Report Launch: Climate change, rainfall patterns, livelihoods and migration in Cabricán, Guatemala

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  • 2014•04•03     Guatemala

    A new report published by UNU-EHS and funded by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation found that changing rainfall patterns have a direct negative impact on local food and livelihood security in Cabricán, Guatemala.  To add to the severity of the problem local residents have no effective long-term coping or adaptation strategies (i.e. livelihood diversification and migration), which puts them at risk of being trapped in a place where they are increasingly more vulnerable to climate change.

    Most households in the region surveyed are dependent on rain-fed crops for income and food, which includes maize, beans and squash. Rainfall variability and the resulting unpredictability, makes it difficult to impossible for households to determine when to sow and harvest their fields, resulting in lower crop yields and dramatically impacting local livelihood and food security. The majority of respondents (74 per cent) reported that there have been climatic changes in the region; specifically they have perceived shorter rainy seasons, increased frequency and intensity of rain and longer dry spells, which together have had devastating effects on their rain-fed crops.

    The report found that to offset the agricultural losses suffered from rainfall variability, households try to manage their risk and diversify their income by planting more resilient crop varieties or taking up non-agricultural work such as weaving. In fact researchers found that nearly 60 per cent of the population was working in both agriculture and weaving. However, in recent years as more people turn to weaving, it is decreasing in profitability. It is only when these strategies fail that households resort to migration.

    Survey results found that people have a strong attachment to their communities and are torn between wanting to stay and having to leave. The majority of migrants migrates to the United States in search of employment opportunities and once settled send remittances back home.  However, the report found that in recent years migrating to the United States has become riskier and more expensive, due to higher prices being charged by coyotes who facilitate migration across the border, increased rigidity of US immigration laws and the perception that there are fewer employment opportunities.

    The report was presented at a workshop in Guatemala City with national stakeholders, including the Vice Ministers of the Environment and Natural Resources, Mr. César Vinicio Montero Suárez who gave the inaugural speech and Mr. Sergio Raul Ruano Solares.

    The research findings are based on data collected during the Where the Rain falls Project conducted from 2011 to 2013 by UNU-EHS and CARE International. The researchers focused on households in four rural communities in the western highlands (Cabricán municipality) to understand how changes in rainfall affect food and livelihood security, and how these factors influence whether or not households or household members choose to migrate.  Researchers employed participatory field research methods, including household surveys and expert interviews.

    UNU-EHS aims at deepening the scientific understanding of the relationship between climate change and migration in the Regional Migration Corridor.

    The report was written by Sergio Ruano and Andrea Milan