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Situation Analysis

Environmental issues are critical in Guatemala because of the country’s large natural resource endowment. Guatemala has the largest forested area in Mesoamerica and the second largest contiguous forest in the Americas after the Amazon. Still, Guatemala is at a tenuous crossroad in environmental management.

On the one hand, the country has highly valued natural resources and biodiversity that can provide significant revenues from tourism, carbon sequestration credits, environmental service payments, and other investments. On the other hand, Guatemala’s record of environmental enforcement and compliance is weak. Many of the causes of the country’s poor environmental conditions can be traced to a lack of political will to enforce and comply with existing environmental laws. However, the future well-being of small and medium-scale rural producers depends on the way biodiversity and natural resources are managed and protected today.

USAID Response

Environmental services provided by sustainable natural resources are critical for all productive sectors, including rural income growth. USAID’s economic growth and environment programs are well integrated and support the protection of natural resources, particularly in areas of high ecological importance such as the Maya Biosphere Reserve, the Verapaces and other highlands regions, with a focus on forestry, tourism, shade-grown quality coffee, and agriculture. USAID works continuously to help the Ministry of Environment to implement and ensure compliance with Chapter 17 of the Dominican Republic-Central America-United States Free Trade Agreement on environmental regulations.

Sustainable Forestry

Sustainable forestry is critical to the stability of natural resources, biodiversity, and the economy. USAID assistance for sustainable forestry is a key element of the Petén region's Maya Biosphere Reserve, the Verapaces pine forests, and portions of the western highlands.

The Maya Biosphere Reserve forestry concession model developed by USAID assistance has been favorably assessed for its economic benefits, sustainable forest management practices, and biodiversity conservation. The model has also restrained agricultural encroachment, improved conditions within the reserve's core area and buffer zones, and helped maintain 500,000 hectares under forest certification.

USAID has helped open markets for xate, a non-timber forest foliage product. Reserve communities have learned to sustainably manage xate and now earn twice what they did previously by selling directly to large buyers. USAID also helped the communities meet certification standards for non-timber forest products and to become the world’s first source of certified xate.

The USAID-supported Community Forestry Enterprise formed an alliance with a construction business and increased sales of lesser-known species for decking and flooring. USAID also helped the reserve's forestry concessions to mitigate diverse fire threats, including the creation of an “early warning system” in local communities. With 149 patrols, 151.5 kilometers of fire breaks and forestry concession boundaries were maintained.

The Agency also supported the Verapaces Cooperative Federation of 28 cooperatives to obtain pine certification. The federation develops timber products like pallets and bed components from small diameter pines, which had no market two years ago in the Verapaces region.

Tourism: Guatemala’s biodiversity, rich archeological sites, and colorful indigenous products make tourism the country’s largest foreign exchange earner. With USAID assistance, Guatemala became the fifth country worldwide to sign a GeoTourism Charter with National Geographic. The first activity under the charter was the creation of a geotourism map guide through a joint effort between the Government of Guatemala, the private sector, and USAID implementing partners. The map contains sections on folklore, archeology, natural resources, and indigenous textiles and handicrafts. Sustainable tourism services supported by USAID include lodging, tourist guides, and food services.

The Agency also helps the Government of Guatemala promote public-use areas, bird watching, and tourism in protected areas. The communities have developed local tourism strategies, including marketing, image positioning, crisis management, and business plans.

Tropical Forest Conservation Award:  In 2007, the Governments of Guatemala and the United States signed an agreement for what was then the largest debt-for-nature swap. 

Resources total $22 million from the United States and $2 million from two U.S. NGOs, The Nature Conservancy and Conservation International, totaling $24 million over the next 15 years. Funds are distributed annually through grants to competitively selected conservation projects managed by community, regional, and national NGOs. The Foundation for the Conservation of Natural Resources and Environment in Guatemala administers the endowment fund.

Carbon Sequestration Program: With support from USAID and the Inter-American Development Bank, the Government of Guatemala and forestry concessions in the Maya Biosphere Reserve are developing a carbon sequestration program. The initiative includes establishing a baseline of forest cover, getting ecologically appropriate land management practices certified, and working with potential international carbon sequestration buyers.

Examples of Results and Accomplishments in 2009

  • Community concessions generated $8.9 million in income from the sale of certified forest products
  • $12.6 million was generated in sales of quality coffee and certified forestry (wood and non-wood) products
  • 7,658 people in rural communities increased income from sustainable natural resource management and conservation
  • 670,743 hectares for timber and non-timber forest products were protected by improved natural resources management
  • Sustainable tourism increased incomes for 2,803 people (1,387 women)
  • Rural income diversification helped 279 rural small- and medium-enterprises, improved livelihoods of 8,130 rural households, and generated $5.3 million in sales and 4,752 jobs in agribusiness and tourism
  • Nearly 90 percent of the value chain program's target population is indigenous from the K’iche’, Mam, Kaqchikel, Tz’utujil, Poqomchi’, and Q’eqchi’ groups

Environment Programs

Implementing Partner

Community Tourism Alliance

Counterpart International

Forestry Enterprises

Rainforest Alliance

Competitive Enterprises in Agro-Industry (Quality Coffee)

National Coffee Association (ANACAFE)

Forest Fire Mitigation

Wildlife Conservation Society

Protecting our Investments

U.S. Department of the Interior

Development Credit Authority: Loan Portfolio guarantee for SMEs in agriculture, tourism and forestry



Last updated: July 03, 2014

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