Promoting Sustainable Livelihoods in Guatemala

by EcoLogic Development Fund

Over the past four months, EcoLogic in partnership with Mayan Association for Well-Being in the Sarstún Region (APROSARSTUN) has successfully advanced our project, Promoting Sustainable Livelihoods in Guatemala in Sarstún, Guatemala.

EcoLogic’s agroforestry project increased the production of both staple crops and cash crops. Since our last report, EcoLogic facilitated five workshops for thirty local farmers, training them to establish alley-cropping plots that result in more sustainable ways of managing the fertility of the soil.  Alley cropping is a technique that restores nitrogen to the top layer of soil so that farmers can use the same piece of land every year, and it is done by planting nitrogen-fixing trees like the Inga tree between each row of crops. Additionally, three communities in the region are experimenting with ‘fruiticulture’ plots by establishing 0.3 acres of land growing mainly avocados, oranges, and mandarins.

We continue to provide capacity-building and leadership opportunities for women in 16 communities by organizing community demonstrations of various fuel-efficient stove models. The women choose the model for their community and are aided in the installation of the stoves.  This year EcoLogic has built 25 fuel-efficient stoves and plans to building another 75 by the end of the year. The women who are selected to receive stoves, participate in their construction and learn how to operate, fix, and maintain them. 

Our project technician in Guatemala, José Domingo Caal, noted the overwhelmingly positive reception of the stoves among the women. The stoves require far less fuel wood, reducing the number of trees that are felled in nearby forests.  As a result, women (and girls) can spend less time gathering wood and have more time to earn supplemental income or attend school. In addition, the stoves are vented to the outside decreasing the smoke inside the home, which reduces health risks to family members.

Promoting more sustainable livelihood practices is integral to our stove projects.In return for receiving a stove, all families need to plant and maintain seedlings in community nurseries or participate in the reforestation of mature saplings. As a result, EcoLogic and APROSARSTUN also have facilitated the reforestation of approximately 22 acres of degraded forest areas around microwatersheds, which supply the water that communities rely upon for drinking water. 

Together, in partnership with you, the communities, and APROSARSTUN, we are moving forward with building capacity for sustainability and food security in rural Q’eqchi communities (Q’eqchi being the predominant Maya group in the central highlands and northern lowlands of Guatemala) by addressing the interrelated economic, social, and environmental issues. Ultimately, our partnership and activities in Guatemala lead to the conservation of all of our shared natural resources.

On behalf of EcoLogic and the communities we serve, we ask you to continue to support the people of Sarstún in their efforts to create sustainable livelihoods.  

Ten seed technique
Ten seed technique

In the past couple of months, EcoLogic worked with the peoples of La Guaira Cocoli and Nuevo Nacimiento Caliz, Guatemala to identify and prioritize present environmental needs within their communities.  EcoLogic staff members used the Ten Seed Technique; a participatory activity that was created to enable illiterate community members to participate in a community-wide discussions. In turn, this activity helps EcoLogic understand and learn about the community from the perspective of its members and allows everyone (men and women) an equal opportunity to share their vision.  Following the discussion, each person was given ten seeds, which they then used to vote privately on the priority level of the identified need categories. Using this strategy, community members of La Guaira Cocoli and Nuevo Nacimiento Caliz voted to prioritize conservation planning of two microwatersheds in their district.

Following the community vote, EcoLogic staff in collaboration with local partners, delimited and georeferenced the two chosen microwatersheds. Staff members worked with community elders to gather information about traditional water flow patterns as well as to identify major changes and trends associated with the two watersheds.

EcoLogic staff is currently coordinating the construction of 3D models of the two watershed areas so that community members may have a visual representation of what their watersheds look like. These  models will aid community members in identifying priority areas for conservation and restoration within the watersheds and will allow for the implementation of a strategic plan to protect vital drinking water supplies. 

Community members discuss their conservation needs
Community members discuss their conservation needs
A farmer showing off his agroforestry plot.
A farmer showing off his agroforestry plot.

Guatemala has enacted a program, known as PINPEP (Program of Incentives for Small-Scale Agricultural Producers) that provides financial incentives to farmers who implement sustainable farming practices, such as agroforestry.

EcoLogic is currently registering farmers and help monitor their land in order to ensure that their farming is sustainable and that they are receiving payment. Through enrollment in PINPEP, families in Xequel receive an additional $166 a year when practicing sustainable farming. The town of Xequel is plagued by drought and deforestation. The average family income is less than $1,000 a year. EcoLogic is actively ramping up our support of the PINPEP program in order to conserve and rehabilitate the environment, but also to provide a reliable source of income and food for families. 

Your support not only supports the conservation of precious and threatened forests in Huehuetenango, Guatemala, but also provides families with additional income necessary to meet their basic needs.


The production of fish silage.
The production of fish silage.

EcoLogic has coordinated a series of meetings with key stakeholders in the coastal town of Sarstun, Guatemala, in an effort to find sustainable solutions to dwindling fishstocks. Results of these meetings include the training of fisherfolk to develop business and waste management plans to ensure fisherfolk are getting the most out of their daily catch. Potential business plans help identify and develop new marketable products such as fish sausage to make use of the entire catch and improve their price per fish. Waste management plans include the production of silage, a nutrient-rich liquid made from fish byproduct used to enhance soil conditions.

The heart of sustainability, as you and I both know, is protecting fragile resources while creating healthy livelihoods for families. It is also the heart of EcoLogic’s work. Your support can continue to help the fisherfolk of coastal Guatemala and their families adopt fishing practices that improve fish stocks and implement better ways to bring fish to market.

Just outside of our first plot to track
Just outside of our first plot to track

In December, EcoLogic Program Officer Chris Patterson took a trip down to the communities of Ixcán and Sarstún Guatemala to meet some of the farmers currently working with and incorporating agroforesty into their farm land. While there, he collected data on how their plants are growing. From 5:00 in the morning until to 8:00 at night, Chris and a team of dedicated staff, field experts, and interns met with farmers, toured the land, and compiled data on how the trees were growing.

The team randomly selected 15 inga trees per plot for recording tree height and growth. Inga is the type of tree used on these agroforestry plots. By integrating inga into their agriculture, farmers can reduce erosion, provide a source of organic fertilizer, maintain a healthy climate for crops, and increase yield thus reducing the need to clear more forests for agricultural lands. If trees were chest height, the team took the diameter and a small soil sample to have a baseline of the soil quality before the trees reach maturity.

By taking advantage of the natural benefits of trees, small-scale farmers can use agroforestry to produce more using less land, easing their burden while improving their crops. We’ll continue to keep you up to date on our activities around the growing agroforestry plots in Guatemala.

Landscape view of the area
Landscape view of the area
Team member talking to a local farmer
Team member talking to a local farmer
My partner Janie working from the back of a truck
My partner Janie working from the back of a truck

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Organization Information

EcoLogic Development Fund

Location: Cambridge, MA - USA
Website: http:/​/​
Project Leader:
Alexa Piacenza
Program Associate
Cambridge, MA United States

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