Development of sustainable land-use systems on degraded tropical pastures in Belize, Central America, as a model for Mesoamerica and the Caribbean.


Ten of the hottest years ever recorded were in the past 14 years, including 2005, the hottest year ever recorded, according to NASA. Scientists attribute this rise in global temperatures to a correlated rise in carbon dioxide levels in the air. Trees and plants recycle carbon dioxide into oxygen for animals to breathe, but many forests are being cleared at an unsustainable rate, causing an unnaturally high ratio of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Moreover, many of the forests being depleted are of the most plant-rich tropical regions of Asia, Africa, South America, and right here in Central America.

Millions of people around the world depend on resources from forests to survive. Many people make a living off agriculture, and some of them resort to effective, yet unsustainable slash-and-burn clearing of the forests to make way for growing crops or raising livestock. Agriculture is important - all six billion people on Earth rely on it for food. But, forests are even more critical - they create oxygen and regulate climate for the survival of all life on Earth.

Agro-forestry - integrating agriculture with the forest - may be the best solution to the environmental crisis of deforestation, and it can at least slow the effects of global warming. It is a sustainable method of farming, easing the need to clear forest.

In April, 2003, activists started a project in Belize to promote agro-forestry. It currently receives funding - which will continue until November 2007 - from the Organization of American States. This "OAS Agro-Forestry Research Project" aims to develop transferable strategies for sustainable land use in the tropics on degraded pastures, including activities for higher education, socio-economic development and research.

Successful agro-forestry requires an understanding of the complex relationship between trees, crops and soil interaction. Only few plants species seem to be responsible for ecosystem stability. The use of such key species in planted areas can enhance ecosystem stability and improve soil quality by increasing pools of organic matter and nutrients in the soil. Current knowledge about these relationships is limited, especially in tropical regions. But, full comprehension is necessary in order to develop long-term, sustainable reforestation strategies and programs to rehabilitate degraded pastures and to develop alternative concepts to slash-and-burn. These strategies and programs also have to be economically attractive to the local population - most people need to meet their own basic needs before they can fully grasp the bigger picture.

The OAS Agro-Forestry Research Project delivers practical information on how to rehabilitate degraded tropical land, how to increase biodiversity and carbon sequestration through the development of sustainable land use systems, and ultimately, how agro-forestry is working in Belize as a model for the region.

One example of research: Jathropha curcas (Physic nut), as an efficient renewable energy plant, might perform well as a shade providing shrubbery for habanero hot pepper production. The project is generating practical experience about the legume plant (Arachis pintoy) as a cover crop and green manure known to have a wide range of growing conditions, including tolerance to shading. Arachis pintoy will provide soil cover and Nitrogen fixation in order to reduce soil erosion and increase soil fertility, respectively.

The OAS Agro-forestry research project aims to develop following outputs:

Development of three different agro-forestry plots and one monoculture area for commercial hot pepper cultivation

Plot I:

  • Papaya (Carica papaya)
  • Cover Crop (Arachis pintoy)
  • Hot Pepper (Capsicum spp.)

Plot II:

  • Physic Nut (Jatropha curcas)
  • Cover Crop (Arachis pintoy)
  • Hot Pepper (Capsicum spp.)

Plot III: five different forest tree species

  • (a) Black cabbage bark (Lonchocarpus castilloi)
  • (b) Cedar (Cedrela odorata)
  • (c) Billy web (Sweetia panamensis)
  • (d) Mahogany (Swietenia macrophylla)
  • (e) Teak (Tectona grandis)
  • Cover Crop (Arachis pintoy)
  • Hot Pepper (Capsicum spp.)

Plot IV: Hot Pepper (Capsicum spp.)

- Information network and information service
- Development of information material and fact sheets
- Network and outreach

- Development of course material for students
- Training courses in the area of photosynthesis, nitrogen nutrition and water status
- Fieldtrip opportunities

- Assessment of species diversity
- Quantification of crop yield and the growth of trees
- Performance of photosynthesis of the species
- Water status of the species from C- and O-isotope analysis using Stable Isotope Ratio Monitoring Spectrometer
- Nitrogen nutrition of the species from N-isotope analysis and total N-determination of plant samples



Agro-forestry demonstration plots for production, research and training have been established to improve existing agro-forestry practice in Belize. A network of local farmers, rural villagers and non-governmental organizations is in place to continue the project's execution. Every project year, research training courses are developed for students at different education levels. The OAS Agro-Forestry Research Project is recognized by the government and other key organizations in Belize and in the region to deliver important assignments and ground work for the agriculture and agro-forestry sector. For this reason, newsletters and other information materials are published regularly for environmental education and to inform readers about project activities and achievements.



