guatemalaThe agricultural sector has always been very important in Guatemala. Initially research and extension functions were retained within the Ministry of Agriculture in the Directorate General of Agricultural Services (DIGESA), a centralized agency, and official agricultural extension institution; and the Directorate General of Animal Services (DGESEPE), the official extension agency for animal producers (Stewart, 1985). This form of extension was active in the 1970s at the time the Generation and Transfer of Agricultural Technology and Seed Production Project (PROGETTAPS) was designed in response to policies directed at increasing food production and income of small farmers. But with thirty years of internal conflict, Guatemala extension system began to be dismantled and by the time the Guatemala Peace Accords was signed in 1996, the extension system had ceased to exist. Government efforts to reestablish a national agricultural extension service as a component of the department of agriculture, MAGA (Ministerio de Agricultura, Ganaderia y Alimentacion) was noticeable in 2008 and the formal initiation of the extension service (Sistema Nacional de Extension Agricola – SNEA) was in April 2010 (Smith, 2011).


A Brief History of Public Extension Policies, Resources and Advisory Activities in Guatemala

According to Smith (2011) “SNEA consists of the National Council, the Technical Committee and the National Coordination for the Extension System. On a departmental level, agricultural extension system programs are delivered through MAGA’s Departmental Coordination for Agricultural Extension, Agricultural Extension Agents, and Local Extension Promoters. The agricultural extension service is active in 19 of Guatemala’s 22 departments, in a total of 92 municipalities, and MAGA estimates that 50% of the country’s municipalities have extension coverage.” To deliver extension programs to farmers, agricultural extension service utilizes three types of extension agent namely the agricultural extension agent (extensionista Agricola), the educator for the home (educatora para el hogar), and the youth promoter (promotor juvenile). Agricultural extension agents promote projects related to food security and resource conservation, and work with local promoters, members of the community who presently serve as volunteers, home educators are female agents who work with low resource rural women and girls on aspects of food security, nutrition, and health, and youth promoters work with young people in rural communities on projects related to agriculture, citizenship, and self-esteem.

The new agricultural extension system been put in place by the government of Guatemala will need to count on a team of trained professionals to deliver agricultural extension and advisory services. Presently, it is estimated that ninety six of each type of extension agent exist for a national total of less than three hundred extension agents (Smith, 2011). The limited number of agricultural extension professional staff and the perceived high turn-over of personnel in MAGA are likely to undermine the continuity of agricultural projects resulting in loss of expertise from the agency. There is an urgent need to involve Guatemalan universities and agricultural colleges as well as research institutions in extension projects through staff training at all levels. 

Extension Providers

Major Institutions Providing Extension/advisory Services in the Country

Public Sector

The Public Agricultural Sector is made up of  complementing agencies such  as  BANDESA  which gives agricultural  credit, DIGESA  which provides agricultural extension  services, INDECA which  sets  the prices  of  basic agricultural products and aids the marketing process, INAFOR which  deals with forestry, and  INTA which  is charged with implementing land reform. All of these institutions together form the Ministry of Agriculture Livestock and Food (MAGA).  In addition, public education institutions such as Guatemalan universities and research institution are involved in extension projects. These institutions provide extension services through various departments and institutes some of which are listed below:

Public Extension Institutions

  • Ministry of Agriculture Livestock and Food (MAGA) 
    • Direccibn General  de  Servicios  Agricolas (DIGESA) General Agricultural Service  Bureau. 
    • Direcci6n  General  de  Servicios Pecuarios (DIGESEPE) General Animal Services Bureaux

Public Research and Education Institutions

  • National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA)
  • Institute of Agricultural Science and technology (ICTA)
  • Escuela Nacional Central de Agricultura (ENCA)University of San Carlos (USAC)
    • College of Agriculture

