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Partnering to Protect a Vital Water Source in Guatemala

When corporate water stewards partner with local communities on conservation, everyone wins

sierra minas landscape

The forests of Sierra de las Minas are responsible for contributing to source water (through cloud forests), keeping that water clean (by holding soil in place and reducing erosion), and maintaining the resiliency of the system (by maintaining the water cycle and protecting nature and infrastructure during extreme climate events). Sixty-three rivers are born in the dense cloud forests of these mountains on the eastern edge of Guatemala, providing fresh water to people for drinking and agriculture.

Community Guardians
WWF and the Fundacion Defensores de la Naturaleza (FDN), which has official responsibility for managing the natural resources of Sierra de las Minas, work with local residents to protect the vast forests in the region—and the precious water that flows through them.

FDN provided energy efficient stoves that reduce the need for firewood to community members in the area. In exchange, communities agreed to help protect the forests that cover the mountains.

a woman and her cook stove

Sara Vasquez, a woman who lives in Sierra de las Minas, posing with her new cookstove.

Before this agreement, people burned portions of the forest to deter their cows from wandering, and cleared large patches for agriculture or timber. At its peak, there were roughly 85 illegal logging operations. Today, the same residents passionately protect the forests from logging and other threats.

Sara Vasquez, a woman who lives in a village in the mountains and received a stove, is thrilled. It takes her less time to collect wood, meaning she can do other things. The stove also produces less smoke, which has had a positive impact on her health.

Planting for Profit
Down the dirt road from Sara’s kitchen, many of her neighbors shuffle through a small field. The area once grew maize, but it brought little value to the village. WWF and FDN helped the community farmers switch the fields to drip irrigation and okra, which improved water efficiency while generating greater profits, as okra can be exported. In exchange, the community agreed to help replant and maintain vegetation along some of the mountains’ rivers.

Riverside vegetation acts as a buffer and filter to the water, while also providing habitat for a myriad of species. Small mammals, birds, bats, and macroinvertebrates use the vegetation to guide their migrations from the cloud forests at the peak of Sierra de las Minas all the way to the dry forests of the valley. Without it, the rivers and animals are vulnerable.

Leveraging Downstream Assets
Far below Sara’s village, at the foot of the mountains, the valley bustles with small cities and big businesses, all dependent on the water that flows from Sierra de las Minas. Some of these downstream beneficiaries recognize the value of the ecosystems that provide their water, and therefore are willing to invest in protecting it.

“I like the mountains, and I see how the river is changing. I’m happy to help keep them as they are!”

Sara Vasquez
Community Member, Sierra de las Minas

The Coca-Cola Company’s local bottling plant, a paper plant, a rum production plant, hotels, restaurants, municipalities and others all pay into the Sierra de las Minas Water Fund, an initiative launched over 10 years ago by WWF and FDN. The Water Fund supports community-based activities that increase water recharge and decrease erosion. Women like Sara are crucial in this equation, as they tend to be the local water stewards—responsible for gathering and maintaining the community’s access to water and sanitation.

Supporting Global Goals
For The Coca-Cola Company, this Water Fund is part of a larger water stewardship strategy that includes cross-sector collaboration in the basins where they operate. It’s one example of how by working together from the ground up, the private sector can play a key role in advancing sustainable development. This is why corporate water stewardship has already been identified as having huge potential to make progress toward Goal 6 of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which is driving governments to ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all.

Busy in her kitchen, Sara says she’s noticed a positive change in the trees and mountains that surround her village. And she is grateful. “I like the mountains, and I see how the river is changing. I’m happy to help keep them as they are!”