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The project "Conservation for Sustainable Development in Central America", known as Olafo, at the Tropical Agriculture Research and Training Centre (CATIE) seeks to promote the sustainable use of local biological diversity by rural groups established in agricultural frontier zones in four Central American countries. A comparison of strategies employed in communities in Guatemala, Costa Rica and Panama shows that: i) systems analysis, as a conceptual framework, can be used to simultaneously consider development and conservation, two goals often considered contradictory; the formation of interdisciplinary teams provides opportunities to demystify technical issues by reconciling the perspectives of both the technicians and the communities; ii) the reinforcement and capacity-building of community organisations should be included as an objective not only to satisfy the basic development needs of a community, but also to provide skills to negotiate with different institutions — both private and public — on technical assistance and policy issues such as land tenure; iii) national institutions, contrary to general opinion, cannot, in the short term, allow for the continuation of these types of activities; iv) a working strategy at the community level should consider: • the identification of problems through existing formal local organisations as well as more informal family groups; the basic need of the local population for the intervention of external agents (e.g. technicians, NGOs and other non-local institutions); • the need for both technical and organisational training at a local level; • the identification of formal, informal and potential leaders within a community.


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