Adapting to a Changing Environment

EcoLogic Development Fund

Entry Overview

General Info
Email :
Organization Address: 
25 Mount Auburn St, Suite 203
Cambridge, Massachusetts 02138
United States
Population Impacted: 

6,969.39 hectares 

Major Occupations: 
day laborers for United Fruit Company, cattle ranching and dairy production, tourism in Pico Bonito National Park and nearby Honduran Emerald (hummingbird) Reserve
Local resources the community depends on, and for what purpose: 
Population depends on the water supply of the Uchapa-Pimienta watershed for human consumption, animal consumption, and irrigation.
Local threats to resources: 
Contamination and depletion caused by agropastoral activity (animal waste, pesticides, fertilizers) and fuelwood harvesting as well as inefficient water resource use.
Climate Hazards: 
In the Olanchito and Pico Bonito area, deforestation and the degradation of rivers, caused primarily by unsustainable agricultural practices and unchecked expansion of grazing, have caused extensive water contamination and unreliable flow. As a result, the health and security of rural villagers as well as urban dwellers are compromised.The beneficiary communities of this project, located in the Uchapa-Pimienta subwatershed in the Municipality of Olanchito, live in a particularly dry region with minimal economic opportunity –average annual family incomes here are 25% less than the national average. (sources: Institutional Diagnostic and Financial Study for the Municipality of Olanchito EPYPSA 2005; Strategic plan for Olanchito municipal development 2004-2020; Report on the Human Development of Honduras 2008/2009 by the UNDP; Equator Prize case study and web portal about AJAASSPIB at Honduras as a whole ranks very high in climate vulnerability, placed at #1 in the world in some studies. Long term rankings of climate vulnerability include Honduras, along with Myanmar and Nicaragua as the countries most affected by extreme weather events in terms of fatalities and losses. (Germanwatch, 1992-2011). In rural Honduras, only a third of water delivery systems provide continual service and less than 14% deliver potable water. Despite its abundant water resources and the fact that it houses the largest number of watersheds in Central America, Honduras has the “second lowest amount of water per capita in Central America due to mismanagement of and pressure on water resources.” Even though a number of successful examples of watershed conservation have emerged in Honduras over the past decade, political instability has largely resulted in a lack of a coherent national strategy and policy framework to support these localized efforts and address the sustainability of water resources.
Level of exposure to these hazards: 
The communities in the Uchapa-Pimienta watershed are highly exposed to climatic changes affecting their water supply. The area sits in a rain shadow, where annual droughts are common, and rainfall patterns are becoming increasingly unpredictable due to climate change.
Level of sensitivity: 
Given the overwhelming reliance of Olanchito and surrounding areas on the economic activity generated by agriculture-based activity, sensitivity to quantity and quality of water in the community is very high. Any significant change in the amount of water available for irrigation, or a drop in quality would have immediate economic repercussions on the local population.
Level of adaptive capacity: 
The adaptive capacity of Olanchito and the other communities within the Uchapa-Pimienta watershed should be defined as moderate, but capacity is constrained by the very limited financial resources available. However, it is worth noting that AJAASSPIB and the Municipality have extremely committed leadership that EcoLogic believes will help them to rise to the challenge if provided with enough financial resources to do so. They are amazingly strong, creative, and committed people which is part of the reason they were awarded the Equator Prize in 2012.
Describe Your Solution: 

