Jipi Japa Handicraft - Belize, Rio Blanco National Park

Name: Jipi Japa Handicraft
Producer organization: Rio Blanco Women’s Group.
Product location: Moho River Watershed near the Rio Blanco National Park (RBNP), Belize.
Global distribution: The Jipi Japa palm is native to tropical rainforests of Central America and northern South America.
Name of species and ecosystem: Carludovica palmate; tropical rainforest.
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Additional information about Jipi Japa Handicraft

Jipi Japa handicraft consists of baskets, hair accessories, earrings, place mats and small souvenir items produced by the Mayan women of the Rio Blanco Women’s Group. When harvested, Jipi Japa palm fibers are naturally processed to provide raw material of two colors: beige and dark brown. The Mayan women weave and finish all products by hand using colorful cotton thread to craft beautifully finished items. Located on the border of the Rio Blanco National Park (RBNP), the 30 members of the Rio Blanco Women’s Group work to support sustainable harvesting practices in the park. The RBNP is home to many endangered and important species, including the jaguar, ocelot margay, river otter, palm trees, and many species of orchids. Local villagers previously illegally harvested Jipi Japa palm trees from the RBNP. With the support of the Global Environmental Facility’s Small Grants Programme, community members established a two-acre Jipi Japa plot adjacent to the park to provide a source of raw material that reduces the pressure on the preserve’s resources. Establishing a permanent crop of Jipi Japa in the buffer zone of the RBNP helps to conserve biodiversity in the park and combat land degradation. The rate of land degradation in the area around the RBNP is high due to slash-and-burn agriculture practiced by villagers. Further, the effects are severe due to the hilly terrain and the high levels of rainfall. Erosion and siltation contribute to deterioration of the entire Moho River Watershed. There are very few employment opportunities in the communities of Santa Cruz and Santa Elena. The villages are not connected to the electrical grid, and the main activity is subsistence farming of corn, rice, and beans. There is a limited and seasonal flow of tourists to RBNP, and the income the women generate from selling crafts to visitors is very important for their families and communities. A percentage of income goes to supporting education and health activities in the villages. There is always a surplus of Jipi Japa craft, which is difficult to sell on the local market as many other Mayan communities produce the same type of craft. The women of the Rio Blanco Women’s Group are trying to identify new market opportunities outside their communities.

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