Indigenous people are often the most affected by climate change due to their reliance on the land and traditional way of life. In the Northwest of Guatemala, the Mayan Mam are an indigenous group who suffer as climate variability affects the ecosystem they rely on. Events such as erratic rainfall and droughts, hurricanes, and landslides have life-changing impacts on infrastructure, crops, and water resources.
The Green Forest Borders program is a community-based adaptation program in Guatemala, supported by the United Nations Development Program. It provides training, capacity building workshops, resources, and technical expertise to reduce communities’ vulnerability to climate change. Under the program, communities develop an action plan to help restore deforested regions that can reduce landslides, protect and stabilize water sources, and establish agro-forest regions. In the case of the Mayan-Mam community they built a nursery for deforestation replanting and economic income, organic composte facilities, soil conservation structures, and received training in low environmental impact agriculture.
In working with this community there were several unique lessons learned that can apply more broadly to development programs for indigenous communities world wide. These include:
- Building tailored training for low-literacy audiences. This program included training on climate change, adaptation, and mitigation. However, the Mayan Mam community has low-literacy rates (around 50%) so their initial knowledge on climate change was low. Specialized resources and workshops had to be designed to provide training that they would accept. The Mayan Mam were incredibly receptive though; they were eager to learn sustainable practices.
- Strengthening organization and administration capacities. Part of this program was local management by the Mayan Mam. To facilitate this, the program established a ‘board’ of individuals. This board developed monitoring and tracking metrics to help the program meet its goals while providing local ownership and leadership.