Inclusive and Sustainable Territories and Landscapes Platform


Guatemala, with an annual GDP of US$ 37 billion (World Bank), is the largest economy in Central America and is also one of the most densely populated countries in the region. However, it is also one of the poorest countries in the region. Over half of the population lives in rural areas, with 70% below the poverty line. These disparities seriously affect the majority of the indigenous Mayan people, which are often excluded from political and social decision-making spheres and are especially vulnerable to climate change and the natural disasters that affect the region.

As a result of generalized deforestation and land degradation, slash-and-burn subsistence agriculture, and the overuse of water resources, Guatemalans depend on degraded natural resources and land with low productivity. This, in conjunction with the impact of rapid urban development and population growth in high-risk areas, leads to high levels of food insecurity and vulnerability.

Guatemala’s development is guided by major national planning efforts and an economic-administrative decentralization scheme based on 8 regions, 22 departments and 340 municipalities.

The 2017-2021 Country Programming Framework has been aligned with national priorities, specifically with Governmental Priority No. 2: Rural Territorial Development and Family Farming. It is also in line with National Milestone No. 3 (100% of the public institutions and local governments must apply criteria of resilient territories, cities and municipalities by 2032).

Relevant public institutions

The Secretariat for Planning and Programming of the Presidency (SEGEPLAN) formulates development directives and strategic visions and provides technical assistance to public institutions and the Development Council System. Additionally, the Secretariat of Executive Coordination of the Presidency formulates urban and rural development policies and is responsible for coordinating the Urban and Rural Development Council System on a national, regional and departmental scale. It is also in charge of monitoring the decentralization process.

Along with these Secretariats, other institutions with competencies in various areas of territorial development include the relevant ministries, the National Forest Institute, the National Council of Protected Areas, and the Land Fund.
Lastly, the municipalities constitute the most important operational level of the subnational government and have the authority to create, approve and implement their own land use and development plans.

Political and legal framework

The K’atun Development National Plan: Our Guatemala 2032 serves as a guide for territorial development planning and coordinates the sociocultural, economic, territorial, environmental, and political dimensions with the goal of making advances in socializing public management. This plan establishes five priority core concepts: 1) urban and rural Guatemala, 2) well-being for the people, 3) wealth for everyone, 4) natural resources for the present and the future, and 5) a state that ensures human rights and promotes development.

In order to achieve the country’s adequate development within the regulatory frameworks for economic-administrative decentralization, there is: a) the Municipal Code (Decree 12-2002), which grants municipalities autonomy and independence to in order to manage their corresponding territories; b) the General Decentralization Law (Decree 14-2002; and c) the Urban and Rural Development Council Law (2002), which are established on the national (CONADUR), regional (COREDUR), departmental (CODEDE), municipal (COMUDE), and community (COCODE) levels.

The Municipality Reinforcement Policy is the public policy that is most directly linked to decentralization, based on five core reinforcement concepts: administrative, financial, municipal public services, strategic municipal management, and democratic governance.

Among the sectoral policies that support territorial development from different fields, there is the National Comprehensive Rural Development Policy (2009), the National Food Security and Nutritional Policy (2005) and the Environmental Protection and Improvement Law (1986).

Budget patterns and public spending

Within the framework of the K’atun Plan, multiannual programs have been established corresponding to the different governmental periods, providing tools for allocating resources for various development goals established in the Plan. After analyzing the predicted investments for the 2019-2023 period (US $2.134 billion), the Ministry of Education has been established as the government agency with the greatest investment on a territorial scale, followed by the Ministry of Health. 

According to the Urban and Rural Development Council Law, every Departmental Council has access to investment funds to execute the priority activities and projects each year. Annual operational plans are created for this purpose, which must be approved by the SEGEPLAN. Low income serves as a strong limitation for the effective promotion of development planes in Guatemala, since the country does not have significant sources of non-tax revenues and continues to depend on taxes, which historically provide low income.

