HELVETAS Swiss Intercooperation’s programme concentrates on the western and north-western highlands (Altiplano) of Guatemala, the poorest area of the country. The highest priority here is natural resource management, sustainable economic development and drinking water.

Agricultural success in the highlands

With the end of the civil war in 1996, Guatemala embarked on a process of decentralisation. Since then responsibility for providing public services lies with local authorities. Yet they often lack the funds and the training to do it properly. HELVETAS Swiss Intercooperation assists councils with these new tasks: conservation and sustainable husbandry of the forests; planning, building and maintaining drinking water and sewage systems; and hygiene education in schools.
The fertile soil on farmers’ tiny plots of land is already overused. The economic situation of the rural population has deteriorated in recent years. HELVETAS Swiss Intercooperation helps farmers to come together and organize to improve their revenue and to create jobs so they can make better use of scarce ressources while also conserving them.
HELVETAS Swiss Intercooperation has launched a training scheme for young people from smallholder farms to give them both theoretical and practical knowledge and thus enable farmers to take on these important tasks. Its goal is for young people to develop production activities that contribute to the economy of their communities, for example by growing tomatoes and potatoes or fattening a few pigs.

Fragile peace in the ‘land of trees’

The name Guatemala is an Aztec word meaning ‘land of trees’ and forests still cover a third of the country’s surface area. There may have been peace since the end of the civil war in 1996, but political stability and prosperity have yet to emerge. Crime and rising unemployment are features of everyday life.
There is a wide gap between rich and poor in Guatemala. Large landowners grow wealthy from livestock breeding and coffee, bananas and biofuel production. Yet one in eight members of the population has to get by on less than $1.25 per day, many of them indigenous people. These people work as casual labourers on the edges of the capital city, as wage labourers on large farms or as smallholder farmers with many children and a tiny plot of land. The industrial sector is too small to absorb all the young jobseekers. The sociopolitical and economic insecurity is an important factor in the migration process, inparticular to the United States.
A third of the country is still wooded. The Mayas knew how to use their forests, source of many rivers, both responsibly and sustainably, but colonisation and wars caused these traditions to fade. Now the forests are under threat from felling and slash and burn. This environmental degradation has a negative impact on soil fertility and water availability for agriculture and for human consumption.
Large sections of the population have no access to clean drinking water, and local councils are often overwhelmed by the task of supplying water and protecting water resources. HELVETAS Swiss Intercooperation helps communities to build and maintain the necessary infrastructure, and raises awareness among pupils, teachers and parents about sanitation and hygiene in so-called ‘Healthy Schools’.

Reference projects in Guatemala

Clean water and healthy schools in Guatemala

In the highlands of Guatemala, HELVETAS is building wells, small piped networks and latrines. It also trains local water committees responsible for operation and maintainence of the systems. The project focuses on rural communities ...