After planning comes execution. One example would be efforts to institute Payment for Environmental Services (PES) schemes. IUCN is participating in joint governmental-nongovernmental commission on PES.

The Tacaná Project was launched in the northern Guatemalan province of San Marcos in September 2003. Designed to mirror its sister initiative across the border in the Mexican state of Chiapas, the Guatemalan operation suffered from the lack of a national water law akin to the one in Mexico that contemplates the concept of watersheds and their management. 

Project organizers also faced logistical problems. Some sections of the Guatemalan highlands register high population densities – reaching as high as 402 inhabitants per square kilometer, distributed among 144 communities, in the municipality of Tacaná. “That made us think about how hard it would be to create watershed councils at the municipal level,” said Ottoniel Rivera, coordinator of the Tacaná Project of The World Conservation Union (IUCN) in Guatemala. “So we decided to redesign our strategy.”

Organizers adopted several strategies:

  • work with model communities (see accompanying article on San Pablo Toacá)
  • focus resources on replicable pilot projects (see accompanying article on the Suchiate River Midlands Micro-Watershed)
  • take advantage of existing organizational and administrative structures

“Now we’re working from the bottom up,” said Ottoniel Rivera. “Before we were thinking top-down.”

This new approach led to a closer relationship with a somewhat arcane entity called the Community Development Council (COCODE). COCODEs were introduced into the Guatemalan polity as part of the 1996 peace accord that ended 36 years of civil war. Running parallel to the traditional electoral flow chart of governors and mayors, the COCODEs are designed to decentralize power and allow greater community participation.  

If a municipality has at least 20 COCODEs, they can unite to form what’s called a second level COCODE. “Where there are second level COCODEs, we use them as a basis to define the mirco-watershed,” explained Ottoniel Rivera.

Another advantage to working with the COCODEs: in theory they can get their hands on part of the 12% of the national budget earmarked for revenue sharing with local governments. “We want access to that 12%,” noted Marco Antonio Rivera of the Tacaná Project.

COCODEs tend to be populated by community leaders and activists like the heads of associations, cooperatives and other local organizations. In turn, the leadership of the micro-watershed committees usually falls into the hands of people already active in those other realms. Fausto Romero, vice-president of the San Pablo-Suchiate River Midlands Micro-Watershed Committee doubles as president of the October 21 Cooperative of coffee farmers. Feliciano Velásquez, president of the Toacá-Tacaná Micro-Watershed Committee, is a veteran community leader. 

Marco Antonio Rivera outlined the community organizing strategy used by the Tacaná Project once a micro-watershed committee is formed, usually via the COCODEs. The first step involves training in areas like law and bookkeeping. “These groups exist but are rarely strong in management skills,” said Ottoniel Rivera. “The idea is to integrate these organizations into the micro-watershed committees to begin environmental management and eventually move onto integrated rural development.”

The next step is to make a diagnosis of the community’s needs. Sometimes the most difficult part is getting people to think beyond traditional pork barrel categories offered by conventional politicians. “You ask a peasant what he wants, and he might say a school for his kids,” said Marco Antonio Rivera. “But sometimes there is already a decent school nearby. The guy never stops to think what they might really need are good teachers.”

Then comes planning. “For the peasant who lives from hand-to-mouth, it is hard to think about the future,” said Marco Antonio Rivera. “Then you have to make the transition from an operational plan to a strategic plan. The people in San Pablo Toacá (see accompanying article) have a vision of the future.”

Pilot projects like those in the San Pablo-Suchiate River Midlands Micro-Watershed offer another example of successful execution. The final stage is monitoring and evaluation. 

“We need to do a study about ways that one community can influence another,” suggested Velásquez. “We’re strengthening the committee. In 2008, the micro-watershed committees will be better integrated with each other.”
Written by Bill Hinchberger