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“It has been 5 years without rain”

In a country where violence, corruption and discrimination towards indigenous people is common, people are trying to survive in any way they can. 

In the last decade, climate change has been a major cause of drought in Guatemala and other Central American countries.  The increase of extreme weather events has made the situation even more difficult for indigenous communities in the country. Particularly in an area called the ‘Dry Corridor’.

Many rural communities are living in extreme poverty and face starvation and lack basic facilities. Many decide to leave the country to look for better opportunities. 

Seed banks for indigenous communities

Trócaire supports local partner organisations in Guatemala to improve the conditions of indigenous communities in Guatemala. I visited one village to meet a community who have been supported with a seed bank and learn how to improve the project given the challenges of climate change.

In the heartland of the Quiché Region, Trócaire and the Comité Campesino del Altiplano (CCDA) are part of a consortium of humanitarian organisations. They are working together with the ECHO SAN Project founded by the European Commission.

Trócaire supports the CCDA in its work to improve resilience of rural communities by providing seed banks. The seed banks are provided to increase food production in poor and rural communities. Community leaders manage the seed banks on a voluntary basis.

Manuela’s story

Manuela is the vice president of a seed bank in the Aldea Chiboi  community  in the Quiché region. Manuela is the mother of two wonderful children. In this community of farmers, the women stay at home to make tortillas and the men work in the camps. Community members do not have any other means or incomes to support their families, therefore the only way they can survive is to work the land they have at their disposal.

“The community I represent received the seed bank only 4 months ago, that is when I started to be the vice president. The bank is the result of work that lasted two years during which the Comité Campesino del Altiplano with the support of Trócaire have been organising workshops for our communities”.

Thanks to this programme, Manuela and her community can improve their resilience and survive food insecurity in the coming years.

“We still have malnutrition cases within the community that is why it is important for us to participate in this initiative with the CCDA and Trócaire”.

Seeds need water

However, the lack of rain due to climate change still presents a major challenge. Without the rains, communities cannot plant the seeds to produce their subsistence food.

“Five years ago the weather changed. It does not rain. This year it rained only twice. We are worried about this change in the weather. Before it was easier to estimate when it was going to rain, but today it is almost impossible”. 
“For this reason, the seed bank cannot be used now because of the lack of rain and water. Climate change is affecting our lives and our crops. Without water it is impossible for us to produce our food and the result is that we still have food only for the next 5 months”.

“In order to survive in the coming years and to use the seed banks properly we would need an irrigation system to allow us to plant as much vegetables and corn as possible. The corn this year is dead and we are worried what can happen if we do not find the way to produce our food”.  

The food that Manuela’s community is currently eating is the result of the 2017 crop production. The Aldea Chiboi community does not get any other kind of support from international and national organisations.

Manuela’s advice 

When asked for any advice to give to the organisations who are working on this project, Manuela has no doubt that the only solutions for her community to survive in the coming years are the re-establishment of cash transfer projects and the creation of an irrigation system. 

The idea is for the community to have the possibility to buy their own necessities and to produce their own food. Moreover, “we cannot see if the seeds received are able to grow or not if it does not rain”.
Manuela as many other members of her community are scared about the effects of climate change in the region. “It has been 5 years without rain. This year it rained only twice and we are worried about these changes in the climate. Years ago, we also had fruit plants but without rain, we do not have fruits anymore. Today we stand in a situation of uncertainty when we do not know if we would be able to eat three or two times per day”.

Before it was easier for indigenous communities to estimate when it was going to rain, today it is almost impossible. 

However, thanks to the seed banks, Manuela and her community would be able to survive by planting and producing their own food.

Greta Sarracino​ is an EU Aid volunteer working with Trócaire as part of the REACH initiative, co-funded by the European Union. 

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