Non-Public Sector

Private Sector Firms

The engine of the Guatemalan economy is the private sector, which is historically one of the most conservative and intransigent business classes in Latin America. Generally, the private sector focuses on export crops, and provides extension and advisory services in the areas of input supply to farmers and technical advices to farmers’ associations and cooperatives. According to Stewart (1985), the private seed producers have contributed and supported the country’s National Agricultural Research System (NARS) by promoting the materials (varieties) and technologies developed through field days, publications and audio-visuals. Also, the leading private association of exporters of non-traditional products, “AGEXPORT,” has received USAID assistance and has been U.S. Government’s principal partner in promoting rural transformation of the Highlands in Guatemala. Other private companies like the Griffin Company partner with the public sector in the pluralistic extension system to address specific farmers’ agricultural needs. The Griffin Company was the company that showed most interest when the Guatemalan government invited several companies to participate in the vegetable export business. The company grows a kind of cantaloupe not currently grown, and provides the farmers with equipment, credit, inputs and technological assistance.

Non-Governmental Organizations and other Donors

The growth in NGOs in developing countries is justified by their increasing role in the development process. In Guatemala like in many other developing countries, NGOs are playing a pivotal role in participatory development by targeting the poor and vulnerable minorities and giving voice to women at all levels of society. In the aftermath of natural disaster and decades of internal conflict that destroyed the agricultural sector of the economy, the government through its public institutions has embarked in a series of measures to revamp the country’s agricultural system. The private sector and NGOs, both domestic and international are partnering with the department of agriculture at all levels. For example, a third group of players in the forest management field are a small number of NGOs, such as Fundación Defensores de la Naturaleza (FDN) and Fundación de 17 Ecología (FUNDAECO) whose contribution in providing technical assistance is noticeable (Future. 2011).

Farmer Based Organizations and Cooperatives

In Guatemala, there are two groups of farmers differentiable according to their vulnerability to food security issues. The first group comprises growers who need assistance producing enough food to maintain their families, and the second group includes growers who produce enough for their household and sell the surplus to the market. These farmers are organized into associations and cooperatives that develop relationships with local and international development organizations. Some farmer based-organizations in Guatemala receive assistance from the government and external institutions like the Central American Indigenous and Peasant Coordination Association (ACICAFOC, Spanish acronym): a community-based organization working with rural communities across Central America to exchange information and promote the sustainable use of natural and cultural resources.

According to Stewart (1985), Bottom-up development of farmer cooperatives is the key to many agricultural development strategies. Farmer cooperatives can operate in any one or all of the following areas: production, processing, marketing, consumption and credit and savings. One reason for the lack of success of many cooperatives in Guatemala is that autonomous farmer organizations were not allowed to develop and cooperatives were usually controlled by the government. Some of the farmers associations and cooperatives are listed below

  • Cuatro Pinos Cooperative, focuses on exporting fresh vegetables
  • El Limon Cooperative, its main product is dehydrated lemon for export
  • LeStansa, Association of Growers
  • National Coffee Growers Association (ANACAFE)

List of Extension Providers

icon target The following list shows an excerpt from the GFRAS Directory of Extension Providers for Guatemala. Some of these entries may be specially marked for having more detailed information in the database of the Worldwide Extension Study WWES.

Enabling Environment

Enabling (or Disabling) Environment                                                 

Guatemala is recognized as a leader in the development of non-traditional agricultural exports (snow peas, green beans, and mini-vegetables) in Central America. The country’s abundant natural resources, micro-climates and labor force offer tremendous potential for developing a competitive advantage in many agricultural commodities including horticulture and coffee.   Yet, agricultural production has not lived up to the national demand and a large percentage of the population is food insecure especially rural populations.  A combination of social and environmental challenges compounds the problems of poverty. Despite being a multi-ethnic country, Guatemala has a long history of social discrimination and inequality. Indigenous groups have traditionally been excluded from the social, economic and political mainstream. This situation has been exacerbated by Guatemala’s complex topography. The rugged terrain and lack of roads have kept rural communities remote from the rest of the country, and centuries of isolation and neglect have resulted in chronic poverty.  The limited infrastructure, poor access to rural finance, incipient market organizations and research and extension constrain the rural economy from reaching its full potential and from generating sufficient jobs and income to reduce poverty for the rural poor (Future, 2010). Additionally, the degradation of natural resources in the country is intense, particularly as a result of the illegal exploitation of forests and slash-and-burn subsistence agriculture.  The extended internal conflict has destroyed the agricultural system that is expected to play a key role in boosting agricultural production. However, there are plenty of opportunities for the department of agriculture and existing higher educational institutions and research institutes to collaborate in rebuilding a strong and productive agricultural and extension system that will cater for the needs of farmers in Guatemala.


