In support of the many climate emergency activities around the world, staff from Tui’k Ruch’ Lew/Helping the Earth (TRL) hosted a pop-up exposition in Santiago's Parque Central, because the effects of climate change are right in front of us, here in Santiago Atitlan.
Especially Santiago Atitlan’s older residents understand — they have witnessed the changes in the weather patterns; seen how the seasons come irregularly, if at all; and witnessed the arid cornfields. The last four years in many areas around Santiago Atitlan have been very difficult, and many local families are struggling with food insecurity.
With Central America all over the news these days, people are beginning to understand that food insecurity is one of the reasons for recent migrations north from Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala. The causes are many. Multiple years of no or little rain have left cash and subsistence crops devastated; first, the coffee fungus (roya) destroyed hundreds of coffee plants -- now the rainfall is insufficient to grow plump, red, coffee berries; and unpredictable weather patterns have emptied the food stores of many rural families, leaving them without work and dependent on food from the local markets.
But as the crops fail, the prices in the market rise — we hear that the price of a pound of locally grown corn in Santiago Atitlan has reached Q3 Guatemalan currency (7Quetzal=1$US) , up from Q2 just a year ago. GMO corn imported from the USA through CAFTA sells for Q1.90 today, up from Q1.30 ...always undercutting the price of the locally grown corn. Small farmers who lose their crops must seek other work, but workers are being laid off from the large agricultural enterprises, and they are looking for work too — even the large farms have suffered setbacks these past three or four years.
Scientists following the climate situation in Central America talk about emergency food conditions in many parts of the dry corridor (corredor seco). This is an area stretching from southern Mexico through a large section of Guatemala, through a southern portion of Honduras, ultimately engulfing most of El Salvador.
Two especially hard-hit areas in Guatemala are Huehuetenango in the northwest and Chiquimula in the southeast. Survival conditions in these areas have always been precarious. Families living in this corridor must always be prepared for challenging weather conditions — storing sufficient food from the first harvest to get them through a dry spell in July and August, hoping that the second harvest will be productive. We are told that the dry corridor is expanding and even affecting areas around Santiago Atitlan. This means food insecurity will be spreading to hundreds of thousands more people. What do people do if they can’t feed their families or find work?
At Lake Atitlan, there is a short rainfall in January or February, which allows farmers to plant early corn on the shore around the lake -- this rainfall is no longer reliable. Typically, the real rainy season at Lake Atitlan begins in late May or in June, lasting through October --with the short dry season in the middle, the canicula, lasting a couple of weeks. Nowadays, the rainy season starts later and ends earlier, the canicula occurs all of July and August, and sometimes the rains that do fall are so torrential that they destroy the crops that are growing and wash away the fertile soil. Mostly, the rains are only sporadic.
The dry corridor has now expanded to include land within a kilometer of the center of Santiago Atitlan. In some of these areas, farmers no longer even plant their fields, and they can't afford the high prices in the market. Even the traditional wild greens that people count on for their high nutritional value during the rainy season, greens like chipilin and hierba mora, are scarce and when available in the market, prohibitively expensive. When you have used up your stored provisions and can't find local employment, you have no choice but to go elsewhere. In many cases, that means heading north.
This August, the Guatemalan Ministerio de Agricultura announced that it would be reissuing food coupons to 50,000 families in 18 Guatemalan states who are suffering from an excessively long drought period. The population of Guatemala is more than 15 million, and for years more than half of the population has been living in poverty, many in extreme poverty. There is no reason to believe conditions will be improving soon. Given current conditions, starving Guatemalans will be forced to continue their migration to the north.