Getting to Know Guatemala: Building Relationships and Businesses

8/9/17 – This blog post was written a couple weeks ago by team Selva Ventures, who was hard at work in Guatemala. Read their first installment here, in case you missed it.

Selva Ventures team in the field - literally.

Selva Ventures team in the field – literally.

Greetings from Guatemala! The last time we wrote, we were just finishing up Spanish lessons in Antigua. Since then, time has flown by. We are about to leave for our fourth community in the wee hours of the morning tomorrow. We couldn’t be more excited, or more in disbelief that the summer is almost over. The more we learn, the more we want to know. We could stay here for years trying to understand the complexities of forest conservation and social enterprise solutions. We want to tell you a little about the communities we have visited so far:

The first community that we visited is La Bendicion. It is located in Escuintla in the middle of the forest. The community is rather new, and it was wild to see how the community members from different parts of the country have converged to make their land a home. This community is extremely organized, with several committees each with very unique roles to play. For example, the youth committee is an extremely motivated group of young people with the goal of becoming self-sufficient. They are producing honey and are using parcels of their parents’ land to cultivate. One of them is even a real ‘honey hunter’ who has a variety of different wild beehives that he is using to harvest different types of delicious honey. The women’s committee is producing medicinal herbal salves and microfinancing for the community. Our time here was amazing and fruitful, and we cannot wait to go back.

La Bendicion team and youth group

La Bendicion team and youth group

The second community that we visited is San Antonio de Los Encuentros, located in Retalhuleu. This is a mangrove community that is surrounded by a huge sugarcane farm. Talk about fighting giants. The issues here are complex and the community has different forces pulling it in opposite directions. Many people blame the sugarcane farm for the devastating loss of biodiversity, the tragic pollution of the surrounding mangroves, depleted water in their wells and the river, and heavy sediment loading. Others here work for the sugarcane farm and appreciate its contributions to the community in the form of infrastructure, seasonal income, and seasonal benefits. Yet another group appreciates the contributions of the sugarcane company, but also sees the harm done to the environment. This group feels that they can work with the sugarcane company to make them stop depleting their resources and polluting the land. This community has some creative insights into potential social enterprise solutions for their home.

San Antonio de los Encuentros team and family

San Antonio de los Encuentros team and family

The third community is Pacalaj. It is nestled into the mountains of Baja Verapaz. The terrain here is incredible, and the microclimates are diverse. This area is actually an association of communities and we had the privilege of visiting two of the surrounding communities, Llano Largo and El Carmen. Pacalaj seems to be the happy medium climate wise between the other two, as Llano Largo is a cloud forest, and El Carmen is extremely dry. Each community has unique needs and desires. The amount of primary forest in this area is unreal: 80% of this land is forest, and 90% of this is primary forest. There are heavy pushes for agroforestry, as well as some very complicated land ownership discrepancies that the community is facing. Until the land discrepancies are resolved, this area will not be able to receive any forest protection incentives – so they are taking it upon themselves to protect the forests.

Llano Largo forests

Llano Largo forests

Our time here has been absolutely incredible. Our research has been productive, and we have been forever changed by the amazing people we have met. Tomorrow, we leave at 5am for our final community located in Chiquimula. After that, we have a wrap up meeting with our partner here in Guatemela, Utz Che, who have been amazing in transporting us to and from communities, providing us with background information as well as with formal introductions to community leaders. We are excited to develop our business models when we get back and to meet with our amazing partner organization in Fort Collins, Trees, Water &People.

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