To accomplish the important goal of improving living standards and the self-sufficiency of the region's villages and towns, the long-term agenda of resource conservation and sustainability must include the immediate and short-term needs of local families. No reserve exists within a vacuum, and for the El Pilar Program model to be fully achieved, the local population needs to maintain an active voice in the process. Local communities are the ultimate custodians of their history and environment. Our task is to prove they also are the ultimate beneficiaries.
One aim in Belize and Guatemala is to develop community enterprises in tourism and agriculture, which increase villagers' cultural links and economic stake in the reserve while incorporating their wisdom into the vision for El Pilar. Through education with the El Pilar Program and participation in program activities, the links between the community and the reserve strengthen local investments in conservation and administrative responsibility. Their accumulated accomplishments help to promote conservation efforts locally and regionally. The leadership role the community assumes and the self-determination they gain in the process is the foundation upon which the future success of the El Pilar program depends.
For example, the El Pilar Forest Garden Network, established in Belize in September 2008, is a collective of traditional Maya farmers who together own and manage nearly 300 hectares of forest gardnes. Their traditional milpa skills and their practical investment in the Maya forest garden sets them apart from the conventional and the monoculture industrial farmers in the area. Recognizing the challenge to keep their polycultural traditions alive the Network and I have documented their own forest gardens. To increase participation they created the model forest garden at the Santa Familia Primary School to serve as an education site for the youth of their village.