Agriculture is the main income-generating activity performed by the 95% indigenous Maya population in the Lake Atitlán watershed, a region nestled in the highlands of Guatemala. Despite this, there remains a high degree of malnutrition, with 29% of the population living in extreme poverty, predominantly found in the small rural communities in the hills above the lake. In Mayan tradition, ancient techniques ensured sustainable productivity in symbiosis with the environment. Unfortunately, “modern” techniques including chemical fertilizers, insecticides and mono-cultures such as corn or coffee produced for the mass market have led to soil degradation and subsequent malnutrition as well as agricultural run-off contributing to toxic algal blooms in Lake Atitlán. These indigenous communities face natural disasters yearly, which typically morph into tragedy after tragedy when these events occur against the backdrop of their persistent poverty. For the health of the local population, as well as the lake, there is a strong need to reintroduce sustainable farming practices, working to ensure food security and promoting organic production. See article from NY Times Paradise Lost on state of the Lake.
Donations made to this project supported the development of a locally-run organic farming project called Del Lago, including training programs for producers in the region to learn about how to convert their farms to organic practices. The purpose is to ensure food security during times of flooding and reduced access from the capital city, and a reduction in pollution flowing into Lake Atitlán. We were able to provide $45,000 in funding for for training programs, equipment, materials, and warehouse improvements between 2011 and 2014.
The purpose of this project is to prevent lake pollution and increase food security in villages on Lake Atitlán. We are working with Ati't Ala', an environmental organization specializing in such solutions to create self-sufficiency by improving family incomes of farmers in San Juan La Laguna (one of the villages on the lake) through the implementation of organic production and marketing of quality horticultural products for niche markets in the basin of Lake Atitlán. Promoting sustainable agricultural practices through training farmers in crop management issues and the development of organic fertilizers and pesticides is a focus of the project. Our local partner, Ati't Ala' is working with farmers to convert the prevalent chemical, monoculture farming to more diversified production, the implementation crop management practices, and provide training and infrastructure for organic farming. We aim to alleviate both the susceptibility to natural disasters and decrease poverty by promoting a program that helps the residents manage their land and gives them a niche in the local market with organic produce.