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Maya K’iche’ of San Pedro Jocopilas Mitigate Climate Change Through Reforestation 

By Francesco Cricchio (CS Intern)

“As the years pass by, the arrival of the winter season is more delayed. The rains have gotten extremely irregular, concentrating mainly in specific locations and generally decreasing in intensity. One of the main factors is definitely deforestation and biodiversity loss.” This testimony from one of the members of the Maya K’iche’ Peoples from the San Pedro Jocopilas community confirms the great impact that climate change has on Guatemala and explains well the need that the community felt to preserve the ecosystem in which they live, protecting it in the short term while creating projects to successfully manage it for the long term.

One of the projects that the community of San Pedro Jocopilas developed, with the help of a grant from Cultural Survival’s Keepers of the Earth Fund, is the reforestation of parts of their land through community action and work. The initiative benefits the entire community and involves all of the members of the Council, as well as many other families, including women and youth. The intergenerational aspect of the project was not only practical; the restoration of the ecosystem will benefit future generations, and so will the Traditional Knowledge that they have acquired during its implementation. 

The community lives in a forested area of around 600 hectares, where they periodically trim and maintain the trees. Their latest project involved the reforestation of two hectares that were identified by a preliminary survey. The working days involved activities of clearing of the older plants as well as planting and irrigating the youngest ones to secure their growth. Some 3,000 new plants have been acquired and planted in the project’s targeted area. 

Members of the community with the soon to be planted trees.

Forest Loss in Guatemala: An Unresolved Matter

Many international institutions have denounced the amount of tropical primary forest loss reached worldwide in 2022, with deforestation identified as the leading cause. Central and South American countries have suffered the greatest losses, and in Guatemala, the presence of illlegal activities, especially in the northern area of the Maya Biosphere Reserve, presents a constant threat

At the legislative level, the Guatemalan government has taken steps to secure Indigenous and environmental rights in the country, ratifying the Convention on Biological Diversity in 1995 and International Labour Organization Convention 169 in 1996, and endorsing the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in 2007. To address climate change directly, Guatemala developed a National Climate Change Policy and adopted the Framework Law on Climate Change—one of the first climate change laws in the world. A National Climate Change Council was created to follow up on the territorial implementation of the law at the governmental level. The National Climate Change Policy identifies some of the flaws in the way in which the causes of forest loss are being addressed, and its conclusions agree with those highlighted by other international organizations: namely, that the implementation of the laws and programs are lacking. 

A glimpse of the reforestation area.

Indigenous Peoples in Guatemala Are Still Facing Discrimination

Guatemala has ratified and adopted important pieces of legislation that, on paper, grant Indigenous Peoples fundamental rights such as Free, Prior and Informed Consent and self-determination. However, this legal status is not adequately applied on the ground. Despite representing almost half of the country’s population, Indigenous Peoples in Guatemala are among the most vulnerable when it comes to economic and health conditions. Indigenous Peoples are also the most affected by climate change and forest loss, which is intricately linked to their Mayan cosmology. “The forest is recognized, evoked, and appreciated in our language; we call it loq´olaj juyub´, loq´olaj k´achelaj, which means that the forest, as well as the mountain, is a revered entity, as it creates and shapes life. This is why it has to be respected,” the community explains. It is for this reason that members of the community understand the importance of passing Traditional Knowledge to the future generations.

In 2022, the Council of Indigenous Authorities for the Protection of Natural Resources Ra'lwa'lule received a  Keepers of the Earth Fund (KOEF) grant to support their work. KOEF is an Indigenous-led fund within Cultural Survival designed to support the advocacy and community development projects of Indigenous Peoples. Since 2017, KOEF has funded 310 projects in 41 countries through small grants totaling $1,603,307, as well as provided technical assistance benefiting 328 Indigenous Peoples. KOEF provides grassroots Indigenous-led communities, organizations, and traditional governments to support their self-determined development projects based on their Indigenous values. Predicated on the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Cultural Survival uses a rights-based approach in our grantmaking strategies to support Indigenous grassroots solutions through the equitable distribution of resources to Indigenous communities.