Main programs and projects backing territorial and landscape approaches

The most important experiences related to the implementation of the territorial development and landscape approaches are financed by International Financial Institutions and development partners.
Major initiatives associated with the territorial approach include:
- The joint "Ixil Comprehensive Rural Development" Program: (US $1,920,978), executed by FAO, UNDP and PAHO/WHO from 2016 to 2019, with funds from the Swedish government. 
- The National Rural Development Program for the Central and Western Regions: (US $34 M), closed in 2017 and co-financed (US $17 M) and executed by IFAD.
- The Sustainable Rural Development Program for the Northern Region: (US $40.44 M) which has been in operation since 2008 and is currently in the closure phase, co-financed (US $18.42 M) and executed by IFAD.
- The Water and Sanitation Program for Human Development: (US $50 M) with funds from the IDB.
Other projects more related to the landscape approach include:
- The National Forest Institute (INAB) has two forestry incentive programs: PINPEP (Decree 51-2010) and PROBOSQUE (Decree 2-2015), which are used by actors and municipalities for territorial management, as they provide technical consulting and economic incentives in this field.
- Rural Community Program for Adaptation to variability and climate change in order to improve their resilience and livelihoods (2018-2021), executed by FAO. The total cost of the program is US $5 million, financed by the Korean Cooperation Agency (KOICA).
- Program for Recovery of Natural Capital of the Dry Corridor and Climate Adaptation, in execution. The total cost is US $17.8 M, financed with funds from the IDB and co-financed by the country.
- Phase II Preparation of the National Strategy to Reduce Emissions by Deforestation and Forest Degradation Prevention in Guatemala: (US $5 M) with funds administered by the IDB

Obstacles for actions with territorial and Landscape approaches

• There is a general lack of knowledge regarding the country’s priorities.
• Some policies and regulations associated with territorial and/or landscape management are rather antiquated.
• Low level of inter-sectoral policy cooperation and a lack of analysis regarding complementarity.
• Institutions generally face budgeting limitations.
• When municipal proposals reach the local level, they are forced to compete with others due to limited available resources, in a scenario considering the clout of respective powers, which adversely affect weaker actors.
• Limited levels of empowerment in local associations and territorial organizations.




Planning efforts in Guatemala have primarily been focused on the territorial approach, in accordance with the country’s administrative division between the relevant authorities and the population’s social and economic needs.  Since national planning priorities strive for balance between the social, economic and environmental dimensions, the scales are increasingly being tipped towards applying planning approaches associated with natural resource conservation. The landscape approach is still not being applied on a national scale as a state policy, although there some efforts are already in place in specific locations, managed by international cooperation projects.

Although Guatemala has a good public policy framework with a territorial approach, it often lacks a good strategy for its social and financial sustainability over time, which acts as an obstacle to its effectiveness. Considering the high turnover rate of actors, especially in the political sphere, there a continuous training process is necessary. Until now, the country’s territorial development processes have confirmed the need to anchor public and private investments in local priorities through a consensual planning process. The generation of key information for supporting decision-making and planning processes on a local level is a noteworthy element of the territorial development models in Guatemala. Participatory planning on a local and regional scale with an integrated approach has had a positive effect on the country’s socioeconomic and ethnic inclusion models.

CASE STUDY “Departmental public policy for conflict assistance in Alta Verapaz”

In the northern central area of Guatemala, which contains 17 municipalities, the Alta Verapaz Department is located between the three departments with the highest rate of agrarian conflict and the lowest indices of health, education and income in the country. 89% of the population lives below the poverty line and 65% lives in extreme poverty. Indigenous communities, which have the highest level of vulnerability, account for 93% of the total population.

Historically, the main causes of conflicts in this area were based on land tenure, which has led to episodes of violence, deaths and natural resources being destroyed or damaged. In light of this situation, in 2004, a group of institutions began to offer direct assistance in the department for these conflicts through cooperation projects (funded by the German Technical Cooperation Agency, Mercy Corps and the PROPAZ Foundation). After over a decade of work and experience acquired, the goal of this initiative was made a reality with the design and formalization of the Departmental Public Policy for Conflict Assistance in Alta Verapaz 2018-2032, approved by the Departmental Development Council (CODEDE) in 2018 and included in the National Development Plan K’atun 2032.
The application of this departmental policy is based on six principles: ethnic equality, inclusivity, transparency, accountability, and the right to consult. It consists of three critical facets of conflicts: Social, Environmental and Agrarian. Although this policy does not have a specific budgetary allocation, it includes two modalities to guarantee the necessary resources for its operations: state budget and international cooperation. In 2019, it had a budgetary allocation of approximately USD 36,000.

