Group of young people looking at person standing next to solar panel
Puentes provides youth with basic household electricity training as well as more advanced photovoltaic solar panel installation courses. | Photo Credit: World Vision

The Puentes Project: Empowering Guatemalan Youth to Take Climate Action

By Rebeca Frohmader

In a world facing unprecedented environmental challenges, engaging youth in climate action is not just a choice—it's a necessity. Recognizing this urgency, USAID’s youth-centered Puentes Project in Guatemala has incorporated sustainable agriculture and clean energy training into its education and entrepreneurship programs. Puentes doesn't just educate; it empowers, transforms, and equips the next generation with the tools needed to combat and adapt to climate change effectively.

Innovative Approach to Agriculture

At the heart of Puentes lies its innovative approach to agriculture, centered on controlled environment agriculture (CEA). CEA involves cultivating plants and crops under protected conditions in controlled environments to optimize growth and yield. Instead of dismissing agriculture as outdated, Puentes acknowledges that today's youth aren't shying away from agriculture; they're simply seeking modern, efficient methods that align with their aspirations.

The program's blend of theory and practice sets it apart. Serving over 3,300 students in three demonstration schools across the country, Puentes provides hands-on experience and theoretical knowledge. Puentes also empowers students to become pioneers of innovative crops and enterprises, cultivating a new generation of agricultural leaders who are conscientious about the environment and sustainability.

Climate Change Mitigation and Resilience

The CEA curriculum intersects with climate change mitigation and resilience by teaching youth to assess the specific needs of different crops based on the substrate and growing conditions, including how to protect crops from pests and weather. Students learn to use inputs judiciously, minimizing the environmental impact of fertilizers and pesticides, reducing irrigation needs, and enhancing yields. This approach reduces the need to clear additional land, offers opportunities to diversify crops, opens new business avenues, and addresses the challenge of shrinking farming plots in growing families. 

This approach also benefits women, who have less access to land and productive and financial assets, because CEA requires less land and fewer inputs and allows for higher density planting, leading to increased productivity per unit area. Moreover, by growing crops not otherwise available locally, these young farmers can reduce the carbon footprint associated with transportation and packaging.

Empowering Change Agents

Armed with this knowledge, youth become agents of change within their families and communities. Many are the first in their families to complete any type of certification course. Their efforts show they can improve yields and transform plots previously considered too small for production into productive lots. Beyond becoming successful farmers, these youth grow their soft skills, develop life plans, and design business plans that often generate new opportunities within their communities. They establish consulting businesses, disseminate sustainable practices, and pioneer new products.

Integrating Renewable Energy

Recognizing how renewable energy could reduce agriculture’s carbon footprint and costs, Puentes integrated clean energy training into its agriculture program. By adapting its solar energy curriculum to local contexts, Puentes addressed the need for basic household electricity training and advanced photovoltaic solar panel installation courses. As a result, communities are adopting environmentally friendly practices, reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and using sustainable agricultural methods.

Success Stories 

Below are just two examples of the ripple effect of Puentes, where knowledge translates into tangible environmental benefits.

Estefanía 

Image

Young woman planting strawberry plant in raised bed
Estefania switched to growing strawberries under protected conditions.

Estefanía hails from Aguacatán, a mountainous region traditionally known for its garlic and onion cultivation. She spotted a unique market opportunity in strawberries, a crop previously not grown locally. Initially, she cultivated strawberries in open fields, making them susceptible to the elements and pests. After participating in the Puentes program, Estefanía now successfully sells fresh strawberries to bakeries and restaurants in her municipality. She employs advanced production methods, growing strawberries in a macro tunnel greenhouse, which allows her to more easily manage temperature and humidity. This makes her crops more resilient to climate change impacts, particularly the intense rainfall that has recently plagued her area.

Chan Brothers

Image

Two people in protective beekeeping gear with one holding up bee-covered honeycomb
The Chan brothers improved their apiculture business and raise awareness about bee conservation in their community.

Through Puentes, the Chan brothers, beekeepers in Chichicastenango, Quiche, received training to manage their apiculture business and financial support to access the internet and online training. This improved their practices and enabled them to harvest additional products like pollen and propolis, a resinous substance produced by honeybees used in cosmetics, pharmaceuticals, and traditional medicine. Seventy-five percent of the world's crops that produce fruits or seeds for human consumption depend, at least in part, on pollinators. Understanding bees’ crucial role in global food production, the brothers also raise awareness about bee conservation in their community, including by visiting local schools.

Country
Guatemala
Strategic Objective
Adaptation, Integration, Mitigation
Topics
Adaptation, Agriculture, Climate-Resilient Agriculture, Climate Change Integration, Digital technology, Inclusive Development, Education, Energy, Clean or Renewable Energy, Energy Efficiency, Green Jobs, Land Use, Locally-Led Development, Mitigation, Resilience, Training, Youth
Region
Latin America & Caribbean

Rebeca Frohmader

Rebeca Frohmader is Information Officer for the USAID Health and Education Office in Guatemala.

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