Belize, Amandala, Inglês


Photo: Bobby Lopez, CEO, Hummingbird Group Limited

by Kristen Ku

BELMOPAN, Thurs. Apr. 18, 2024

The Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Bobby Lopez of the Hummingbird Group Limited, a Belmopan based furniture manufacturer, claims that his company is facing violations of its sustainable forestry license in the Maya Mountain Forest Reserve.

The company, established over three decades ago, has been actively engaged in sustainable forestry under a government-issued license aimed at responsible environmental management.

In 2022, after persistent applications and negotiations spanning several administrations, Hummingbird was granted a long-term sustainable forestry license. This approval came after detailed consultations and commitments to maintaining strict environmental standards.

They even hired experts to help manage the forest carefully, recording and categorizing trees to ensure some are preserved and others are used responsibly.

However, they’ve run into trouble as, according to CEO Lopez, the company’s staff recently encountered unauthorized survey activities by an entity known as the Green Hill Farming Cooperative. (We believe he meant Green Creek Farmers Cooperative.)

This group allegedly claims to have received verbal approval from governmental officials for activities that could lead to the de-reservation of forest lands for agricultural use.

“We came upon, about a week ago, a group of men in the reserve cutting survey lines, and immediately we called the Forestry Department; but our crew had an encounter with them and they’re saying, ‘Minister Cordel Hyde, we met with him in January of 2022’. Well, I got a call this morning that they’re in there again, and the word is that Minister Mike Espat has told them to go in and cut, and that he will see to it that it gets dereserved,” Lopez revealed.

Today Amandala reached out to the Deputy Chief Forest Officer at the Forestry Department, John Pinelo, Jr., who confirmed these reports, stating, “We have received reports from Mr. Lopez that there are people cutting survey lines in the reserve. We sent our officers out to investigate, but I don’t know if they knew we were coming in, but when we got there, there was nobody,” he said.

“Our staff did see some cutting going on, which we cannot verify are survey lines because we are not surveyors, but there is some clearing that was going on. Our officers attempted to contact the people who apparently or allegedly were the ones cutting, but we could not locate them. What happens, according to Mr. Lopez, is that they go in on the weekends, which is when we are not working.”

According to Officer Pinelo, not only has the Department not had communication with the Minister in this regard, but also has not granted any permission for deforestation.

But this isn’t the first time that parts of the forest have been turned into farmland. In the past, small pieces of land were given out mostly to locals, who often sold them cheaply to foreigners, changing the landscape and ownership significantly.

Belize Territorial Volunteer, Wil Maheia also spoke on the issue, affirming the news of Minister Espat’s involvement.

“Last week we got some information that there was some incursion into the Maya Mountain Forest Reserve … After talking to some villagers, Mr. Lopez, who has a concession to do such state of logging in there, also spoke to a villager who confirmed that Hon. Mike Espat is sending people in there and saying, ‘Just go ahead and clear the land’, that he will make sure that he gets the reserve so that they can have private land,” Maheia said.

He believes that the Forestry Department must do better policing to minimize these types of incidents, a fact that Pinelo did not deny. However, Pinelo felt that the criticism was harsh because, based on the resources available, there is only so much that can be done.

“Sitting in an office in PG and criticizing the Forest Department does not help the entire situation. Telling the truth, Mr. Wil is in PG; he could easily walk across to Mike Espat’s office and ask him. But don’t sit in PG and point fingers at the Forest Department and say we’re not doing our jobs, because we are, but we can’t deal with everything,” Pinelo countered.

Despite these challenges, Hummingbird is doubling down on their efforts to protect the forest. They’ve put up fences and reported the unauthorized activities to the Forestry Department. They are also investing in planting new trees and protecting the natural habitat.


Ottawa Citizen


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