Water users become biosphere conservers in a water funding scheme

2002 Winner

The Fundación Defensores de la Naturaleza is dedicated to conservation and preservation of the natural capital of Guatemala. The work of the organisation is contributed to develop the social and economic capital of the central American region based on the sustainable use of the natural resources. It is estimated that the work of the Defensores has contributed 75 % to the conservation of the flora and fauna in Guatemala.


The main goal of the initiative has been to mitigate man-made threats to freshwater and downstream coastal marine ecosystems caused by deforestation, cattle ranching, agricultural expansion and overconsumption of surface and groundwater sources. The long-term quality of water as well as its availability for production and employment generation was to be ensured within the project area.

Project Description

Through a negotiation process with industries, representatives of organised groups and local authorities, water users’ fees were established. These fees go into a so-called Payment for Environment Services (PES) scheme, a fund used for compensating forest owners and other parties for their conservation activities. Payment for Environmental Services (PES) – the driver for change At the end of 2006 the project was successfully implemented with a functioning PES system. Guidelines on freshwater source protection and water conservation for projects funded by the payments had been developed, along with a draft selection process for projects in the watershed. A hydrology study and a forest management plan investigating the sub-watersheds had been completed and a comprehensive environmental education plan implemented through a series of workshops.

Country / Region

Sierra de las Minas – a unique biosphere With an area of 240’000 hectares, the Sierra de las Minas national park in Central Guatemala stretches into the department of Baja, Verapaz, El Progreso, Alta Verapaz and Zacapa. It rises from 150 to over 3000 me-tres above sea level and is unique in biological as well as cultural terms. Sixty-three rivers have their sources in this nature reserve and over 883 species of mammals, birds and reptiles live in it.


The total population living within Sierra de las Minas is relatively small. In the upper northern region, there have been new migrants from the Q'equchi and Pocomchí groups, which came from the Polochic valley and moved towards the interior of Sierra de las Minas. There are three communities in the western region, and there are 27 in the south. The communities are primarily mestizo and they have established residence on municipal land, forming small villages on the mountain. There are 140 communities surrounding the protected area. The protected area has an administrative center, three regional offices, three scientific stations and seven shelters. The administrative center is based in San Agustín, Acasaguastlán, in the department of Progreso. It is a training center for personnel with the capacity to house 30 people.

Information about local context

The efforts to conserve water sources, improve their use and avoid their contamination are priority issues being promoted in the Mesoamerican Reef (MAR) ecoregion by WWF, the global conservation organization. The MAR spans 1,000 kilometers along the Caribbean coasts of four countries: Mexico, Belize, Guatemala and Honduras. It also includes an extensive land area, with forests and watersheds located in the Guatemalan heartland, known as the Motagua-Polochic-system and the Sierra de las Minas Biosphere Reserve. Pollution coming from watersheds has a negative impact on the health of the reef. The framework of the Payment of the Environment Services (PES) mechanism is directed to the main industries operating in Sierra de las Minas, including bottling companies, distilleries, hydroelectric plants and paper processing mills.

Chances / Risks

- Problems of erosion - Threatening of forests due to the expansion of the agricultural frontier for subsistence farming.

Participation of the communities

Involvement of the upstream and downstream water users in the pro-ject as well as local and international companies and institutions.

Gender aspects

Women have been involved in the whole project process and the construction of the sand dams and RWH tanks. Before the construction of the dams and RWH tanks women and girls had to travel up to two days to fetch water. The dropout of girls of schools is therefore higher than the one of boys. But in the Borana Zone women enjoy the respect of men for the responsibility they carry.

Project monitoring

Monitoring plan for surface water quality in the Teculutàn, Pasabién and Pueblo Viejo watersheds is in place since 2006. The plan includes criteria and indicators for implementation of the projects to be developed.

Project partners

WWF is a non-profit (charity) foundation with its Secretariat based in Gland, Switzerland. Currently there are more than 1300 WWF conservation projects underway around the world. The vast majority of these focus on local issues. They range from school nature gardens in Zambia, to initiatives that appear on the packaging in your local supermarket. From the restoration of orangutan habitats to the establishment of giant panda reserves.

Project update 2009

A strong partnership with Coca-Cola and local water-using industries are existent and they contribute a fee to the Guametalan Water Fund. The model is now as well being replicated to other geographic areas in Central America in partnership with the Coca-Cola Company and SABMiller and with counterpart funding from several government aid agencies and local water users in selected watersheds. Further WWF’s Motagua-Polochic project in Guatemala has been selected as one of five finalists for the 2009 International Thiess Riverprice.

Submitted by: 
Fundación Defensores de la Naturaleza (FDN) Guatemala WWF Central America Costa Rica
Project period: 
Project legal form: 
Last update: 
Award year: 

Winner 2002 WWF Guatemala

Fundación Defensores de la Naturaleza (FDN) Guatemala WWF Central America Costa Rica
S. Marin