To address the threats faced by the Uchapa-Pimientas watershed and the community dependent on the water it provides, the Olanchito-MACO project has:  1. Laid the foundation for a collective landscape-level approach to the conservation region that reduces threats to the Uchapa-Pimienta subwatershed, the Municipality of Olanchito, and AJAASSPIB communities in a way that scales up their valuable achievements and innovative approaches and enables the region to better prepare for and adapt to climate change. EcoLogic has leveraged AJAASSPIB’s renown in the region and our own multiple existing partnerships and relationships from nearly 15 years in the area to engage in land use planning and assessment that has helped lay the foundation for a locally-led landscape-level approach to conservation across the Pico Bonito National Park region. Landscape-level conservation recognizes that challenges such as habitat fragmentation, pollution, an ever expanding need for agricultural land, and a rapidly changing climate transcend political and jurisdictional boundaries and require a more networked approach to conservation—holistic, collaborative, adaptive and grounded in science—to ensure the sustainability of land, water, wildlife and cultural resources. Specifically, EcoLogic has provided technical assistance and guidance to local farmers and ranchers to implement agroforestry and to introduce ISPS (Integrated Silvo-Pastoral Systems) as alternative, sustainable agriculture and livestock land use systems. These systems improve efficiency of land use, can increase the productivity and profitability of a farming system, and enhance the generation of ecosystem goods and services.   2. Supported implementation of the Joint Environmental Management Plan for the Municipality of Olanchito (MACO) to conserve a 6.5km2 upstream watershed that provides water to 40,000 of Olanchito’s residents and provide a model for Honduran water policy and practice. This has been coordinated by AJAASSPIB playing a central and pioneering role for an association of village-level water boards, building off the MACO agreement with EcoLogic, Olanchito, and AJAASSPIB to form a separate but linked Watershed Council or other appropriate backbone support organization.   3. Laid the groundwork to eventually create an effective Payment for Ecosystem Services (PES) system (modeled after the AJAASSPIB PES system implemented in communities to the east) within the Uchapa-Pimienta watershed to ensure conservation and protection of water resources in the area. EcoLogic and AJAASSPIB have already made significant strides in this regard, having signed a cooperative agreement with the Municipality of Olanchito to coordinate efforts around protecting the Uchapa-Pimienta subwatershed which supplies water to the city of Olanchito.  This has enabled AJAASSPIB to earn the necessary credibility and expertise to receive payment from the municipality for their efforts, and together they have laid the groundwork for a model conservation agreement and independently capitalized conservation fund. 

Ecological Costs: 
A potential ecological cost of the project is an increase in illegal logging in areas surrounding the protected watershed. Individuals/families accustomed to getting firewood from the protected area will likely move elsewhere to find firewood.
Ecological Benefit: 
Increased vegetation, forestation, and biodiversity within the protected areas of the Uchapa-Pimienta watershed. – all leading to higher water quality and more stable water quantity for both upstream and downstream consumers
Economic Indicators used to measure benefit: 

As explained in the previous response, the Olanchito-MACO project is currently at too early a stage to be able to collect economic data regarding its impact on beneficiaries (the Municipality of Olanchito), though projections and cost-benefit analyses indicate that current action is a much smarter approach than allowing the forest to disappear. EcoLogic hopes to be able to demonstrate the positive economic impacts of improved water through impact on water quality and quantity in the Municipality by conducting an impact study once the project has been established and in effect for a few years.  

Community/Social Cost: 
Volunteer time for planning and design, political discord relative to perceived privatization in Honduras, challenges and opportunity costs of moving people from land in Uchapa-Pimienta watershed and/or changing livelihood practices
Community/Social Benefit: 
Water provision, social cohesion, political will for conservation even in face of scarcity, In 2012 almost 400 students participated in reforestation efforts as part of their graduation requirements, and several have expressed interest in pursuing environmental science degrees.
Community/Social Indicators used to measure benefit: 
# of days with water shortages in Olanchito per year, number and quality of joint agreements, success meeting milestones included in MACO agreement, % of homes with water micro-metering devices
Economic Cost: 

3-yr figures in USD: Enforcement costs: $10,000 Reforestation and land-use planning (e.g. 3D participatory modeling) costs, including in-kind: $100,000 Fencing and riparian buffer strips:  $10,000 Land use change to ISPS and organic approaches (workshops and prototype learning plots): $25,000 Community learning exchanges: $4,000 Water piping and infrastructure maintenance: $15,000 Outreach (print, press, stickers, awareness and social marketing campaigns): $10,000 Outcomes of permanent sustainable management: priceless 

Economic Benefit: 

