Country Profiles

Guatemala - Country Profile

Biodiversity Facts

Status and trends of biodiversity, including benefits from biodiversity and ecosystem services

The content of this biodiversity profile is still draft. The text below has been prepared by SCBD and remains subject to final approval by the Party concerned.

Guatemala has the highest rate (13%) of species endemism in Central America however biodiversity in general is being degraded through land occupation and unsustainable land uses. It is also feared that traditional practices and knowledge associated with the use of biological resources will be lost if efforts are not taken to preserve this information. Between 1999 and 2003, the extent of forests, agricultural lands and wetlands was reduced while the cover of natural pastures and shrubs increased. The rate of degradation and loss of natural habitats has not been halted and there has been no improvement in the status of threatened species. In fact, the number of species included on the list of threatened species has increased, implying that more species may be at risk of extinction. In addition, the majority of the production systems in the country are unsustainably managed.

The country’s name is taken from the Náhuatl word “Quauhtlemallan” meaning the “the land of many trees”. However, since the 1980s, forest loss has accelerated. In 2006, it was estimated that 73 thousand hectares of forest are lost annually, equivalent to 200 football stadiums daily. Forests cover 37% of the country, with most (59%) located outside protected areas. Forests inside protected areas (41%) are primarily located in the north where the largest biosphere reserves exist. The cutting of the best specimens of natural forests, comprising 94% of the country’s forest cover, is contributing to the erosion of genetic diversity. It is estimated that 67% of forests exist in some perturbed state, primarily due to the extraction of individuals for commercial purposes. An exception in this regard are the forest concessions in the Mayan Biosphere Reserve that exhibit the positive results of sustainable management.

On the Atlantic coast, severe coral bleaching in Bahía de Amatique is provoked by high concentrations of sediment from the Motagua River. Good vegetation cover on the Atlantic beaches is used as refuge for many species (e.g. Hawksbill Sea Turtle, threatened with extinction) however organic and non-organic waste discharged from the Motagua River and washed up on the beaches by tides can block access to this cover for turtles and other animals. Artisanal and industrial fishing is carried out in marine and freshwater systems, although resources are notably deteriorating. Interestingly, between 1999 and 2006, the lists of fish species threatened with extinction basically remained the same. In the last 5 years, the most rapid growth has taken place in the aquaculture production sector, particularly in regard to the tilapia industry employing mono-sex cultivation techniques. Between 1998 and 2006, it is estimated that tilapia production grew at an average annual rate of 27%. Biodiversity loss is accelerated in mangrove ecosystems. It is estimated that more than 50% of mangrove cover has been lost over the last 60 years. The population of the Caribbean manatee has decreased drastically, with the last count being 49 individuals and trapping prohibited by decree.

The agricultural and livestock sector (63% and 37%, respectively) is promoting sustainable practices and market competition, with a view towards generating high aggregated value in volume and quality in the national and international markets. As such, the country recognizes the importance of considering ecosystem conservation, genetic diversity, traditional knowledge related to the cultivation and use of native species, among other factors, in the development of sectoral policy to deal with present and future challenges. Certain institutions are undertaking activities to compile and record traditional knowledge however this is made difficult by the absence of baseline information. Today, the country exports both traditional products (e.g. coffee, sugar, banana) and non-traditional products (e.g. apple, peas, cauliflower, cabbage, broccoli, crustaceans, fish). However, the prevailing economic model for agrobiodiversity threatens biodiversity and traditional practices with trends moving towards packaged food and drinks, large-scale monoculture farming (e.g. sugar cane, African palm) for export purposes. The loss of traditional practices as a result of the exodus of the rural populations to the urban centres poses yet another threat. The agricultural and livestock sector employs 43% of the population (30% female/70% male) however has the lowest level of financial remuneration.

Protected areas in Guatemala currently comprise 32.37% of the national territory.

In 2004, fishing and aquaculture generated a gross value of $US 45.6 million. The capacity of ecosystems to deliver goods and services has been maintained, however, signs of degradation are apparent. Mangrove forests are very productive, providing numerous goods and services to communities, e.g. timber and non-timber forest products, hydrobiological resources (fish, crustaceans, mollusks), salt, chemical materials, honey, fibers of high commercial value and medicinal products. They also protect against coastal erosion and floods and provide services regarding recreation and ecotourism, nutrient accumulation, carbon fixing, navigation routes, refuge and reproduction habitats for marine species and native and migratory bird species, etc. From an economic standpoint, the protection of coral ecosystems is important for 2 reasons: high diversity of fish species and the potential for tourism. Other benefits and services generated by biodiversity are highlighted in the previous section.

Main pressures on and drivers of change to biodiversity (direct and indirect)

The content of this biodiversity profile is still draft. The text below has been prepared by SCBD and remains subject to final approval by the Party concerned.

