Artículo | 27 Mayo, 2024

Local climate action against the El Niño event in Central America: A Maya K'iche' family leads ecosystem-based adaptation in the Guatemalan highlands

Nested between mountain ranges and a chain of volcanoes, lies one of the most vulnerable areas of America: the highlands of Guatemala, the heart of the Mayan culture, and one of the most densely populated, impoverished and vulnerable to climate change areas in the Central American region. Its predominantly indigenous population, struggles against poverty (83.5%), extreme poverty (33.2%), and uncertainty about its agricultural yields, affected by phenomena such as drought and frost.

Guatemala City, Guatemala, May 20, 2024 (IUCN). In the village of Xecajá, sitting under the shade of a sad pine tree (Pinus pseudostrobus), Pedro Osorio Pú, now 57 years-old, remembers that 50 years ago, life charted his future as a farmer following the death of his father when he was still a child.

Since then, under the guidance and knowledge of his mother, he says, he has been working in agriculture, for instance, in corn and bean cultivation. Looking at the horizon, Pedro remembers a quite different landscape, with a dense forest and abundant water. Today, he says, many of his Maya K'iche' fellows have chosen to sell their land and migrate because of the harsh conditions that make it difficult to farm their fields.

In the Guatemalan highlands, small farmers, who depend on crops such as corn, beans, or coffee for food security and income generation, often grow crops on hill slopes, poor soils, areas susceptible of flooding or with scarce water conditions. They suffer from changes in climatic conditions, such as increased rain intensity, frost, low temperatures, and droughts, which impacts the productivity of their crops. @Evelyn Vargas/IUCN


Given the geological, topographic and soil conditions, Guatemalan communities in the highlands depend on the state of their ecosystems, which are highly affected by deforestation and forest degradation, causing erosion, less water infiltration and increased risk of flooding and landslides. Ecosystem degradation along with the loss and contamination of soil and water have increased communities’ vulnerability.

In addition, current climatic conditions impose greater challenges to the region. For instance, between November 2023 and January 2024, the El Niño phenomenon (ENSO) reached its peak; now it is forecasted up to a 60% probability a transition towards La Niña during the second half of this year according to the agroclimatic bulletin 01-2024.

This will bring difficult conditions for producers in the highlands, given that El Niño event represented a deficit of rainfall with an increase in temperature, while La Niña will bring an excess of rainfall with high probabilities of floodings.

Faced with this situation, local producers need to incorporate smart agriculture practices that may allow them to cope with the changing climate conditions in the region.

In this context, Pedro, and Santa Soc Osorio, along with their five-daughter, five-son, two-granddaughter and one daughter-in-law family, said yes to innovation adopting Ecosystem-based Adaptation (EbA) practices, as part of the implementation of the Resilient Highland project.