Unión Verapacense de Organizaciones Campesinas (UVOC), Asociación Mujeres Mayas Comprometida con el Desarrollo de las Comunidades Indígenas y Campesinas (IXOQ MAYAJ)

Advancing knowledge for the defense and cosmogonic recovery of the Maya Q’eqchi’ and Maya Poqomchi’ territories, authorities from the South, West, Altiplano and North areas of Guatemala will convene for the first gathering and exchange of experiences. The project also sponsors the development of orchards, nurseries and demonstration plots to be maintained by members of the communities, with the objective of improving nutrition and strengthening food security throughout the region.

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Baleu, Guaxpom La Calera, Mocohán / Alta Verapaz, Baja Verapaz / Guatemala
Maya Q’eqchi’ / Maya Poqomchi’
65,900 ha
950 - 1500  m

There is significant presence of Maya Q’eqchi’ and Maya Poqomchi’ communities in the municipalities of San Cristóbal Verapaz and Tucurú, in the Department of Alta Verapaz, and the municipality of Purulhá in Baja Verapaz, both located in the mountainous Northern Region of Guatemala. The Sierra Madre pierces through the territory. The climate is predominantly subtropical and temperatures range from 16 - 22 ° C.

The fight against dispossession
Baleu, Guaxpom La Calera, Mocohán / Alta Verapaz, Baja Verapaz / Guatemala
PHOTOGRAPHY  Sandra Sebastián
TEXT  Jorge Varela

Guatemala has one of the most violent recent histories in the world. Thousands of people were persecuted, assassinated and forcefully displaced during the civil war that defined the country from 1960 until the signing of the Accord for a Firm and Lasting Peace in 1996. But the dispossessions and forced displacements did not begin with the war.

The Spanish colony and the post-independence state of Guatemala paved the way for today's diffuse land tenancy problems. No groups have suffered from those predatory policies more than the country’s Indigenous Communities, who have long suffered particularly intense state violence. Many are still fighting for the legal recognition of ownership over the lands they work and inhabit.

The northern region of Verapaces, which includes the Departments of Alta and Baja Verapaz, suffers from high poverty rates—83% in Alta Verapaz and 66.3% in Baja Verapaz— as well as profound problems related to land tenancy, access to the territory, and regularization of rights. Under such circumstances, the ability to work the land with stability and efficiency is crucial to guarantee basic security.

84% of the people who live in the municipality of San Cristóbal Verapaz identify as Maya Poqomchi'.


(4) Guatemala has one of the most violent recent histories in the world. Thousands of people have been persecuted, killed and forcibly displaced.  (5) Greenhouses have been built for the conservation of plants and seeds.  (6) The projects support indigenous youth from the Maya Q'eqchi' and Maya Poqomchi' communities.  (7) A greenhouse in the community of Guaxpom, Alta Verapaz.

Because of that, three indigenous communities, all enmeshed in complex bureaucratic processes to achieve legal recognition over their land, have taken actions to consolidate their presence in the territory and improve their quality of life. With the technical assistance of the Verapacense Union of Peasant Organizations (UVOC), the backing of the International Indigenous Women’s Forum (FIMI), and the financial support of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), through it’s Indigenous Peoples Assistance Facility (IPAF) fund, these communities launched an integral agricultural development project to reinforce their food security and sovereignty.

“It brought us joy amidst the pandemic. With that, we were able to sustain our families”.

“Extreme poverty is our major problem”, says Adrián Cal Gualim, a local farmer from the Baleu community, one of the project participants, located in the San Cristóbal Verapaz municipality in the Alta Verapaz Department. Like most people in the municipality, Adrián Cal belongs to the Indigenous Maya Poqomchi’: ancestral inhabitants of the Guatemalan north. According to data from UVOC, 76.84% of the people in San Cristóbal Verapaz live in poverty and 29.31% in extreme poverty. Almost all of the 22 families who live in Baleu are farmers who harvest maize and beans.


(8) Women are essential participants in the projects that are developed in the region.  (9) Maize sustains most Q’eqchi’ and Poqomchi’ families.  (10) Women from different communities attend a gathering where they exchange knowledge and experiences.  (11) María Clementina Cahuec, representative of the community of Mocohán.  (12 a-b) The inhabitants of Guaxpom preserve traditional practices for planting and caring for medicinal herbs.

“We want our own crops so we can share them with the most affected communities,” Adrian continues. According to this farmer, the community project has contributed valuable knowledge that has significantly improved the quality of life in Baleu, allowing farmers to diversify their harvests with onions, tomatoes, celery and chilies, in addition to traditional maize and beans. These changes have improved the local diet while increasing agricultural surplus that farmers can translate to income. The diet improvement explains Adrian's eagerness to take the project to more communities.

María Cahuec, a representative for the women of Mocohán, another of the involved communities, expressed similar enthusiasm for the project. “It brought us joy amidst the pandemic. During those moments, we had onions and celery,” she said. “With that, we were able to sustain our families.”


(13) Being able to work the land with stability and efficiency is crucial to ensure food security for the people who inhabit the region.  (14) Rosenda López cuts peas in Mocohán, a Maya Poqomchi' community.  (15) Rosa Bin Sis harvests peas for self-consumption and sale. (16) Currently, ecological agriculture projects and the restructuring of ancestral forms of organization are being promoted.  (17 a-b) The cultivation of peas and radishes is one of the results of the projects coordinated by women and local youth.  (18) Caring for the land is essential for the future of the Mayan communities.

Located in the municipality of Purulhá in the Baja Verapaz department, Mocohán is, like Baleu, a Maya Poqomchi' community, but suffers from even higher levels of destitution, with a poverty rate of 31.1%.

“We want our own crops so we can share them with the most affected communities”.

In addition to increasing crop diversity, the project sponsored workshops on drip irrigation, developing nurseries for medicinal plants and fruit, and the use of organic fertilizers like earthworm compost that, says Adrián,“help us to enrich our crops.”


(19 a-b) Adrián Cal Gualim, representative of the Maya Poqomchi' community of Baleu.  (20) An inhabitant of Guaxpom cares for his milpa.  (21) A representative from the community of Guaxpom attends a meeting to discuss aspects of the project that is being developed in collaboration with FIMI.  (22) David Alejandro Maxená Caal, representative of the Maya Q'eqchi' community of Guaxpom.  (23) Native maize.  (24) The community of Baleu sustains itself by growing the herbs, grains and vegetables that are the base of their diet.  (25) Sustainable agriculture practices are currently being promoted throughout the region of Las Verapaces.  (26) The people of Baleu have strengthened their ancestral knowledge of medicinal plants.  (27) The Mayan milpa.

Adrián and María affirm that the project has also reinforced bonds of cooperation between the participating communities, such as those with Guaxpom, a Maya Q'eqchi' community in the Tucurú municipality of the Alta Verapaz Department, which has the highest index of extreme poverty out of the three participating communities at 49%.

97% of the total population of the municipality of Tucurú identify as Maya Q'eqchi'.

All of these successes have not brought these communities’ struggles for legal dominion of their land to an end. All three of them are still waiting for their lands, and their right to harvest them, to be returned. Constant disputes with landowners and the State have strongly undermined their food security. Yet with access to new foods and new techniques for maintaining their communities and foodways, the gateway to a better future seems, at last, to have opened.

Baleu, Guaxpom La Calera, Mocohán / Alta Verapaz, Baja Verapaz / Guatemala