihoods. The TIDE Darwin Fire Management project has therefore been training local people from these communities to do just that. But the incentive to manage fire rests on how much they benefit from those forest areas.
Here’s the thing – most people appreciate the beauty and diversity of Belize’ forests and protected areas. But putting money, time and effort into the dangerous business of organised fire management involves sacrifice. And that sacrifice makes much more sense where local people are making good money from sustainable use of those resources – protecting what they depend on.
Training forest communities for business
To strengthen this link, the TIDE Darwin Fire Management project works not only to manage fire, but also to improve local livelihoods. It has been supporting each of the five communities to develop forest-linked businesses. It’s a process that cannot be rushed. A series of community meetings in early 2016 led to the formation of business interest groups – with preliminary ideas of what they might sustainably sell. An exchange visit to some well-established community business groups in the FEDECOVERA umbrella cooperative in Alta Verapaz, Guatemala, helped shape their ideas.
In September 2016, the project led a three day ‘Belize Business Training’ workshop. This introduced the groups to business fundamentals – organisation, marketing and record keeping. The need to proactively gather further information was stressed. And so the community business groups began to find out about: market demand for their product; the capacity of their resources to supply that demand; the financial costs and revenues expected; the legal steps needed to formalise the business; and the social organisation necessary to work as a business group approved by the community leaders.
An iterative self-driven process of business incubation
Six months of follow-up work ensued. Staff of the TIDE Darwin project arranged: trainings in design and bookkeeping, access to internet information, community exchanges to see working businesses in the areas of interest; and new market contacts. By January 2017 the groups had knocked their initial ideas into preliminary business plans.
A second training – focusing on the challenges of start-ups - was organised with the now four groups who had showed the entrepreneurial energy to move forward. One-on-one, whole-day mentoring sessions with each group helped to refine and improve the business plan and identify further follow-up. By now, the big ideas had been broken down into more realistic, costed, start-up plans. More specific follow-up is now needed to: register and market their business idea; consolidate their management structure and its bye-laws; find the start-up money to get going; obtain the permits and qualifications necessary to run it; and agree how profits or losses will be shared across the community. Still a lot to be done then. But there is also a strong drive to move forward and build something that is worth protecting from fire.
So what ideas did the community business groups come up with? Read on!
Adventures in the last corridor (ALC) – an ecotourism business in Medina Bank.
The Ketchi Mayan community of Medina Bank was established in 1990 in an area of outstanding nature beauty. Kharst limestone mountains are fissured with deep caves, pure springs, and the Deep River valley which runs through the village. Their business idea is called ‘Adventures in the Last Corridor’.
The aim of ALC is to: “Support future generations of the Medina Bank Maya community by conserving its natural resources and environment through Eco tours”.
The start-up plan is to begin running two tour packages: 1. Red Road Cave and Blue Pool Swim; and 2. Mayan farm visit, waterfall picnic and tubing on Deep River. Start-up costs involve the construction of changing room and tubing storage facilities at a picnic site upriver, and a changing room and craft shop facility downriver.
Immediate next steps are to obtain the permits necessary to operate, test the tours with TIDE interns and set up a fund and write proposals to secure construction work – initially for changing rooms and craft shop.
Xibe – a Mayan food and craft business in San Isidro.
The mixed Mayan and Hispanic community of San Isidro is expanding rapidly by the main Southern Highway next to Bella Vista. Hemmed in by banana and citrus farms, there are few opportunities for women – but a growing demand for good quality local food. A women’s group plan to develop a business called ‘Xibe’.
The aim of ALC is to provide excellent customer service and to be a unique provider of quality Mayan dining experiences and craft to customers at reasonable prices.
The start-up plan is to develop trading relationships with the SEA craft shop on Laughing Bird Quay and to provide meals for training courses, while pursuing funding for the restaurant construction in San Isidro.
Immediate next steps include getting food handling certificates for the women’s group, registering the business, achieving pilot orders for both food and craft and then writing a proposal for the restaurant construction.
SIFAA – San Isidro Farmers Agroforestry Association
As the mixed Mayan and Hispanic community of San Isidro expands, residents have had to farm within the Swasey Bladen Forest Reserve. Local farmers have a background of producing a range of crops: corn beans, rice, plantain, pineapples, cassava, yams, cacao, lime, orange, avocado, mangos, and even mahogany. They had already come together in 2011 to for the San Isidro Farmers Agroforestry Association (SIFAA).
The aim of SIFAA is to be a fully functional community-owned business that will create stable employment from growing organic local produce. It will create a more powerful voice to negotiate for access to resources and better prices for its members. Members initially plan to develop chicken, then Tilapia and final cattle and timber production systems.
The start-up plans are currently rather reliant on the formal permission from the Forest Department for the use of almost 300 acres in Swasey Bladen Forest Reserve.
Immediate next steps are to develop pilot projects in chicken and Tilapia to ensure that groups members have the required capacity to run larger investments.
Trio Mountain Tilapia Growers ltd. – a mixed agroforestry business
Trio community was founded in 1994 following a temporary closure of the adjacent banana plantation. There is a strong culture of local family farming in the area (with corn, pineapples and citrus) to meet local employment needs and reduce dependence on the banana plantation.
Trio Mountain Tilapia Growers LTD aims to be a unique community-owned business (with benefits going to the Trio Community) and the best provider locally of quality Tilapia and other agroforestry produce at a very reasonable price for our customers with excellent customer service.
The start-up plans include investment in a small Tilapia pond (for 1500 fingerlings), testing pumping, feeding and fish handling capacity. Plans have been developed for further ponds and a fish processing building so that sales can target the local market.
Immediate next steps involve costing the immediate investment needs, developing a proposal for fundraising, registering the business, setting up a proper accounting unit and embarking on the first test production cycle. The group also want to explore longer term crops such as timber trees to diversify future income streams.