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Best Shot for Forest's Survival: Employment

By Colin WoodardSpecial to The Christian Science Monitor / May 2, 1997



FLORES, GUATEMALA

The race is on to save North America's largest rain forest. But while more and more fires burn as Indians carve farms out of Guatemala's Petn jungle, there have been some positive developments.

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The Ministry of Agriculture has set aside 2,460 acres outside the Maya Biosphere Reserve to give to peasants in an effort to draw pressure away from the more pristine northern region. Ministry officials say they are also considering paying squatters within the reserve to move to unprotected areas.

A dramatic rise in tourism to the region might also provide incentives for protecting the forests. Most foreigners come by airplane from Guatemala City or Cancn to see Mayan ruins, of which the massive city of Tikal is the largest discovered.

"Tourism and the development of ecotourism can make an enormous difference, but it won't create a large number of jobs," says Mr. Roldan. "We also need labor-intensive agriculture to provide employment. Without this, we will see more crime and social unrest, and nobody will worry about conserving the surroundings."