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Guatemala is located in the Central American Isthmus and has a territorial extension of 108.889 km2.  The country borders to the Northwest with Mexico, to the East with Belize and the Gulf of Honduras, to the Southeast with Honduras and El Salvador and to the South with the Pacific Ocean. The territory is divided into 22 Departments and 333 Municipalities. The capital is Guatemala City, located at 1.500 meters above sea level (FAO, 2009).

The country is crossed from west to east by a mountainous chain of volcanic origin called Sierra Madre with altitudes between 1,000 and 4,220 meters above sea level. In physiographic terms the highlands of the center are in contrast to the lowlands of the Pacific Ocean to the south, and to the lowlands of the northern coast of the Caribbean Sea (, 2007).  Its territory is characterized by lakes and rivers which drain both to the Pacific Ocean, and to the Caribbean Sea. Given these natural resources the country has a great potential, among others, for hydroelectric power and irrigation systems for agriculture. More than 93 billion of cubic meters of water is available annually, which translates to more than 7,000 cubic meters of water available to each person. In 2006, the Guatemalan economy used only 34% of those sources and just 15% of that for power generation (IARNA, 2009).

The Guatemalan case study was conducted in the municipality of Cabricán, in the Western Highlands of the country. The research team sought the views of several communities in order to understand the impact of climate change and rainfall variability on their livelihoods, and the way in which rainfall variability, livelihood and food security influence their migration patterns as an adaptive strategy in response to climate change.

Populations in the research area heavily dependent on the yearly corn harvest which is obtained through a crop sub-system called milpa with the presence of corn, beans, lime beans and ayote. The agricultural diversification strategy is not limited to associating several crops; it also consists of producing more than one genotype of each of them. The most common non-agricultural diversification strategy is weaving, but the population does not own the machinery or the final product and is only paid for their labor. In times of food shortage (or lack of money), people usually sell livestock.

Residents of the area emphasized that changes in rainfall are qualitative more than quantitative, meaning that the frequency of rainfall is lower but its intensity is higher, so the overall amount of rainfall is perceived to be more or less unchanged (and the perception was confirmed by the experts interviewed).  Moreover, the rainy season is shorter, canículas (typically the hottest days of summer occuring in July and August in the Northern Hemisphere) are disappearing, and rainfall, frosts and hails are less predictable than they used to be.

In the past, and for more than a decade, seasonal migration has been very common– mostly toward the Southern Coastline, where all the cotton, rubber, coffee and other exporting crops are located. While migration had been mostly to the US, with New York and Los Angeles being the most common destinations, this trend has decreased in the last five to six years.  A lesser proportion of the population migrates to Quetzaltenango and Guatemala City.

Please see the Global Policy Report for more details.

© 2008 Brian Atkinson/CARE