Plant 1,000 Trees & Grow Community in Guatemala

by Highland Support Project
Plant 1,000 Trees & Grow Community in Guatemala
Plant 1,000 Trees & Grow Community in Guatemala
Plant 1,000 Trees & Grow Community in Guatemala
Plant 1,000 Trees & Grow Community in Guatemala
Plant 1,000 Trees & Grow Community in Guatemala
Plant 1,000 Trees & Grow Community in Guatemala
Plant 1,000 Trees & Grow Community in Guatemala
Plant 1,000 Trees & Grow Community in Guatemala
New Water Tank for Espumpuja Forestry Enterprise
New Water Tank for Espumpuja Forestry Enterprise

"The intensifying impacts of climate change pose a serious global threat, particularly for rural populations whose livelihoods are closely tied to natural resources. Yet there is a lack of critical understanding of how asymmetric power dynamics shape the vulnerabilities of such populations under climate change" (Heikkinen. A, 2021).

The Las Campanas forestry enterprise provides full-time employment for a dozen women in the Western Highland community of Espumpuja, located at over 8300 feet elevation on the borderline between the departments of Quetzaltenango and San Marcos. The Association of Highland Women's (AMA) circle exemplifies the resiliency and agency that result from the organization's empowerment methodology. The lowering of regional water tables coupled with increased demand has threatened the viability of the enterprise. During the last year, students from Virginia Commonwealth University and the University of Richmond assisted the Highland Support Project (HSP) in developing funds to help the enterprise install community-wide rainwater harvesting infrastructure to sustain the tree nursery.    

The forestry enterprise, formed by the late community leader Dona Carman Romero, was initiated to maintain genetic diversity in the local tree stock. The women of the community had noticed the negative impacts of the Eucalyptus trees promoted by international development agencies as a source of lumber, firewood, and windbreakers. The vision behind the social-impact enterprise was to gather seeds from native plant species to maintain genetic diversity and offer an alternative to the Eucalyptus seedlings flooding the local market. The enterprise also provided the women of the community with a source of income that is not dependent on expensive inputs that drain away any profits. 

Eucalyptus grows faster and better, even in poor soils, than many other species (Hailu 2002, Hailu et al. 2003). Numerous studies demonstrate the economic advantages of the species in economically marginalized regions. The species was considered ideal for closing the increasing gap between the demand for lumber and supply in areas with accelerating deforestation. The rapid urbanization and population growth have created an increased need for building materials and firewood. The species remains the preferred choice for commercial production because of its fast growth, high biomass production, coppicing ability, disease resistance, and browsing (Kindu et al. 2006; Hailu 2002; Zewdia 2008; Negasa et al. 2016). 

The women of Espumpuja were not alone in identifying the adverse environmental impact of the Eucalyptus tree. Researchers have identified problems ranging from soil acidification, allelopathic effect (harming neighboring plants), nutrient depletion, and excessive water utilization (Negasa et al., 2017; Bowen and Nambiar, 1984; Basu and kandasamy, 1997; Hailu et al., 2003; Sanit -André et al., 2008). Community members also identified that the pine seedlings provided by large tree nurseries were more suspectable to disease, possibly because of the limited genetic diversity in the tree stock.  

The Eucalyptus and fast-growing pine trees are the preferred stock of industrial-scale tree nurseries that have sprouted up throughout the country in response to increased funding for reforestation. The social impact of these well-capitalized tree nurseries is the displacement of small-scale, informal producers from local and regional markets. Guadalupe Ramirez, one of the founders of AMA, commented that Globalization has displaced women from every imaginable market activity. Activities such as clean indoor cookstoves and reforestation have been appropriated by well-financed international actors that relegate community members to be recipients of aid and short-term wage employees rather than empowered participants. "They sell our poverty to displace us from our markets" (Guadalupe Ramirez, 2022). 

The decline in the local water table and a population explosion in the neighboring municipal center of San Juan Ostencalo have threatened the viability of the Los Campanas forestry enterprise. The municipality has established water restrictions to divert groundwater from the community to ensure sufficient urban residents' drinking water access. These policies necessitated that the community-based development committee implements water restrictions that prohibit the drawing of surface water for commercial endeavors. The community is located at the top of a ridge. Hence, no water arrives from above, and the thick layers of rock below complicate any plans for accessing the diminishing underground aquifer.

The competing water demands jeopardized the viability of the tree nursery, and the women lacked the political power to defend their economic interests with the municipal government. The enterprise members are also community members and appreciate the critical need for neighbors to access drinking water.   We are so excited to have participated in a project that facilitates community collaboration to solve root problems through cooperation rather than competition.  

Engineering students from York college, under the direction of Paul Ackerman, assisted with developing a schematic for a rainwater harvesting system to gravity feed the tree nursery. Students from the University of Richmond and Virginia Commonwealth University participating in HSP's Deep Ecology Education Program raised funds to purchase the materials to construct a rainwater harvesting system.  

