In early January, I visited the Fireburn Community which is in the Northeastern Biological Corridor of Belize, in the Corozal District. This area is part of the jaguar conservation system that is managed by the Corozal Sustainable Future Initiative. I was accompanying Dr Jay Coombs , who was the Gender Specialist for the UNDP-Belize GEF7 Project Preparation Group. The consultation with this community and at least two others – Little Belize and Sarteneja – was a key component of the work for the development of the Jaguar Protection Project.
Fireburn is a 150 year old community of approximately 24 family members that is located in the heart of this northern jaguar protection system. This only way to get ro Fireburn is by a road that branches off from the route to Shipstern Nature Reserve, and then by boat to cross a lagoon, and then by foot trekking in the mangrove forest for at least 15 minutes. Once there, we were met by Mr. Lincoln who is the patriarch of the community and who like most of the community members, actively farm for their main source of income. Fireburn residents proudly assert that they are a main source of food supply for the markets in Belize City and San pedro. They cultivate bananas, plantains and rear poultry to sell to their consumers from Belize City, San Pedro and Chunox. They also earn some of their income from small-scale but highly regulated logging.
Boat to ferry passengers across lagoon
For the Fireburn community, compared to Sarteneja, the challenges they face to their livelihood are different. Though their community is located in the jaguar protection system, they do not experience any wildlife conflicts with jaguars. On the other hand, they are mostly likely to lose some crops to pheasants and curacao birds which are also common in this nature reserve. At this level of production, the Fireburn community can continue to farm at reasonable levels of production but they are also keen to explore some form of natural resource-based diversification which would not infringe heavily on the surrounding ecosystem. Some of the community members have also indicated interest in honey farming, and site-based tourism that would be eco-cultural owing to the presence of a Maya Temple in the area.
When posed with the question “Why tourism?,” they offered that with their knowledge of the area, they would be well-positioned to offer an exciting off-grid excursion into their surroundings. Such a tour of course, could be packaged and branded to raise awareness of a sustainable conservation cause – protection of the jaguar.
This visit taught me that a tight knit and family based community can really maintain a high level of sustenance. With Mr. Lincoln as a leader in their community, he facilitates the community efforts and suggestions from the community members. Right with him is his wife who is not only a partner to Mr Lincoln, but she, along with the other women are keen to explore new ways to improve livelihood in the community. They were willing to put forth their effort and get things in motion. The people of Fireburn are resilient as they have withstood devastating hurricanes in the past, especially Hurricane Dean in 2008 that ripped through Northern Belize. After our consultation with the community members, they now have a way to plan how they can grow and maintain this historical community.
Jamir Sanchez is a December 2018 Cum Laude graduate from Spring Hill College in Mobile, Alabama, USA with a Bachelor of Science Degree in Business Administration with a concentration in Financial Economics. He is an Economic Consultant and Research Assistant at the Centre for Applied Development Studies.