Information and Communication Technology (ICT) for Agriculture and Extension

The world is moving beyond agricultural age and industrial age into the information age and the main engine of this age is information and communications technology (ITC). ITC allows information to flow efficiently from research stations to farmers’ fields, and for this reason, ICT could be the key driver for future agricultural growth. Internet service and mobile phones have been introduced and spread rapidly in many parts of the Guatemala including rural areas. However, the potential role of key ICT applications like the telephone and the Internet in agricultural extension is severely challenged as long as rural areas are with limited access to the basic telecommunications services. Any resulting programs and projects remain totally dependent on access to these services. In the absence of national policy that lays down the vision for ICT contribution to the general development of the country, extension cannot take full advantage of the new technology. In Guatemala, the Center for National Economic Research and the Guatemalan Entrepreneurial Chamber provided targeted support to the effort to translate the concept of universal access into appropriate legislation. As a result, access to the telecommunications infrastructure in rural areas increased substantially, and ICT could be used as a means for enhancing extension programs in Guatemala.


Training for Extension Professionals

The new agricultural extension system in Guatemala relies on the staff of the department of agriculture to provide extension services to farmers. The majority of extension agents are young men and women with considerable enthusiasm but very little management or technical experience. Extension agents need training in the technical aspects of their jobs as well as orientation in managing programs. Much of the experience and expertise needed to train extension agents in technical aspects of agricultural extension and rural development probably already exist in Guatemala. Many individuals have received training and gained experience over the years with a range of government, non-government and international organizations in practical aspects of food security and rural development, such as the production of family gardens, production of organic fertilizer, basic nutrition. Guatemalan universities are involved in extension projects, but do not have a formal role in the extension service. In collaboration with MAGA, the Escuela Nacional Central de Agricultura (ENCA) and the Agronomy faculty at the Universidad San Carlos (USAC) could contribute to the institutionalization of the extension service by developing curricula designed to train extension and rural development professionals. They could also offer training programs that combine hands-on training with orientation in program management and social science aspects of working with rural communities.



Future. 2011. Guatemala Feed the Future Multi-Year Strategy. April 2011

Smith, H. A. 2011. Report: Trip to Guatemala on behalf of MEAS program to attend Second National Workshop on Agricultural Extension in Guatemala.  April 7-8 2011, Guatemala City. University of Florida, Gulf Coast Research and Education Center, Wimauma, FL

Stewart, R. 1985. Guatemala and the CGIAR Centers: A study of their collaboration in agricultural research. Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR). Study Paper Number 5. The World Bank. 1985.

More documents


Statistical Indicators                                                                                               

Guatemala                                                                                                                  Year

Agricultural land (sq km)



Agricultural land (% of land area)



Arable land (hectares)



Arable land (% of land area)



Arable land (hectares per person)



Fertilizer consumption (per ha of arable land)



Agriculture, value added (% of GDP)



Food production index (1999-2001 = 100)



Food exports (% of merchandise exports)



Food imports (% of merchandise imports)



GNI per capita, Atlas method (current US$)



Literacy rate, adult total (% of people ages 15 and above)*



Literacy rate, youth female (% of females ages 15-24)



Ratio of young literate females to males (% ages 15-24)



Ratio of female to male secondary enrollment (%)



Mobile cellular subscriptions (per 100 people)







Internet users (per 100 people)







Population, total



Population density (people per sq. km of land area)



Rural population



Rural population (% of total population)




Agricultural population* 



Agricultural population (% of total population)*



Total economically active population in Agriculture*



Total economically active population in Agriculture (in % of total economically active population)*



Female economically active population in Agriculture (% of total active in agriculture)*



Source: The World Bank, *Food and Agriculture Organization FAO

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