We Love Our El Cimarron Watershed

Country: Honduras

El Cimarron Micro Watershed is located in the department of La Paz, Honduras, between the towns of Santa Ana and Opatoro. It covers 3,307 hectares of territory, 91% of which belongs to the municipality of Opatoro, and the other 9% the municipality of Santa Ana.

In El Cimarron, there are 14 communities with a total population of 3,192 inhabitants who are mainly of Lenca descent. It is a high water production area with multiple headwaters and streams. The average precipitation is 1353 mm rainfall with two clearly defined seasons. There is a rainy season from May to October and a dry one from November to April. Climate change in 2014 and 2015 has extended the drought much longer, though.

El Cimarron is characterized by a rich variety of plants and wildlife, with forests that are predominantly pine in the highlands and wide stands of oak in the lowlands. We find a great number and variety of fruit trees, many intercropped with coffee, which has been the main livelihood for 100 years, representing over 33% of land use in the micro-catchment.

We find a great variety of animals coexisting in the territory, like whitetail deer, the national mammal, which is an endangered species. There are also reptiles, and birds like the quetzal and goldfinch. The wealth of water, forest, plant and wildlife resources, in addition to its anthropological and cultural value, because it is home to the Lenca ethnic group, allowed it to be included in the system of protected areas in Honduras. As a whole, it constitutes the “El Jilguero Water Production Reserve,” declared as such in 2006.

Its inhabitants have characteristically protected natural resources as an exercise in survival, although this has gone relatively unnoticed. This includes not burning the forest for planting, and exemplary local civil society organization that is pro-conservation and sustainable development. This area of the country is cultivated and survives without damaging the environment. This is a result of the efforts and actions of the Council for the El Cimarron Micro-Catchment, and the Water Boards it comprises that are recognized and have the support of the local government, as well as public and nongovernmental agencies, among others.

However, achieving the current state of affairs has not been easy. Despite the culture of protecting natural resources, the present level of organization and integration did not exist before. Each community looked out for its own interests with very limited capacity. They only approached the municipal government for matters like an infrastructure project.

However, on March 18, 2009, the Committee for the Protection of the El Cimarron Micro Watershed was created with support from the Mi Cuenca Project. The committee is composed of 7 communities represented by the residents of the community water boards. This was a very special moment for Roy Martinez.

He says, “In 2009, I was elected as the coordinator of the El Cimarron Micro Watershed Protection Committee. At that time, I did not know what it was all about, but in a short while, and thanks to the training I received, I understood the importance of unity if we really want sustainable changes to benefit our communities and the environment.

“In May 2014, Blue Harvest came along. The project technicians talked to us about the importance of improving our capacity to organize, manage and advocate if we really wanted to promote development with sustainable protection of our natural resources, mainly water. Also, taking into account that in our watershed, coffee is our principal crop and livelihood. At the time, we were dismayed by the damage that the coffee rust had done to our coffee plantations. Old, poorly managed plantations, with varieties prone to coffee-rust infection, turned our farms to firewood. Our coffee trees looked like the tail end of a hook. However, we had no other way out. We had to recover coffee production without affecting the water resources that we had protected for so many years.”

The El Cimarron Micro Watershed Protection Committee led the process. Membership grew to 16 communities, taking in 100% of the communities in the micro-watershed territory, and the name was the El Cimarron Micro-Watershed Council, as per the General Water Law, which is the main legal regulatory framework. It started to work hard on governance, including training in matters of watershed management and protection of sources of water, among others. The Micro-Watershed Council started applying for legal standing for itself and the Water Boards that it contains. It updated the Management Plan, its main management tool, and the Biannual Operations Plan was prepared. It started the application process at the National Forestry Institute of Honduras to get the sources of water for communities declared “Protected Forest Area,” and three declarations were obtained, with their respective agreements.

Roy continues to share, “With the arrival of Blue Harvest, we took off in a big way. We are renovating our principal capital, which is coffee; however, it has been established in sustainable agroforestry systems intercropped with timber and fruit trees. El Cimarron Micro-Watershed Council leads this process doing everything from selecting beneficiaries to working with the local government and other actors; such as the WFP to receive support in the form of seed, fertilizer and everything needed for establishing nurseries, and setting up plants in the field.

“We have reforested the water recharge areas for our water sources. We also measured the amount of water and performed bacteriological and physical-chemical analyses at least twice a year. There is constant surveillance to avoid possible forest fires. From January 15 through May 1st, we held rounds integrating the entire community, and the whole family. Each community sends three people every day for surveillance. Every day there are 9 to 12 people in all monitoring the forest, and when there is an emergency, the entire community is mobilized, along with the police and city government. This year, there was a very big fire, which started by Negro River, and 400 people were mobilized. In one night, the fires were under control, and we set up people to monitor for a week, to ensure it would not go up in flames again.

“Our capacity for outreach and management has increased. We have been able to get the entire Municipal Council to receive us and listen to our proposals. We have requested support with solid waste management in the entire micro-watershed territory, with resources in an Environmental Fund, as well as continued support for production in the coffee sector until we recover again.

“We have also sat down with other donors like the Sustainable Rural Development Program for the Southern Region (Emprende Sur), the COSUDE funded project called “Nuestra Cuenca El Goascoran,” and the USAID project ACCESO to present our requests, and let them know that as a platform we represent all of the communities in El Cimarron. As a result of these efforts, a road was opened to the Municipality of Mercedes de Oriente, making it possible to transport our products to market, as well as a strong investment in water harvesting and irrigation to make water available in summer.

“The Most Significant Change I have experienced has been the high level of skill in managing that the Micro-Watershed Council has achieved, as well as the level of awareness and change in attitude in our inhabitants and in myself. We love our El Cimarron watershed.”