Women's Food Forests in Guatemala
Thanks to funding provided by IWC and Ecosystem Restoration Camps USA (ERC USA), Contour Lines supported women-led tree planting efforts in Chinabenque and Socela, two indigenous communities in the mountainous region of Guatemala.
A historically persecuted group, the Q’eqchiʼ Maya have been actively resisting a foreign-owned mine that has polluted nearby waterways.
The activities initiated with IWC funding are particularly important because they were run in collaboration with the local women’s associations. In both cases, the women’s associations sought out Contour Lines to implement “food forest” projects, assisted by Contour Lines’ resources and expertise. Herlinda Xo Caal, a leader of the women’s groups, coordinated the exchanges between the communities and Contour Lines. The dedication and engagement shown by female community leaders have been inspiring not only for their communities, but also for other farmers interested in reforestation models.
In accordance with Contour Lines' vision to empower farmers to maintain agroforestry systems in their communities independently, these women-led initiatives have resulted in sites that adeptly implement required food forest agroforestry methods
. Through this project, the communities are improving their nutrition, food security, and climate resilience.
The activities specifically supported by IWC and ERC USA were part of a bigger effort occurring over three successive seasons — summer of 2021, winter of 2021-22, and summer of 2022. With each season, Contour Lines technicians trained farmers in required regenerative methods (growing legume plants on contour, use of mulch, chemical-free production), and temporarily supervised their progress to ensure that the growing methods were appropriately implemented.
Following technical training and successful first planting, the number of trees the women and their families received were increased in the subsequent seasons. Ultimately, 2,300 fruit trees were planted by 23 households.
While this process was underway, Contour Lines also purchased harvests (e.g. cassava) from the two communities, bringing additional economic benefits to the women and their families.
The agroforestry systems themselves will last beyond the project funding — the planted trees such as citrus, litchi, mango, avocado, and zapote will bear fruit for decades.
Over time, the rows of legumes that form living terrace walls in between the tree rows will work with the tree root systems to control soil erosion and accumulate fertility for the future. The food forest systems will also sequester carbon, provide wildlife habitats, and absorb and purify water long into the future, especially as they displace the previous practice of fire-managed chemical corn monocultures.
As more trees are planted and more families join, the women-led tree planting activities initiated will continue expanding. With additional funding from other sources, participants have taken on planting 800 fruit trees beyond the initial project goal and 16 more women and their families joined the program.
The results are inspiring other communities to start their own tree planting efforts. The meaningful forest-based agricultural activities in these two communities also serve as models for enhancing women’s leadership in the service of ecosystem restoration.