Fostering Collaboration

By: Angelia Lane

It has been a whirlwind of two months since moving to Belize. We have met an incredible amount of people from different organizations, cultures, and backgrounds. Belize is unlike any place I have visited in the past. In a single day you can encounter five different languages and twice as many ecosystems, and travel from the diverse mountains with monkeys swinging above your head, to the mesmerizing colors of the coral reefs in the ocean.

What does all of this cultural and biological diversity mean to conservation? Sarah and I are still trying to wrap our head around this. We’ve been diligently working with Ya’axche Conservation Trust on the social aspect of our fellowship project. We will be working to understand the perceived barriers of adopting cacao-based agroforestry in Maya communities throughout the Maya Golden Landscape. Cacao-based agroforestry is considered a more sustainable agriculture practice than the traditional slash and burn technique used throughout these areas.
Through literature reviews and conversations with Ya’axche staff, we have identified major perceived barriers to adopting agroforestry practices. Sarah and I have been developing a survey to understand the level of willingness of farmers to adopt these practices according to those barriers. We have also been working to improve an existing baseline survey that Ya’axche will conduct every 2-3 years to understand changes in farming practices in the communities of the Maya Golden Landscape. This survey includes basic information that Ya’axche wants to know about the farms in the nine communities they’ve been working with.
We began working on this portion of our project around a month ago. The original timeline was to have the survey collection in a single community finished by the end of August. Our first lesson in collaborative conservation: be flexible! We definitely didn’t meet this deadline, but a high-quality baseline survey is worth taking the time to develop. Also, knowing that we will be able to leave this organization with a product they can use to better understand land uses over time feels very gratifying. A lot of time, drafts, emails, coffee, and pringles (our favorite snack food) have gone into making this survey as useful as possible for Ya’axche after we leave.
Next week we will begin piloting the survey in Maya communities. This will be an interesting experience for both of us because the survey must be conducted in the local dialect, Q’eqchi Maya, which is not a written language. After the survey is piloted and re-tweaked, we will be leading a training session with the survey administrators in order to reduce any issues that may arise with the language barrier.
This is only the beginning of our journey, but it has already been a valuable process.  We’ve had many conversations regarding Maya history and cultural sensitivities as we try to figure out more creative and hands-on ways to ask questions. We have seen the value in the process of taking the time to create a survey that is culturally appropriate and ask questions in the best way possible so we can gather data that will help Ya’axche to make programmatic improvements. We’ll keep you all posted as we move forward with bellies full of fresh guavas and coconut juice.
Until next time! Cheers from Belize!