With approximately 2,711,3459 ha covered by dry (2,166,900 ha) or very dry (544,400 ha) arid areas, 20.4% of Guatemala’s territory is, by definition, at risk of desertification [1].

Based on analyses carried out to inform the formulation of Guatemala’s 2001 National Action Plan to Combat Desertification and Drought [2], some 1,315,100 ha (over 12% of the country’s area) were estimated to be threatened by desertification. Given their natural and climatological conditions (moisture deficit), about 4,943,000 ha (45.4%) showed a medium or high susceptibility to drought. Approximately 1,113,000 people lived in the zones threatened by desertification and 3,450,000 people in the areas prone to drought, as of 2002. Zones that are most highly threatened by desertification and more highly susceptible to drought are mainly located in the Progreso, Zacapa, Chiquimula, Jalapa, Jutiapa, and Baja Verapaz departments.

Data on soil erosion are scarce and outdated. Estimates of potential soil erosion showed that approximately 66.1 million tonnes of soil are lost every year due to anthropic causes, particularly deforestation followed by land use change to agricultural or livestock ranching activities. Overall, the highest rates of potential soil erosion occur in the Pacific slope, with 710 t/ha/year, followed by the Gulf of Mexico slope (330 t/ha/year), and the Atlantic slope (122 t/ha/year). These differences seem to be related to the type of vegetation cover, the slope’s inclination, and land use. Annual crops predominate on the Pacific slope. The largest potential erosion occurs in soils under agriculture, where over 11.44 million tons of soil can be lost every year, followed by areas covered by shrublands, where 2.77 million tons of soil can be eroded every year, followed by areas covered by pastures (1.37 million tons per year). Over 88% of the area dedicated to cultivation of maize and beans are located on areas unsuitable for these types of crops.


Desertification in Guatemala is driven by both human and natural causes. Natural causes include extreme weather events such as droughts and high evaporation spells, which contribute to the expansion of arid areas. Human causes include deforestation and the expansion of agricultural land followed by unsustainable farming practices. In particular, the expansion of the agricultural frontier over land unsuitable for farming has led to land degradation. About 25% of the country's area (some 27,000 km²) is being overexploited (i.e., dedicated to land uses more intensive than the soil’s potential use), leading to erosion and degradation.


Key policies and governance approach

Guatemala is party to the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification since 1998. In compliance to its obligations to the convention, Guatemala produced its first National Action Plan to Combat Desertification and Drought in 2001 [2]. The National Plan aimed to establish the actions necessary to address desertification and mitigate the effects of drought in the country; promote the restoration of degraded lands and the recovery, restoration, conservation, and management of natural ecosystems; as well as to improve of the quality of life of the affected population.

The National Plan identified six strategic action lines to address land degradation: policy, regulatory, and institutional frameworks; conservation of natural resources; productive activities; education, capacity building, and outreach; research; and technical assistance, and financial resources, along with short-, medium-, and long-term measures for each of them.

No regulatory instruments specifically dedicated to soil protection and remediation of degraded lands are in place. Nevertheless, a number of policy and regulatory instruments related to soils and land protection, particularly in soils under productive activity, exist.

The Policy for Integrated Rural Development aims to achieve sustainable human development in rural areas through equitable access and sustainable use of productive resources, means of production, natural goods, and environmental services.

The Agrarian Policy aims to reform and democratize the land use, tenure, and ownership regime by improving access to land and addressing agrarian and environmental conflicts. Land-use planning and territorial taxation are the main instruments to promote the sustainable use of land.

The Agricultural Policy 2011-2015 includes land-use planning of productive land among the objectives of one of its strategic axes.

The Central American Agricultural Policy 2008-2017 adopted by the Ministries of Agriculture of seven Central American countries, includes environmental management as one of its cross-cutting themes. The policy is to be implemented through the Regional Environmental Strategy, which includes the sustainable management of land as one of its four strategic axes.



As pointed out by some assessments [3], [4], [5], and recognized in Guatemala’s latest report to the UNCCD [6] despite the efforts described above, little concrete progress has been attained in halting or reducing soil erosion and degradation and regulating or counteracting its driving forces.  


Initiatives and Development Plans

As part of the implementation of the Programme for Rural Development and Adaptation to Climate Change (ADAPTATE I and II), the following projects have been implemented:

  • Productive Landscapes Resilient to Climate Change Project and Strengthened Socio-economic Networks in Guatemala project.
  • Sustainable Forest Management and Multiple Environmental Benefits project.
  • Adaptation to Climate Change in the Dry Corridor of Guatemala project, funded by KfW.


  • Regularly updated, comprehensive data on soil erosion and land degradation in Guatemala are not available. This deficiency makes identifying hot-spots and direct corrective actions difficult and uncertain.
  • The financial needs for implementing the actions envisioned in the National Action Plan to Combat Desertification have not been estimated but the country is admittedly unable to afford such investments and will require support from the international community.