Biodiversity loss is primarily due to the lack of mainstreaming and management of biodiversity components; insecurity about property rights and land use; lack of awareness, including in regard to the goods and services provided by biodiversity; lack of policy/legislation and institutional enforcement; high population growth, poverty and unemployment; prevailing agrarian structure. Activities related to taxonomy require strengthening at the inter-institutional level as well. These weaknesses are expressed in myriad ways: unsustainable land uses, trends in illicit businesses (drug-trafficking), forest fires resulting from climate change, mining and oil extraction, contamination and pollution, introduction of invasive alien species, illegal harvesting of wildlife, reduced forest cover due to the cutting of trees for firewood and the establishment of large cattle ranches, etc. Inhabitants of mangrove ecosystems exert several pressures through farming activities (e.g. shrimping) for the export market, establishment of salt pits, construction of summer houses, tourist centres. Also, for generations, sea turtle eggs have been harvested (primarily on the Pacific coast) and commercialized for their aphrodisiacal properties (a myth debunked by scientists). It is estimated that 90% of the eggs collected annually are legally commercialized however conservation measures (e.g. collectors are requested to donate a percentage of the eggs to local hatcheries) have been put in place by municipalities, in collaboration with NGOs and government institutions. At the regional level, in spite of the creation of the Central American Commission on Environment and Sustainable Development (CCAD), coordination on CBD issues is weak, due most likely to the financial constraints of member countries.

Measures to Enhance Implementation of the Convention

Implementation of the NBSAP

The content of this biodiversity profile is still draft. The text below has been prepared by SCBD and remains subject to final approval by the Party concerned.

In spite of advances made in relation to protected areas and awareness-raising in biological and cultural diversity since the NBSAP was completed in 1999, Guatemala has since recognized the NBSAP’s shortcomings for implementing the goals of the CBD. Following the recognition of Guatemala as a megadiverse country at COP-10 in 2010, the National Biodiversity Policy was officially adopted in 2011 with a view to serving as a tool for biodiversity mainstreaming in support of national development. The policy calls for the development of a new NBSAP which will focus on the policy’s five thematic areas: biodiversity knowledge and valuation; biodiversity conservation and restoration; sustainable use of biodiversity and ecosystem services; role of biodiversity in climate change mitigation and adaptation; policy implementation. Responsibility for implementation of all policy related to biodiversity is assigned to the National Council for Protected Areas (CONAP).

Actions taken to achieve the 2020 Aichi Biodiversity Targets

Information not available at Secretariat level

Support mechanisms for national implementation (legislation, funding, capacity-building, coordination, mainstreaming, etc.)

The content of this biodiversity profile is still draft. The text below has been prepared by SCBD and remains subject to final approval by the Party concerned.

Mainstreaming in the eco-tourism sector provides clear examples of the benefits provided to local communities, private companies, among other stakeholders, as a result of biodiversity management activities. Mainstreaming has occurred primarily in the tourism sector followed by the environment and forest sectors. It has not taken place in the mining, hydrocarbon, extensive monoculture farming sectors. Notably, for the first time in the country’s history, the environment was considered in the negotiation of the Free Trade Agreement between the Dominican Republic, Central America and the United States (DR-CAFTA). Administrative measures have been established to deal with invasive species posing the most serious threats, however, a comprehensive system to deal with these matters has not been developed. The Technical Office for Biodiversity (OTECBIO) has collaborated with IABIN on a project to develop institutional capacity to deal with the threats posed by invasives.

The Communal Lands Strategy stresses the valuation and recovery of the traditional knowledge and practices of the Mayan people associated with genetic resources. The vision of the recently-adopted National Biodiversity Policy (2011) promotes the development of access and benefit-sharing schemes aimed at human development at the national, cross-sectoral and trans-generational levels.

Guatemala has initiated innovative projects such as “Guatecarbon” related to global carbon credit market schemes. The country has also created an online network for environmental training and research called “REDFIA” (see with the aim to strengthen inter-institutional coordination among universities, research centres and government authorities responsible for environmental management. The Department for Climate Change was created by the National Council for Protected Areas in 2009. The academic sector is evolving towards sciences/scientific technologies linked to social sciences, including economics and biodiversity management. The academic sector is evolving towards sciences/scientific technologies linked to social sciences, including economics and biodiversity management.

Mechanisms for monitoring and reviewing implementation

The content of this biodiversity profile is still draft. The text below has been prepared by SCBD and remains subject to final approval by the Party concerned.

The National Biodiversity Policy (2011) calls for the establishment of a monitoring and evaluation system, accompanied by a set of indicators, for measuring the status of NBSAP implementation by all relevant actors (public and private).