Project visit to Guatemala to evaluate the soon-to-be-completed project

SYL’s project in Guatemala, which aims to help Mayan women to increase their income by planting avocado trees and selling the fruits, will come to a close at the end of this year. In November, SYL’s representatives Johanna Ursin-Escobar and Heidi Saarinen travelled to Guatemala for a final project visit. One of the aims of the visit was to take part in the evaluation of the project. An external evaluator, Leonardo Moreira, is in charge of carrying out the evaluation.

The aim of the evaluation is to find out about the successes and challenges of the project, and above all to give our partner AMEU the tools they need to continue the work after the project ends. We started planning the evaluation back in August, and the evaluator began his work at the beginning of October by familiarising himself with the project documents. During the project visit we carried out an evaluation field trip, where Leo interviewed some of the women who had taken part in the project, as well as some other people. (You can read Heidi’s blog post about our visit here: https://syl.fi/en/kehyblogi/perseverance-and-fines/). Leo is currently writing his final evaluation report, but he already presented some preliminary results at the end of the project visit.

The aim of the project is to teach Mayan women to grow avocados so that it can bring them and their families an income. The women have set up four groups, and together they have participated in the training sessions and grown the trees. During the project some of the women left the groups for various reasons. Some groups have also taken on a couple of men to help with the heaviest tasks. The groups currently have approximately 70 members.

According to our evaluator Leo, the most important result of the project does not actually relate to growing avocados, but rather empowering the participating women. The women have become leaders and entrepreneurs, and they have started to believe in their ability to influence their futures. This is a remarkable change in a country where women have traditionally been in a weak position and men have made all the decisions. Another important result relates to the process of growing avocados: the women have learned to grow avocados all the way from seeds to large trees. This process includes many important details, such as choosing the correct type of seeds, pruning the avocado saplings in the correct way, and looking after the saplings so that insects and other animals do not destroy them. Planting avocado trees on the mountainside also slows down erosion, which is a significant problem in Guatemala.

Despite many positives, there have also been some challenges. The avocado trees have grown slowly, and it will take 1–2 years for the fruit production to get going on a large scale. This has partly been caused by the drought that the region has suffered from and problems caused by a volcanic eruption, and partly by the normal growth rhythm of the trees. The groups will also need continued support in order to commercialise their products. The women will also need continued support, motivation and education in working as a group. AMEU has already looked into the opportunities in selling the avocados in a centralised way and starting a joint cooperative. Based on Leo’s recommendations during the project visit we also analysed how continued support for the groups could be arranged after the project (and financing) ends. Everyone at AMEU is very motivated to continue with the work. Even though the project is coming to an end, the support for the women will continue.

Johanna Ursin-Escobar, SYL’s Development Cooperation Coordinator