According to a new report, the leading commercial cause of deforestation worldwide, ahead of soy, oil palm, and even logging, is beef production, and nowhere is this more evident than in Central America. A leading driver of forest loss there since the 1970s, cattle production at first centered on the most fertile lands in the region (volcanic and floodplain soils), which formerly had supported lush forests, but which provided good pasture once cleared. Driven by demand, the industry continued to expand into less-conducive areas, and by the mid-1990s was beginning to drive small-scale farmers and indigenous people off their lands to create further pasture land. These farmers in turn have increasingly cleared forests elsewhere in order to regain their lost livelihoods, often within protected forests.


While much of this activity is driven by the conventional ranching industry, there are many other players to consider, from international corporations to national governments, and even narco-traffickers, who make use of public lands in remote rural areas for moving their illicit products via networks of roads and makeshift aircraft landing strips. Untangling all of this to reveal a fuller picture of the many forces behind loss of tropical forests in the region for ranching will require a multipronged approach. therefore seeks story pitches for a series that will foster a better understanding of the scale, scope, and impact of cattle production on Central America’s forests and wildlife at the local to regional and national level, with a special interest in illegal ranching operations within some of the largest remaining forest blocks in Central America: Rio Platano Biosphere Reserve, Tawahka Biosphere Reserve, Patuca National Park, Bosawas Biosphere Reserve, Southeast Biosphere Reserve of Nicaragua, Maya Biosphere Reserve, and Darien National Park.

Topics of interest include but are not limited to:

  • What illegal cattle production looks like in the largest remaining forest blocks in Central America: who are these ranchers, what are the impacts of their operations, and why are ranchers operating illegally in these protected areas?
  • Answering the question of whether illegal and unsustainable beef is putting Central America’s economies at risk: the region’s herd of 18 million cattle is important for GDPs and livelihoods, but could the entire sector be undermined by illegal and unsustainable ranching?
  • Tracking the fate of small-scale farmers who lose their land to large cattle operations and in turn clear protected forests to continue farming: what’s the impact on forests, rural communities, and biodiversity? Can we follow a displaced farmer to a tract of formerly uncut forest in Guatemala, for example, where this problem is currently on the increase?
  • Investigating the degree to which illegal cattle ranching is tied to narco-trafficking in the region: how do illegal cattle operations provide a means for control of state lands and provide landing strips, trafficking routes, and money laundering services for drug cartels? How might addressing illegal “narco-ranching” bring back territorial control to rural border areas and help reverse deforestation?
  • Illustrating the ways that Central America’s indigenous forest communities get caught in the crossfire of drug trafficking and cattle ranching: how do these activities undermine these communities’ ability to be stewards of the land and prevent agricultural incursions, including illegal clearing of forest for ranching, in their territories?
  • How big businesses are involved: deforestation-free supply chains for beef are the stated objective of many companies, but what does this look like in reality? Are they living up to these goals? Some global brands have been linked to beef from Guatemala’s Laguna del Tigre National Park: can this be proven?
  • The role that national governments play in promoting forest destruction by encouraging cattle production: as governments sign on to international treaties, receive foreign aid to conserve forests, and start projects to reduce emissions that cause climate change, are they complicit in the very destruction of the forests they purport to save by also promoting cattle production?

Related topics also of interest:

  • The links between oil palm cultivation, illegal cattle ranching, and deforestation
  • Examples of effective law enforcement actions like confiscation of cattle in protected areas and removal of illegal ranch infrastructure
  • Following the path of a piece of beef from an unsustainable cattle operation to a resort town in coastal Mexico or similar areas
  • Whether the “Alliance for Prosperity” investments meant to improve conditions in the region can be used to slow the drivers of deforestation for cattle production
  • Solutions to the problem, from law enforcement to encouraging alternative protein sources for consumers and removal of agricultural subsidies or tax incentives in protected areas.

Mongabay will negotiate all fees and contracts on a per-story basis. Completed stories will be paid per word, depending on the journalist’s experience and the complexity of the reporting, and will be published on and its Spanish language site Mongabay Latam, under an open Creative Commons license that allows for sharing and re-posting. We will also offer a small payment to journalists who proactively get their stories republished in major third-party print media outlets and on sites that draw more than 100,000 unique visitors per month.


Applications can be submitted in English or Spanish, and the final reporting will be published first in either English or Spanish and then translated to the other language by the Mongabay team.

Please submit your pitch here along with your journalism resume. Pitches should be roughly 500 words in length. They should clearly explain the specific subject you would like to write about and your approach to covering it, describe a few potential sources, indicate if the topic involves any of the largest remaining forest blocks in Central America mentioned above, and say whether travel funding is necessary to complete the project (travel funds are available). Since this is an ongoing pitch solicitation, there is no deadline for submissions.


Consulte esta oportunidad y envíe su propuesta en español aquí.