Guatemala: Instead of GOV a NGO named AIR is treeplanting & building better stoves

Two-thirds of the Central American nation of Guatemala is already deforested and settlers are slashing and burning the last remaining rainforest in the northernmost part of the country, with disastrous effects on the environment and on the lives of people who breath in the smoke from open fires. It might be simpler to plant hundreds of thousands of trees in Guatemala and be done with it, as some large and wealthy environmental organizations have done, here and elsewhere.

Alliance for International Reforestation Inc. (AIR)

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But experience has shown that, as with the gas or solar stoves,
behaviour does not easily change, in this case from traditional
slash-and-burn farming. The trees will simply be cut down as soon as
they are big enough for firewood or the area burned for the same old
destructive farming methods. Why are rural families in Guatemala
unwilling to use the solar or gas stoves?

Think about the popularity in Europe and North America of smoked foods and cooking over a grill. Then, think about the fact that for thousands of years, Mayan families who make up the large majority of rural residents in Guatemala have cooked over fires, and tortillas simply don’t taste the same if they are cooked any other way. Why would mothers suddenly change their cooking and eating habits, which are so tightly linked to their culture and beliefs? (Corn, or maize, for instance, is traditionally sacred to Mayan families in Guatemala, as is fire.)

Appropriate technology Faced with this reality, AIR staff members, working in two departments in south central Guatemala, quickly discovered that a
brick stove with a ventilating chimney, would use less firewood and
would vent the harmful smoke outdoors, allow the family to be warmed
without danger of open fires. And the tortillas would taste the way
they were supposed to taste. The early design models were not very
expensive – at less than $100 – but that was out of the reach of these
farm families, so AIR provides all materials for the very popular

These stoves address the overlapping problems of climate change, deforestation, poverty, lung disease and cultural survival in many parts of the world.The partnership involves many components: establishing a tree nursery; introducing an environmental curriculum for the local school complete with games and field days; providing a scholarship programme for high school students; teaching and implementing organic farming methods; planting thousands of trees in each village – and building the stoves.

After five years of such working together to improve family health and nutrition, and to reforest the surrounding areas, the residents have a “graduation party,” and the technician moves on to new villages.

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Comments (1)

GuillaumeMarch 22nd, 2009 at 10:26 am

Well done. I spent a couple of months in Guatemala in 2006 and i was amazed at the rate of deforestation in this country and worries about the impacy of it when another hurricane would hit the country. Do you think reforestation is feasible when it is forecast that the population will double in 2050??

Guillaume’s last blog post..Costa Rica and Ecotourism: the End of the Honeymoon?

Editor’s note: I’ve always been an advocate of people’s behavior rather than people’s numbers. What’s more I think it’s far easier to encourage people to heal the earth than asking them to cease high-risk sexual activities. More to the point: What if we all became more obsessed with gardening / restoring the earth than we are with making money / raising children? Imagine what that world would look like after a few decades?

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