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Comparing Guatemala’s Economy to the World – Part II

In Comparing Guatemala’s Economy to the World – Part I we looked at Guatemala’s GDP and compared its economy with others from around the world and we now know that agriculture plays a major role in Guatemala’s economy, especially when one compares it to other countries from around the world. But who are the people that comprise this ‘agro-economy’? A large number of them are smallholders. The definition of a ‘smallholder’ will be defined as  anyone who owns less than 2 hectares of land.

As one can see above from statistics collected by FAO during the 2003 Guatemalan Agricultural Census, over 67% of farms in Guatemala are made up of less than 1.4 hectares. Yet, these 67% of all farms only make up about 8% of all the farmland in all of the country. If looking directly at smallholders (through the ‘2 hectare’ definition), these farms control about 13% of the 3.7 million hectares recorded by FAO. However, the definition may be to narrow and doesn’t take into account a large portion of farmers that would constitute smallholders or family farmers under the international consensus of farms operated by farm families with no or little wage labor.

Further studies have classified Guatemalan farms into two main groups, giving the ability to distinguish between ‘smallholders’ and ‘non-smallholders’ much simpler:

“infra-subsistence” (household members cannot possibl[y] survive based on farm production and income alone) and “subsistence” account for a staggering 92% of all farms, but they only control 22% of the land. The situation of the first group is worth noticing: 45% of the farms with less than 3% of the land, or half a hectare per household. Clearly it is not possible to expect that this group of Guatemalan families will base their livelihood strategies on self-employment in agriculture.

These results, as shown below, paint a much clearer picture of the role of the smallholder in Guatemala. An overwhelming number of farms are owned by smallholders but what likely drives the ‘agro-economy’ of Guatemala is the surplus and commercial farmers who cultivate over 78% of all farmland.

What does this mean for Semilla Nueva?  This information is useful in analyzing what we are doing and understanding why it is important.  Most farmers that Semilla Nueva works with fall into the catagory of ‘substistence’ or ‘surplus’ farmers based on the way we they were grouped above.  This means that our organization provides assistance to the types of campesinos that either own or work on about 40% of the total agricultural land in Guatemala.  And while commercial farms comprise a majority of farm land, the smaller farms make up a much larger percentage when looking at total farms opposed to total land.  This figure is key in explaining why Semilla Nueva does what it does; our work has the ability to touch many more lives and make a larger social impact because we work with smallholding farmers.

~ Douglas Franz
*All stats provided by and Berdegue and Fuentealba’s paper “Latin America: The State of Smallholders in Agriculture” (

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