IMPLEMENTING Sustainable Farming (Agro-Forestry) and Preventing Mudslides

July 31, 2017

Guatemala Placeholder

IMPLEMENTING Sustainable Farming (Agro-Forestry) and Preventing Mudslides

About the Implementing organization

Name: Alianza Internacional de Reforestacion (AIRES)

Country: Guatemala

Year of establishment: 1993

Type of organization: Community-based association or organization, Legally recognized non-profit status, Community enterprise or business , Indigenous group or organization


Farming in Guatemala is largely unsustainable for two primary reasons: (a) the tradition of "slash-and-burn" farming which does not work on mountain slopes and with a growing population; and (b) heavy use of chemical herbicides and pesticides. Instead of these "business-as-usual" practices, AIRES offers:
* Weekly training in the farmers' own fields-- not at a distant training center;
* Training is by indigenous Maya technicians who speak the indigenous languages and are trusted;
* Training lasts for FIVE YEARS, instead of "workshops," so residents experience the results of farming with trees before AIRES moves to new areas.
* Early in the training, a community TREE NURSERY is established that provides many thousands of trees for each farmer to use in and around their fields and for community reforestation. The residents themselves decide the schedule for families and areas for transplanting the tree seedlings.
* All of this is reinforced by SCHOOL programs in neighboring rural schools-- including tree nurseries, organic gardens, scholarships, and field days.

Nature Element

Forests / Mountains

Type of Action

Restoration / Sustainable use / Awareness and education

Sustainable Development Element

Jobs and livelihoods / Disaster risk reduction / Climate action

Related Sustainable Development Goal(s)


Environmental Impacts

 Environmental impact has been "sustainable natural resource management":
* FIVE MILLION trees planted by hand in the mountains of central Guatemala (and one project in Esteli, Nicaragua). These trees prevent erosion and deadly mudslides and protect spring and rivers. Quantitative data are available for each year of planting to arrive at this total. For instance in 2016 alone, 325,000 trees in 41 communities of eight different species were planted by hand. Resulting forests are managed by removing diseased trees and underbrush, but trees are not to be cut for timber or firewood.
* Environmental Education and awareness in dozens of schools-- curriculum, tree nurseries, programs.
* Carbon sequestration from 5 million trees would be, roughly, 5 million tons of carbon sequestered per year.
* For wildlife protection, the resulting forests have brought back bird species and small mammals, and perhaps deer. (They need research on this.)

Sustainable Development Impacts

Sustainable Agriculture improves lives of rural families into the foreseeable future: Below are some measures of AIRES' human impact:
* Food Security - Almost 3,000 farm families have received farmer training and more nutritious food crops without dangerous chemicals;
* Jobs - 26 families have turned their AIRES tree nursery into micro-businesses that sell tree seedlings and improve incomes; these micro-businesses therefore spread the lessons of Sustainable Farming with trees far beyond the original AIRES community groups;
* Livelihoods through scholarships - 20 high school students have graduated thanks to AIRES scholarships; and 14 more are receiving them now. (with high school families face expenses of books, bus, uniforms, small tuition-- AIRES pays these costs.) Graduates often have their own tree nurseries to continue the lessons.
* Disaster Risk Reduction: AIRES has planted millions of pine trees with taproots that have already prevented mudslides in steep areas.


 Nationally, AIRES worked with the Education Ministry to provide environmental curriculum for all grades that is still being used in many public schools! With a Cultural Survival grant, AIRES produced a popular national radio program about farming innovations in three Mayan languages and Spanish that spread lessons of Sustainable Farming. AIRES won a national award in Guatemala in 2004 from the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry (INAB) and was nominated again in 2013 for AIRES' impressive results in reforestation.
AIRES works with local governments encouraging reforestation to prevent mudslides and protect municipal water sources. For instance, the mayors of Tecpan, Zaragoza and Santa Apolonia worked with AIRES to establish large tree nurseries in those towns.
However, AIRES works mostly with COMMUNITY GROUPS, and to expand nationally means hiring more technicians to continue this successful approach rather than working out of a national office.


  As noted above, replication in other parts of Guatemala would mean hiring more Technicians in smaller towns throughout Guatemala, not working out of the capital city. AIRES' success is because of the COMMUNITY approach, and we would like to expand this approach throughout the country by hiring indigenous Maya teachers/technicians and having small satellite training /storage facilities.
Internationally, the Executive Director of AIRES had a travel/learning exchange with a women's organization in Malaysia. AIRES has had their environmental textbook translated into English and shared copies with a group in Zambia and soon, in the Philippines. With a very large grant, the AIRES model could be duplicated in other countries, remaining faithful to hiring local technicians and working in rural schools, etc.
AIRES was recognized by the United Nations Convention on Climate Change in Warsaw, Poland, partly because of AIRES' replicability and successes for the long-term.

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