The economic benefits provided by improved water management can be critical to a community but are simultaneously difficult to quantify. The bottom line is that, based on other experiences around the world and the alternative options that the municipality has explored, the socio-political situation of Honduras, and more, the cost of protecting the Uchapa-Pimienta watershed is much less, by an order of magnitude, than the cost of dealing with water shortages or implementing a more technical solution to water provision such as piping from less drought prone areas many miles away.    Less stress on freshwater sources, along with improved water quality, can not only greatly improve quality of life for affected communities, but also translate to higher margins for farmers who depend on the water for irrigation. More abundant water can allow a farmer to irrigate more land and increase harvests – more efficient use of water on existing crops can do the same. The health benefits for humans, animals, and crops that higher quality water provides are also hugely important and have a direct impact on daily life. However, projects with the scope of Olanchito-MACO strive to provide these benefits over long time frames, and statistical tracking which exhibiting quantifiable economic gains to project beneficiaries will take time to collect. Our team is dedicated to this data collection and analysis, with an ever-present participatory approach that includes the voice of local residents and leaders.   

Ecological Indicators used to measure benefit: 

Forest cover and connectivity indices, water turbidity tests, # of water shortages per month/year, water sample analysis, flow rates in rivers/streams/tributaries

What were/are the challenges your community faced in implementing this solution?: 

The Olanchito-MACO project has encountered a few principal challenges since it inception. Foremost among these challenges is dealing with community members who must leave their land in order to establish the protected areas of the watershed. While the total number of families who were required to relocate was very low (about 4) and while most families/landowners have been willing to relocate in exchange for compensation, some have been understandably reluctant to move in fear of the financial implications of having to replant crops on new, unfamiliar land or having to change crop types altogether. In such situations, EcoLogic has worked closely with affected families and offer all possible technical and financial assistance to ease the transition. Through close work with each affected family, negative impacts on displaced families have been minimized and/or eliminated.  Another challenge has been effectively enforcing regulations within the protected zone. Given the limited human resources of EcoLogic and the communities of the watershed, it is very difficult to enforce bans on pesticide use/brush burning within the watershed. EcoLogic confronted this problem by reaching agreements in which the local government authorities have taken responsibility for enforcement within the protected areas of the watershed. With much greater mobility and resources available, this agreement has not only allowed the watershed to be properly protected but has broadened the parties with a stake in the protection of the watershed and allowed those who need to do so, to change crops and livelihood systems.   

Describe the community-based process used to develop the solution including tools and processes used: 

Thanks to their success helping communities secure their own water sources and unite to secure local financing to sustain the commons, the Municipality of Olanchito reached out to EcoLogic, AJAASSPIB, and its technical team to accomplish a similar feat on a larger scale.  Officials from the municipality approached AJAASSPIB for help with forging agreements and establishing environmental funds for conservation of the Uchapa-Pimienta subwatershed, which supplies water to 40,000 of its residents. The mayor’s interest in this partnership was based on the water council association’s reputation in the region for honesty, technical rigor, and capacity to bridge the gaps between disparate interests. AJAASSPIB is particularly creative with leveraging incentives and preferences to increase participation in watershed conservation and restoration. For example, villagers are extremely interested in fuel-efficient cookstoves, but AJAASSPIB ensures that to be eligible, one must be 100% paid up with his/her monthly water fees.  Additional tools have included 3-D microwatershed models, known locally as maquetas, where villagers and city residents make a model of current watershed status, settle debates that result from it (people rarely see it the same way at the outset), and then make a visual plan for the future of how they wish to see the watershed and land use patterns change. This is a highly participatory and effective process that EcoLogic staff first learned from IUCN Mesoamerica staff in Guatemala and has since trained AJAASSPIB, who has trained the City of Olanchito, students, and many others in the simple but powerful technique.  On March 1, 2011, AJAASSPIB and EcoLogic signed the Agreement on Joint Environmental Management of the Municipality of Olanchito (referred to as MACO and further detailed below and in Appendix 3) to coordinate efforts around protecting the Uchapa-Pimienta subwatershed from where it draws the majority of its water. All parties signed an addendum to MACO on June 4, 2012. The Addendum lays out a series of actions to be completed between February 2012 and March 2013 and includes a budget for these actions.  The plan calls for further efforts related to an environmental awareness campaign in Olanchito, the facilitation of stakeholder meetings, and the creation of a community-based watershed management plan for the Uchapa-Pimienta subwatershed.  Olanchito has officially pledged to budget $53,000 (1 million Lempiras) per year to this five-year effort. MACO is designed with a Coordination Unit (Executive Director of AJAASSPIB; Coordinators of Olanchito’s Municipal Environmental Unit (UMA), and its Local Supervision and Control Unity; and EcoLogic’s Honduran Program Officer) that works to facilitate efforts between AJAASSPIB and Olanchito administrators with field technicians, promoters, and environmental educators.  MACO’s implementation is officially backed by representatives of ICF, ALFALIT, National Water Authority, Public Health Department, Education Department, UNAHZCURVA, and COLPROCAH, all of which will be invited to the table in conversations about PES and Uchapa-Pimienta funding and control mechanisms over the next several years. In addition to these groups listed officially in the MACO agreement, EcoLogic coordinates efforts between a variety of institutions serving the greater Olanchito area, including CARE, which assists with social audits and organizational strengthening of AJAASSPIB and member water committees; Engineers without Borders, which helps with water system construction and maintenance; the Danish forest conservation NGO Nepenthes, which works with the forestry sector.  