The policy has been successful in creating a standardized process, which was initiated upon the request of the involved parties, and is managed by Municipal Committees that were created for conflict assistance and its respective strengthening. The Departmental Government of Alta Verapaz is leading the implementation of this policy, while also capacity building in order for it to be managed on a municipal level. The continuous participation of human rights organizations in the process ensures that the rights of all the parties are respected.

This policy involves the implementation of an online platform with a single information system for managing cases and their impact, which is a good institutional coordination practice, in addition to the digitalization of public services and notable effectiveness. One year after the formalization of this policy, the institutional actors consulted perceived that they are better organized, and that the roles of each institution involved in conflict resolution have been more clearly defined.

Although it is not an established policy, and the country does not have any directives for a landscape approach to planning, this case integrates both territorial and landscape visions, as most of the conflicts are due to land access problems, which result in damage to the area’s natural resources. This policy reflects the effective decentralization of the functions of the state in Guatemala and promotes institutional cooperation and multi-sector involvement. Finally, it has a structure of participatory governance that encourages dialog and collaboration among territorial actors.

CASE STUDY: Planning with a watershed approach in Ixchiguán, San Marcos

This case is a clear example of the application of Guatemala’s decentralization policy, in which the municipal government and organized local actors (Development Councils) exercise the powers granted by law (Civil Code, Decentralization Law and Development Council Law).

The municipality of Ixchiguán is located to the north of the San Marcos Department. With a population of 35,000 people, 88.5% lives below the poverty line and 38.1% live in extreme poverty. 82.5% of the population is indigenous. The population’s livelihoods are based on subsistence agriculture, although there is no capacity to produce surplus, and there are precarious conditions for healthcare, illiteracy and access to basic services. Considering the population’s high social, economic and environmental vulnerability, the municipality considers that “the majority of its residents have high levels of economic and social wellbeing in line with the culture and respect for natural resources.”

Through an initiative of the International Nature Conservation Union (UICN), a proposal was made to the Municipal Council to regionalize the municipality’s territory based on the area’s micro-watersheds. After conducting a diagnostic analysis, the Current Territorial Development Model and the Future Development Model were designed, with the Municipal Development Plan (MDP 2011-2025) conceived as a bridge between the two models. As part of the watershed-based planning, training was provided for municipal staff, which also managed the dialog and shared knowledge with the community bases. Planning was based on interactions between the different sectors and actors (ministries, social actors, cooperation aid workers) coordinated by various development councils.

Multisectoral actions were proposed on a micro-scale (by plot or communal area) and the sum total of all of these actions achieved a greater impact on the scale of the watershed. The National Forest Institute’s Incentive Program is backing this initiative with an estimated annual budget of USD 39,000 from municipal funds, making the financial sustainability of this action rather poor.

The anticipated benefits of this initiative include:

  • improved water availability and quality in each micro-watershed – for irrigation and for human and animal consumption – (the general perception is that this has been largely achieved);
  • reduction in expenses and risks of diseases associated with water consumption 
  • firewood availability, decreasing pressure on the forests (which has improved); and
  • strengthening the municipal government and local organizations (a land-use planning office has been opened, institutional coordination has been reinforced and training activities have been conducted).

Although there are mechanisms for balancing the use of power in the application of this approach, in practice, departmental decision-making processes are highly politicized and favor groups that have greater political weight. Furthermore, changes in the government often produce discontinuity in the actions that adversely affect their effectiveness.

One lesson learned is that micro-watershed management plans should be limited to a few specific projects that are clearly defined in order to prevent dispersion. Finally, the Ixchiguán case study shows that territorial and landscape approaches interact, as planning involves taking water into account as a resource and the sustainability of this resource, along with the sustainability of other natural resources (land, forest) on which the population is highly dependent.

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