The system includes a 15,000-liter capacity in water storage and a system of gutters with pipping to harvest rainwater collected from neighboring roofs. The most significant challenge in the project turned out to be the moving of the giant tanks a quarter of a mile uphill from the closet point that the flatbed truck delivering the tank could reach. The system has been installed today, and the first drops of water have irrigated the seedlings.

Join a stove building and reforestation team with the Highland Support Project and visit the Los Campanas tree nursery. You can experience the forestry process from collecting old growth seeds to creating compost, transplanting saplings, to talking with the plants to welcome their new neighbor on a reforestation day.  

 

References

Hailu Z (2002) Ecological impact evaluation of Eucalyptus plantations in comparison with agricultural and grazing land-use types in the highlands of Ethiopia. Doctoral thesis. Institute of Forest Ecology, University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences, Vienna, p 283

Hailu Z, Sieghardt M, Schume H, Ottner F, Glatzel G, Assefa B, Hailu TT (2003) Impact of Eucalyptus globulus and Eucalyptus camaldulensis small scale plantations on chemical and physical soil properties and on soil hydrological parameter in the highland of Ethiopia—a comparison with other land-use systems. Final Project-Report, p 178

Heikkinen, A.M. Climate change, power, and vulnerabilities in the Peruvian Highlands. Reg Environ Change 21, 82 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10113-021-01825-8  

Negasa DJ, Mbilinyi BP, Mahoo HF, Lemenih M (2016) Evaluation of land use/land cover changes and Eucalyptus expansion in Meja watershed, Ethiopia. J Geogr Environ Earth Sci Int 7(3):1–12 Negasa DJ, Mbilinyi BP, Mahoo HF, Lemenih M (2017a) Comparative assessment of soil and nutrient losses from three land uses in the central highlands of Ethiopia. Int J Water Resour Environ Eng 9:1–7

Saint-André L, Laclau JP, Deleporte P, Gava JL, Gonçalves JLM, Mendham D, Nzila JD, Smith C, Toit BD, Xu DP, Sankaran KV, Marien JN, Nouvellon Y, Bouillet JP, Ranger J (2008) Slash and litter management effects on Eucalyptus productivity: a synthesis using a growth and yield modelling approach. Site management and productivity in tropical plantation forests, p 173

Zewdie M (2008) Temporal changes of biomass production, soil properties and ground flora in Eucalyptus globulus plantations in the central highlands of Ethiopia. Doctoral dissertation. Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Uppsala, p 74 Accessed on 21 June 2017

Team work was the Key to project success
Team work was the Key to project success
"The Tank Is Really Big!" Los Campanas associate
"The Tank Is Really Big!" Los Campanas associate
Tank Delivery Day
Tank Delivery Day

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We are overwhelmed by the response to this project. Thank you for all your donations and support; in the last six months, we’ve planted 4000 trees in different cities from Guatemala: Quetzaltenango (Xecaracoj, Xepache, Chuicavioc, Tierra Colorada Alta, Santa Rita, Caserio Los Gonzalez, Cantel, Xecam, Olintepeque), Sololá (Xeabaj I) y San Marcos Sacatepequez (San Isidro Chamac).

"I'm grateful for all the trees you have planted today in my community because this will help our environment. We've optimized fuel use while we cook thanks to the training we received," said Esperanza, a woman who has benefited from the tree plantation and training.

The women in charge of the Tree Nursery in Espumpuja, San Juan Ostuncalco, have been struggling with the lack of water since the municipality from this area has prohibited water consumption for other activities like irrigation in the plantations, nurseries, or greenhouses. This community is at the top of a mountain, and the only way to provide them with water will be by using drip irrigation utilizing gravity distribution. We have joined forces with Paul Ackerman, a professor from York College who assists in designing a rainwater and storage system. Engineering students and professors are putting their efforts into developing the solution. Our priority has always been and will continue to be, increasing agency and empowerment in our partner communities. We want to join forces and keep raising funds to benefit all the people in this community, and funds will be to purchase and install the water catchments structure, tanks, and irrigation lines.

Thanks to our donors who support this project for helping us bring back the forest!

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reforestation efforts
reforestation efforts

This past week, funding brought in by the efforts of our Summer Fellows was used to work with families to improve their fuel use habits as well as to raise awareness on sustainable practices. As pictured above, our local community members were able to receive training on optimizing fuel use for cooking and improve the overall efficiency of their stoves. Additionally, a workshop on sustainable firewood production provided the opportunity to learn how to harvest trees without felling trees. This is especially important as it allows the trees to remain as a part of the environment and provide needed ecosystem services, as well as maintains the relationship between the trees and the rest of the ecosystem on a metaphysical level. Ultimately, the goal of these efforts is for AMA to support the success of the Women’s Reforestation Initiative by working with families to improve their fuel use habits as well as raise awareness on sustainable practices. 