Climate hazard of concern: 
How does your solution reduce the exposure of and buffer/protect the ecosystem affected?: 

The Uchapa-Pimienta watershed and Municipality of Olanchito is located in a rainshadow, already naturally susceptible to drought. Due to increasingly unpredictable rainfall patterns, it is more vulnerable and potentially volatile (fires, water shortages) than ever. The work will conserve and restore native vegetation and tree cover, particularly in riparian buffer areas, to ensure ecosystem services such as water and biodiversity are maintained in both quality and quantity. The forest acts as a stabilizer and shock absorber in this regard for the services that people and nature depend upon here, and its maintenance of shade and ground moisture prevents the drought from reaching the feeder streams and rivers to the extent they would be exposed in open sunlight along their course. 

How does your solution reduce the sensitivity of the ecosystem affected?: 

Efforts to conserve and sustainably use the land in and around the watershed will create an area in which inefficient grazing, pesticide use, brush burning, illegal timber extraction, and other environmentally-damaging activities are no longer the norm. The behavior change has already begun. These measures allow for increased growth of native vegetation within the watershed and gradual reforestation, which will increase the watershed’s ability to retain water. Both of these factors will decrease the exposure of the watershed to climate impacts, particularly drought that leads to wildfires / forest loss and flooding events and erosion on steep hillsides. More forest cover in the right places lowers sensitivity to extreme weather events and unpredictable patterns.

How has your solution increased the capacity of the ecosystem to adapt to potential climate changes?: 

The increased vegetative cover, afforestation, and biodiversity within the watershed brought about by the regulations put in place by this project will allow the Uchapa-Pimienta watershed to more easily cope with changes in weather and precipitation and other weather events.

How does your solution reduce the exposure of and buffer/protect the communities affected?: 

The Olanchito-MACO project informs, educates, and organizes the local population to effectively manage and protect their source of water, the Uchapa-Pimienta watershed. The end goal of creating a PES system in the watershed, in which upstream providers are compensated by downstream users – will create a sustainable system in which water quantity and quality is maintained at a high standard, and an environment less prone to flooding and erosion in times of heavy rainfall (described above) These improved environmental conditions will buffer and protect the community against the negative economic impacts of drought, flooding, and subsequent landslides which can ruin crops and local infrastructure. 

How does your solution reduce the sensitivity of the communities affected?: 

This project will not change the economic structure of the area, so local communities, due to their reliance on agriculture, will remain exposed and sensitive to changes in quantity and quality of water. However, a consistent and dependable source of quality water which is effectively monitored and managed means that the likelihood such vulnerability/sensitivity will be tested will be greatly decreased. The management and increased efficiency of water use which the project will provide will also increase the community’s adaptive capacity to react to changes in water quantity or quality – by having a better understanding of how the community is using its water and where potential sources of contamination may originate.

