About Chico Mendes
The Chico Mendes Reforestation Project (or the "Project") began in 1998 as an idea conceived by Jorge Armando Lopez Pocol and two friends who had become disillusioned with the politics of their local environmental organization. Consequently, the three friends decided to create a new environmental initiative apart from the local government with a focus on the reforestation of nearby community lands.
The initiative began with a small tree nursery near Jorge Armando's home in Pachaj with 2,000 seedlings. Over the the following year, however, Jorge Armando's friends moved on to other work, leaving him in charge of the fledgling project. He subsequently named the Project the "Chico Mendes Reforestation Project" in honor of the famous environmental activist who was murdered while defending the Amazon rain forest.
Since its conception, the Project has grown to include two tree nurseries and now produces some 10,000 to 15,000 trees per year. Jorge Armando has incorporated four year-round employees to help him harvest seeds, manage volunteers, and conduct outreach. Each year, the Project receives help, both through labor and financial contributions, from nearly 150 volunteers and donors from around the world. In addition, the Project partners with approximately 400 students from the local middle school, IMEB (Instituto Mixta de Educación Basico), to teach environmental awareness through nature walks, tree planting activities, and plant care. Within the local community, the Project also receives some support from churches as well as municipal committees, however the majority of funding comes from donations, volunteer home stays, and a Spanish language immersion school connected with the Project.
What we do
The Chico Mendes Reforestation Project focuses on planting trees endemic to the western highlands of Guatemala. From these native trees, Jorge Armando has selected those most affected by over-harvesting as well as those best suited for environmental remediation for his reforestation efforts. Included in the Project's current inventory are pine, fir, cypress, alder, elderberry, willow, and oak trees. With the help of temporary volunteers and several full-time employees, Armando cultivates and plants the seedlings in carefully chosen locations for maximum environmental benefits.
One of the sites benefiting from the efforts of the Project is a 400-acre parcel of government land surrounding a prison that was denuded of trees during Guatemala's civil war. Over the past fifteen years, volunteers from the Project have planted thousands of trees to reestablish the original pine forests and return healthy ecosystem functioning to the region.
The Project has also concentrated its efforts in conserving and replanting the mountainsides surrounding Pachaj where loggers have illegally cut down much of the old-growth forests. Among the most endangered and highly-valued trees that the Project is replacing are cypress and fir trees. However, the Project also plants native alder, oak, and pine trees in the region.
The Chico Mendes Project is located in the community of Pachaj, a Mayan K’iche’ village which is part of the municipality of Cantel 12 kilometers southeast of Quetzaltenango. The economy of Pachaj is supported largely by corn and bean farming, however many families in Pachaj are artisans whose crafts include weaving, embroidery, sewing, and the production of hand-made Mayan tapestries. Among the 8,000 residents, both Catholicism and Protestantism are widely practiced, as are various Mayan religions.