Tropical forest guardians, Cuba
The Alejandro de Humboldt National Park in the East of Cuba lies in the sparsely populated provinces Guantánamo and Holguin. The park encompasses an area of approximately 435 square miles and was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2001. Due to its mangrove forests the area is of significant importance as a natural water storage. The park is a popular tourist destination und a habitat to a large number of flora and fauna species only existing in this area and in danger of extinction. The diversity of species with its almost 2,000 species is one of the most wide-ranging worldwide.
A major cause of concern in the area is that small farmers who live along the margins of the preserve, partly without electricity and clean drinking water, are unable to earn enough income to feed their families. Since the amount of land that can be cultivated is rather small the farmers have cleared new areas within the reserve and let their livestock animals roam freely. This has caused complete defoliation as well as severe soil erosion and thus negative impacts on groundwater and soil fertility. Despite of officially protected areas, the forest is narrowed down due to illegal logging for building and firewood. The situation is further complicated by the fact that the local people lack awareness about the consequences of their acting.
This project has been developed to improve the living conditions of families inhabiting buffer areas and to include them in conservation and tourism outreach programs at the park. In addition to providing education regarding improvements in agricultural production, the project includes programs focused on environmental awareness and education. A seed bank with seeds of endangered tree species will be implemented and the seeds sowed by locals in order of reforestation. In cooperation with the national park administration, representatives of the ministry of environment and teachers, awareness of environmental-friendly behavior and the necessity of nature conservation shall be raised. Developed general information materials and programs will be suitable for all communities around.
The main objective of the project is to improve living conditions for inhabitants of the buffer zone and the potential for tourism at the Alejandro de Humboldt National Park. This can be reached by improving the economic and social conditions and by supporting alternative sources of income (e.g. ecotourism) in combination with nature conservation, reforestation and environmental education – always under consideration of the political situation on Cuba.