Governance for adaptation in the Guatemalan highlands

IUCN @ Paul Aragón
Published: 02 May 2019
Last edited: 21 February 2023
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The indigenous population of the Esquichá River micro-basin (Tacana Municipality, in the upper part of the Coatán River basin) lives with high rates of poverty and climate vulnerability. The micro-basin (38 km2) shows tendencies of deforestation, pine weevil pest damage, soil erosion, variations in rainfall, strong winds, droughts and frosts, which increase the risks of landslides and loss of goods. In order to address these challenges, the needs of communities regarding the restoration, protection and reparation of forests, and productivity, required attention. For this, the governance of the micro-basin was strengthened under a multi-dimensional, participatory, flexible and ecosystemic approach. The solution combines these 4 elements to strengthen communal and municipal capacities for natural resource management; manage water recharge zones as an adaptation strategy. As a result, the municipality of Tacaná will allocate resources for EbA measures under the Development Plan.


Central America
Scale of implementation
Forest ecosystems
Freshwater ecosystems
River, stream
Temperate deciduous forest
Ecosystem services
Habitat fragmentation and degradation
Legal & policy frameworks
Local actors
Sustainable livelihoods
Traditional knowledge
Watershed management
Other theme
Erosion prevention
Food security
Forest Management
Gender mainstreaming
Outreach and communications
Water provision and management
Erratic rainfall
Land and Forest degradation
Loss of Biodiversity
Shift of seasons
Ecosystem loss
Invasive species
Inefficient management of financial resources
Lack of alternative income opportunities
Lack of technical capacity
Lack of food security
Unemployment / poverty
Sustainable development goals
SDG 5 – Gender equality
SDG 6 – Clean water and sanitation
SDG 13 – Climate action
SDG 15 – Life on land
Aichi targets
Target 5: Habitat loss halved or reduced
Target 7: Sustainable agriculture, aquaculture and forestry
Target 10: Ecosystems vulnerable to climate change
Target 14: Ecosystem services
Target 15: Ecosystem restoration and resilience
Target 19: Sharing information and knowledge


Tacaná, San Marcos Department, Guatemala | Esquicha River micro-watershed (Coatán River Basin)


  •  Indigenous farming communities are vulnerable to climate change impacts (strong variations in rainfall patterns, hurricans, strong winds, droughts, frosts; causing landslides, soil erosion, loss of crops, damage to infrastructure)
  • Farmers have low education and high poverty, which may cause less access to weather information, and other factors increasing their adaptive capacity.  Few economic opportunities in the area, limit implementation of agri-technologies
  • Forests are facing strong pressures, including those that harbour water sources, pine weevil threats, others under customary systems
  • Gaps in application of laws and regulations for water and natural resource management(Constitution, Municipal Code, Health Code, Forestry Law)
  • Need to improve coordination between different administrative jurisdictions, multiple levels of government (community, municipal, departmental, regional, national) and different sectors, for more integral adaptation actions


  • Direct: 16 indigenous communities of the Mam ethnic group, living mainly on subsistence agriculture (~500 people)
  • Indirect: 2039 families in the Esquichá micro-watershed (~12125 inhabitants)
  • Municipality Tacaná
  • Municipality San José de Ojetenam

How do the building blocks interact?

Governance for EbA refers to how power is exercised, responsibilities are distributed and decisions are made to respond to climate change with nature based solutions. This solution proposes a governance model that is multidimensional (BB1), participatory (BB2), flexible (BB3) and with an ecosystem approach (BB4).


  • BB1, articulation among  municipalities, communities and the national institutions was enhanced to ensure access to forest incentives.
  • BB2, governance was reinforced in order to be more inclusive and favour local empowerment, especially of women; therefore  expanding local participation.
  • BB3, measures have been monitored and evaluated in order to take informed decision making and influence policy and management instruments in regards to future uncertainities on the extent of climate change impacts/climate-related impacts.
  • BB4, the ecosystem approach was integrated into local municipal planning 


  • Members of the Esquichá river micro-basin Committee unite and coordinate efforts to achieve the administrative and physical tasks needed to restore forest cover in priority water catchment areas.
  • Communities incorporate EbA measures in the micro-basin’s Management Plan.
  • With the support of the Municipality of Tacaná, communities influence higher levels (Municipal and Departmental Councils, National Forest Instute -INAB) for the allocation of financial resources. They are able to access forestry incentives for the restoration of forests affected by pests located in water recharge zones.
  • Budgetary allocation from the Municipality of Tacaná for restoration projects in water recharge zones in the Esquichá micro-watershed, and inclusion of AbE in the updated Municipal Development Plan.
  • Through the Coordinator of Natural Resources and Environment of San Marcos (CORNASAM), there is greater coordination among stakeholders in the basin, including NGOs executing projects in the Coatán River basin and San Marcos.
  • Lessons are shared at a national scale with the Ministry of Environement and will be scaled up with a GCF project in the Guatemalan Highlands. 


IUCN @ Paul Aragón

"Before, each community worked on its own and in its [own] space, now we are aware that working together we will obtain better results; now we have the participation of 16 communities in the meetings of the Esquichá Micro-basin Council and more than meetings, we carry out joint actions. All this effort is because we are all affected by climate change; not just a community ... but all of them, such as strong frosts, strong winds, prolonged droughts, intense rains, and we lose crops, among other things.


We went to knock on the doors of each community and tell them to accompany us to the meetings and we got a negative response, but that did not discourage us. And now we are happy with the great participation that we have, more so because we carry out actions jointly with the communities and what unites us, is water. Because if the communities do not take care of the upper parts, those affected are the ones in the lower part. And to see our territory as the Esquichá micro-watershed has helped us to integrate young people and women.


We have been recognized by the Ministry of Environment (MARN) for being one of the Microbasin Councils with the best results… we owe that to the accompaniment of the institutions; for example, before each institution came on its own and we had meetings at all time because they came disorganized. Now things have changed, in our meeting of the Council we have representatives of the municipality sitting there, such as the municipal forestry office, the women's office, the municipal office of water and sanitation, and also government organizations such as the National Forest Institute, the Ministry of Agriculture, MARN, and others such as United Nations and the International Union for Conservation of Nature. Now we do not feel alone and in these meetings we plan, manage and execute projects for the benefit of all communities.


It has meant a lot of effort, but now, to other communities that visit us and come to know our experience, we tell them what [...] they have to do. Because what has taken us the longest time, they can reduce it.


All this effort has opened doors for us at the municipal level (in the municipality of Tacaná), at department level and at the national level ... All this is reflected in the conservation of our natural resources -water, soil and forest - within the micro-watershed and everything leads to adaptation to climate change."


Mr. Roberto Escalante - President of the Esquichá River Micro-basin Council

Contributed by

MARTACLAUDIA.PEREZ_36296's picture

Marta Pérez de Madrid

Other contributors

International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN)