Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Update from Intern Laura Fanjoy following Rainy Season in Guatemala

I had the opportunity to visit Salvador Xolhuitz this week, the CCDA-affiliated community that was most affected by the recent rains. The members of the community showed me the damages suffered on their property, and requested that I put together an article for their English-speaking friends to convey the impact of the damages and their concerns for the future.

The people of Salvador Xolhuitz have been through their fair share of struggles, since gaining access to their finca (plantation) through the government's land fund in 2004. They have worked to build their community, overcome internal conflict and attempt to meet the annual payments required to pay off their debt. Despite all of these challenges, residents are grateful for the land they now live and work on, and are determined to make their story a successful one.

Just as the rainy season was drawing to an end, the residents of Salvador Xolhuitz were presented with another challenge. After days of heavy rain, the earth gave way, and their finca suffered numerous landslides. Thankfully, there were no injuries or deaths, since the lanslides occured in the part of their property designated for production. The result however, is the loss .352 hectares of productive land, in the middle their harvest. Their losses are principally banana trees, coffee and trees used for wood. It is estimated that the cost of the damages is over Q 800,000.00 or $101,105.81 Canadian dollars.

The effects of the landslides would be devestating to any community, but in Salvador Xolhuitz there is an additional challenge, their debt. Altogether, Salvador Xolhuitz owes Q 2,740,123.28 (345,883.97 Canadian dollars) for the land they bought through the land fund in 2004. This figure represents an immense challenge, considering that each benefactor earns approximately Q 20 ($2.50 Canadian) a day[1]. As interest accumulates on their debt, benefactors find themselves further and further away from paying off the finca, with their payment plan to expire in 2016.

Guatemala's land fund was founded in the 1996 Peace Accords for the purpose of addressing the unequal access to land that plagues Guatemala. The land fund adheres to a market-based approach to land reform, which means that it serves as an intermediary between groups of campesinos interested in accessing land, and landowners interested in selling their property. Unfortunately, this program has failed to alleviate the problem of landlessness, as only 253 communities have succeeded in buying land since the land fund began its operations in 1998. Among land fund benefactors, the majority live in conditions of poverty, due to the poor quality of land accessed. It is common for fincas bought through the land fund to be remote, lacking infraestructure such as roads, potable water and electricity, and to have been long abandoned with land that is no longer productive. Since the creation of the land fund provoked a surge in demand for land, with few landowners willing to sell, the land accessed is often overvalued, leaving benefactors with a large debt. As the result of this situation, it is predicted that 139 of the 253 communities that accessed land through the land fund, will be unable to pay off their debt, and therefore are at risk of loosing their land. To date, three communities have lost their land after finding themselves unable to repay their debt.

Despite being among the 139 communities at risk of loosing their land, the residents of Salvador Xolhuitz are fortunate. The land they accessed is of good quality, and they have been able to build a school, install electricity and enjoy access to water. Since accessing the finca, they have had several good harvests, but have so far not been able pay the full amount outlined in their annual debt payments. Now, having lost approximately half of their coffee harvest, as well as other crops, they find themselves worrying about making ends meet, nevertheless fulfilling their debt payment. The damages suffered to the finca are yet to be acknowledged by the land fund, which has failed to provide any assistance to the community.

Aside from the land fund, the government has also failed to provide assitance to the community of Salvador Xolhuitz or other small producers affected by the rains. Unfortunately, when natural disasters strike Guatemala, emergency relief is often channeled through the government, where it rarely reaches campesinos. It is for this reason that the residents of Salvador Xolhuitz have turned to the CCDA their international partners, in this time of need.

In my conversations with the governing council for the community of Salvador Xolhuitz, I was told that any help received would be directed replanting lost crops and repairing damages, all of which will help them make this year's debt payment. Residents expressed their frusteration, that they have been forced to turn to organizations such as the CCDA and international partners for assistance, in times where it is the government's responsibility to come to their aid.

Donations can be sent to CoDevelopment Canada at #260 2747 EastHastings St., Vancouver, BC, V5K 1Z8. Any donation over $20 will receive a tax receipt. In order to ensure that your contribution is directed to the CCDA, please write "CCDA relief" on the memo line of your cheque. For more infomration, please write:

I (Laura) would be happy to answer any questions. I can be reached at l_fanjoy@hotmail.com. Please pass this information along to your communities!

[1] This figure is based on an estimation of their daily wages, using the approximate annual income of the finca divided by beneficiaries and days worked.

Please see attached for some pictures and a video I took during my visit.

Take care,