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What really works in watershed management? Some lessons learned for Guatemala

by Portal Web Editor last modified Feb 20, 2013 12:47 AM
Contributors: Tschinkel, Henry

Since Hurricane Mitch struck in 1998 and caused massive devastation in Guatamala, USAID has given millions of dollars in assistance to environmental and watershed management projects. This article attempts to summarize the lessons learned from successes and failures in these funded projects. The author emphasizes the need for mechanisms of obtaining information about the usefulness and effectiveness of funded projects. In the current system of choosing and funding projects, there is very little incentive for any of the involved parties to report negative results to funding agencies. NGOs are commonly focus on obtaining funding for future projects rather than on evaluating the effectiveness of completed projects, while local communities have no means or power to object to unwanted and foreign projects. Local people should be viewed as skilled farmers rather than charity recipients. The author suggests making local people pay for a portion of the project as a means of giving them standing to refuse or give corrective feedback about a project. The author suggests identifying tangible standards of success such as visible changes in land use over time or evidence that projects continue to proliferate in communities after funding has ceased. There is a need to look backward at past projects to see what has and has not worked: producing less cumbersome documents about each project would be helpful. Legal protection for land that is in good condition needs to be a high priority, above funding for new projects in degraded areas. Economics determines which projects continue past the period of funding: if a new land use is economically beneficial to a community, the project will likely proliferate. It is important to remember that intensifying land use may not be economical, since some land is not suitable for this. Education may be equally important, and it has the benefit of leading to smaller family sizes and diverse employment, which decrease each family\rquote s land impact. Finally, policy can influence land management and project success, especially land tenure policy.

Author(s): Tschinkel, Henry

Publication Date: 2001

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