How has your solution increased the capacity of local communities to adapt to potential climate changes?: 

The capacity of local communities to adapt derives from leadership and commitment. In this project, leaders are inspiring figures who have made it their calling to join us and dedicate human resources, finances, and volunteer labor to establishing environmental restoration and maintenance funds as part and parcel of people's water fees and civic duties. They are now used to strategic planning, threat assessment, and developing alternate scenarios - as well as conflict management. To illustrate, AJAASSPIB's president is also head of the Olanchito cattlemen association and has run unsuccessfully for mayor against the current "eco/green" mayor Eddy Acosta. In most areas, the kind of collaboration they have been able to forge would be impossible given so many competing interests, especially when facing scarcity. However, their ability to find common ground and work together makes it highly likely that in the face of future, more extreme challenges, they will rise to the occasion.

Can this solution be replicated elsewhere?: 

The Olanchito-MACO project in is itself a replication in some ways – the impetus for the project began when community leaders saw the success of EcoLogic’s Communities Organizing for Watersheds project (begun in 2003) by members of AJAASPIB – a group of communities to the east of Olanchito, at the borders of the national park. The members of AJAASPIB have organized to manage and conserve their water resources and successfully set up a PES system.  The primary tenets of the project – education, cooperation, conservation – are designed to raise the profile of water management and conservation in communities whose livelihood are heavily dependent on their sources of watershed. Every watershed and its dependent communities are different, and the structure of any community organization initiative and PES system will be different depending on the population and climatic hazards in each area. However, the principles upon which the Olanchito-MACO approach is based are equally applicable regardless of the climate or culture.    Ultimately, EcoLogic hopes the Olanchito-MACO project will demonstrate that well-organized communities can not only serve as effective stewards of financial and natural resources to establish, maintain, and enhance potable water access, but that they can also be counted on as experts, helping fill a gap of technical capacity in the region and allowing for locally-driven and governed development. As such, it will hold promise as a replicable model to be applied in other water-insecure, rural communities.  The effort to conserve the Uchapa-Pimienta watershed will serve as a model for policy and practice in Honduras. In Honduras, there is great opportunity to have a positive effect on a dynamic policy environment. Honduran law currently prioritizes the roles, rights, and responsibilities of municipalities above all other institutional actors with respect to water. In terms of land conservation and forestry, several national ministries overlap in jurisdiction and authority, and much is being worked out in the aftermath of political upheaval in 2009. Further, this landscape is a fantastic opportunity for EcoLogic to experiment and learn in the context of its new strategic plan. Results from this effort should include the launch of several catalytic local projects by coalitions of partners across the Pico Bonito region.  With the aim of making the project a model for future learning and replication, EcoLogic, AJAASSPIB, Olanchito, and partners will work to communicate results of the project to the widest possible audience, aiming at local, national, regional, and international audiences. Locally, we will place primary emphasis on activities related to the alliances that grow out of our work. We will also distribute pamphlets and posters in municipalities, technical offices, and community centers. Nationally, we will ensure that partners and co-funders are well informed about the progress and final results of the  project. EcoLogic’s communication strategy, and its soon-to-be launched new website, conveys the importance of community stewardship in addressing environmental challenges at local and global levels.   EcoLogic will also publicize the results of this project across its growing network of partner institutions.  Further, through environmental education campaigns and learning exchanges with EcoLogic partners and others in Honduras, we will reach a large number of Hondurans. In Olanchito, we will utilize local television and radio spots.  We expect to widely share our technical analysis of the Uchapa-Pimienta Subwatershed and reports on our progress and learning. Beyond Olanchito, we expect to conduct forum-style meetings and events and follow –ups to events such as our recent Payment for Ecosystem Services School. EcoLogic also expects to attend national, regional, and international conferences in follow up to Rio+20 in 2012,21 ideally with funding to bring AJAASSPIB leaders and community members as well as representatives from Olanchito and any backbone support organization such as a watershed council that may be set up. 

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