 

This example from our reforestation efforts not only points to the great progress the project is making, but highlights the benefits of our small scale model. For instance, the goal of our small team of fellows is to provide networking services and develop support for local, Indigenous-led projects. This summer, our team focused on raising funds for the women of Las Campanas Nursery to increase their tree production and for AMA to complement reforestation efforts with sustainability initiatives. This small scale ultimately allows for the local women to have the most leadership in their community efforts, and for our organization to function as a resource of support. 

 

While some larger, industrially modeled organizations may be able to provide a higher number of physical trees, our priority has always been, and will continue to be, increasing agency and empowerment in our partner communities. Yes, some organizations can have quite impressive statistics on their annual trees planted, but in doing so, they ultimately prioritize the sheer number of trees over the active involvement of the community. Furthermore, having this industrial approach to environmental projects compromises its long term sustainability as a key factor of a project’s longevity is its relationship with the local community. 

 

Ultimately, at HSP our primary objective is to support the behavioral health of the Indigenous communities that have been historically disempowered by societal structures of oppression, and because of this, we will always ensure that our projects meet the material as well as spiritual needs of the communities. Our highest priority will always be to provide transformational opportunities for empowerment and agency for our partners -- a standard that is hard at work in our Women’s Reforestation Initiative.

fuel use efficiency
fuel use efficiency
sustainability workshop
sustainability workshop
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Giovani Loading the new trees
Giovani Loading the new trees

This week has been an exciting one in fundraising for our Indigenous-woman-run reforestation project and tree nursery in Guatemala!

We connected with Giovani over zoom this week and were able to see first-hand a new delivery of trees to the nursery. The nursery itself is a critical part of the program -- we are not just planting trees to combat deforestation, but also providing sustainable jobs for the women that run the nursery. It is an empowering way for them to earn their own salary and take on leadership roles within the community. 

Our intern team has also designed a brand-new t-shirt that is available on Bonfire, all proceeds support this project!

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Plant 1,000 Trees and Grow Community in Guatemala: Women’s Reforestation Initiative with the Highland Support Project

 

What are the root causes of deforestation in Guatemala?

 

The roots of deforestation and environmental degradation in the Western Highlands of Guatemala are deeply connected to colonial legacies and state violence. There is a history of violence and oppression against the Indigenous peoples of Guatemala in order to prioritize the most fertile lands for large scale, export oriented, agriculture that the state economy relies on. Additionally, the civil wars that took place in Guatemala in the latter half of the 20th century inflicted incredible violence on the Indigenous communities of the country, and as a result, many Indigenous people fled to the Highlands. 

 

This migration to the Highlands is closely tied with deforestation in the region as the population density grows increasingly higher on limited, less fertile land. Consequently, as more land is needed to make space for agricultural production, that space often comes at the expense of forested areas in the community because food production is of course a more immediate need.



What challenges does deforestation present to our partner communities?

 

As a result of deforestation, our partner communities are faced with soil erosion and infertility, as well as decreased water availability and quality. Both of these consequences make cultivating food much more difficult. Furthermore, without trees to take root and prevent erosion, mountainous Highland communities are devastated by mudslides with heavy rains. 

 

The consequences of natural disasters and food insecurity with few options for income contribute to migration out of Highland communities in search of economic opportunities and a home that is less at risk due to environmental factors.

 

As an organization that supports Indigenous people to live on their land, in their community, and with their culture, deforestation is evidently a critical topic to address. We are eager to build on the opportunities that the reforestation project presents.



What opportunities for change does a reforestation initiative bring?

 

A project addressing deforestation has the potential to bring positive change in aspects from food security to biodiversity and beyond. 

 

Firstly, in order to bring sustainable, long term solutions, the reforestation project must be coupled with efforts to bring more opportunities for income as well as improved agricultural production. Seeing as the expansion of land for food production is one of the main contributors to deforestation in the area, it is essential that this need is first addressed so that forests are not in conflict with the community members' well-being. Therefore, the reforestation project will include workshops on sustainable agricultural methods as well as the construction of water catchment systems in local communities to increase the productivity and resilience of their own agricultural practices -- ultimately providing for better food security without compromising reforested land.

 

Additionally, one of the key aims of this project is to provide opportunities for Indigenous women of the communities through engaging with AMA (Asociación de Mujeres del Altiplano) and their Women’s Circles. Through these circles, women employed in the nursery are able to build a network of support and have the power to make decisions that benefit their communities, and create an increased sense of agency as they begin to see themselves as leaders and in their communities. 

 

Therefore, while the reforestation project will surely address known environmental challenges such as preserving biodiversity, preventing erosion, and improving water retention and quality, this women-led initiative ultimately seeks to foster long term community growth through women’s empowerment while simultaneously building the communities’ resilience to climate change. 

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Organization Information

Highland Support Project

Location: Richmond, VA - USA
Website:
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Twitter: @HighlandPartnrs
Project Leader:
Guadalupe Ramirez
Richmond, VA United States
$2,136 raised of $10,000 goal
 
20 donations
$7,864 to go
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