What is OAS?
The Organization of American States (OAS) brings together the countries of the Western Hemisphere to strengthen cooperation and advance common interests. It is the region's premier forum for multilateral dialogue and concerted action. At the core of the OAS mission is an unequivocal commitment to democracy, as expressed in the Inter-American Democratic Charter: "The peoples of the Americas have a right to democracy and their governments have an obligation to promote and defend it." Building on this foundation, the OAS works to promote good governance, strengthen human rights, foster peace and security, expand trade, and address the complex problems caused by poverty, drugs and corruption. Through decisions made by its political bodies and programs carried out by its General Secretariat, the OAS promotes greater inter-American cooperation and understanding.

What is IACD?
As part of the ongoing process of modernization of the Organization of American States, the Inter-American Agency for Cooperation and Development (IACD) was established at the beginning of 2000 to promote new and more effective forms of cooperation between its member states and to enhance partnerships with the private sector and civil society. Headquartered in Washington, D.C., the Agency is governed by a nine-member Management Board of officials selected from among the member states, as well as an administrative arm-the Executive Secretariat for Integral Development-which together manage all of the OAS' technical cooperation and training activities.

Mission of IACD
The IACD's mission is to tap the considerable capabilities of the member and observer states of the Organization of American States (OAS) and forge new private/public-sector partnerships to help the people of the Americas overcome poverty, benefit from the digital revolution and advance their economic and social development. One instrument is the FEMCIDI.
The acronym "FEMCIDI" stands for the Special Multilateral Fund of CIDI. FEMCIDI, as its name implies, is a fund that was established to finance cooperation projects presented by the member states.
Links for more information:



From the third project year on, the Mayan Reserve Foundation (MRF) is providing the required project infrastructure, including office space, cantina and education centre for the planned project activities, as well as the area where the agro-forestry research demonstration plots have been established. The MRF is responsible for the cultivation of plant material and maintenance and providing water and electricity. Additionally, the MRF is providing an excellent infrastructure including guesthouses to conduct educational and research programs, such as field trips for students and researchers. There are plans for opening a restaurant and swimming pool.

Mission Statement

The Mayan Reserve Foundation is a Non-Governmental organization that promotes Sustainable Development and Environmental Protection in Belize by conducting research, training and higher education programs in collaboration with relevant national and international partners and universities.


Personal Background
Mrs. Baumgart Laasner was born in Germany and has been a permanent resident of Belize since 1995. She is currently working as the project consultant for the OAS Agro-Forestry Research Project to rehabilitate degraded tropical soil. Mrs. Baumgart Laasner got her Diploma as a certified civil engineer at the Technical University Leipzig, Germany in 1981, and she has served as a planner for urban and social development, Regional Development Company (LEG) Brandenburg, Potsdam, as well as Director of Building and Construction Division Municipality near Berlin.

When Mrs. Baumgart Laasner came to Belize, she changed her focus to support sustainable development in Belize with great dedication and commitment. Since this time, she established herself as a motivated and enthusiastic project developer, coordinator and fundraiser. She initiated projects in cooperation with multiple funding agencies, such as International Cooperation for Sustainable Development in Germany and Switzerland and other private donors.

Mrs. Baumgart Laasner was also working as a scientific coordinator with the Albert-Ludwig's-University Freiburg, Institute for Forest Botany and Tree Physiology in the field of Tropical Forest Botany, conducting research activities and programs for reforestation strategies to rehabilitate degraded tropical landscapes.

Moreover, she is founding member of EFTEC (Environmental Friendly TECnologies), a private company incorporated in 2005 to promote and provide environmental friendly technology and products in Belize. EFTEC is a result of experienced and committed experts working for 10 years to promote and initiate renewable energy systems including Jatropha curcas. Currently Mrs. Baumgart Laasner is working to initiate a national program for producing biodiesel made from Jatropha curca in close collaboration with the Government of Belize and Biocombustibles Guatemala.

Please visit Sylvia Baumgart Laasner's Resume here for more information.

(c) APM 2005, Designed by: Linda L. Schütze, Last Update: 24 September, 2006