Guatemala has made significant progress in achieving economic stability after decades of civil war but the country still struggles with high levels of poverty and inequality. Economic growth averaged 4.2 percent between 2004-2007; however, the global financial downturn reduced that growth to only 0.6 percent in 2009 (World Bank). A series of natural disasters in 2010 caused additional economic hardship when the country suffered losses totaling approximately 4.1 percent of the nation’s GDP. Recovery has been moderate, with GDP growth reaching 2.6 percent in 2010 and 2.8 percent in 2011 (World Bank).

While Guatemala was able to reduce poverty from 56 percent in 2000 to 51 percent in 2006, levels rose again to 53.7 percent in 2011 (World Bank). Among the indigenous population in rural areas, this percentage increases to 72 percent (UNICEF). Of the total population, 15 percent of Guatemalans live in extreme poverty (UNICEF).

Over half of the population (51 percent) lives in rural areas (UNICEF). Agriculture plays an important role in Guatemala’s economy, accounting for a fifth of the country’s GDP and 40 percent of employment (FAO). Mountainous terrain and dense forests leave little room for agriculture; a majority of farming takes place on steep slopes vulnerable to erosion. Slash-and-burn subsistence agriculture has also led to land and water degradation, decreasing agricultural productivity and compounding food insecurity. Chronic malnutrition affects 43.4 percent of children under five; this number reaches 80 percent for indigenous children (IFAD).