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Human Ecology and Development in Guatemala

Hola! My name is Emelie Petersson. I am from Sweden and I am the newest volunteer member of the Semilla Nueva team. I have a bachelor’s degree in development studies from Lund University, Sweden, and I have also studied international relations and sustainable development at University of Adelaide, Australia. I am currently enrolled in a masters program in Human Ecology at Lund University. I am interested in environmental problems regarding socio-economic development, one of the reasons I choose to continue my studies in the arena of human ecology.

Scholars of human ecology study the relationship between humans and the environment, looking at how humans affect the environment but also how the environment affects humans. With this in my mind I started looking for organizations to collaborate with as part of my research for my master’s thesis. I came across Semilla Nueva and became interested in their work, as I believe sustainable agriculture to be a central key to improving the conditions for people directly affected by environmental changes.

I was intrigued by the working model of Semilla Nueva –they focus on working closely with farmers and using existing resources to benefit both the environment and the socio-economical aspects in people’s everyday lives. I found this model useful as the organization is actively engaging in the projects they carry out. My role working with Semilla Nueva will be to carry out my own study, looking at how NGO’s can affect the livelihoods of the people they work with. Apart from this I will participate in meetings with potential promotores, make field visits to analyze the work of other NGO’s and assist with research and preparations for upcoming projects.

So far I have experienced the life and working environment in the city of Xela and in the campo, the field. I just returned from a four-day visit to La Maquina, in the southern coastal department of Retalhuleu, where we visited present and potential promotores and attended a conference on bio-fertilizer.


The bio-fertilizer conference, put on by the local pastoral de salud, gave a hands-on experience in the making of non-chemical fertilizer. The participants are actively engaging in the whole process from start to finish. From hand-chopping chili fruits, garlic and nim leafs that will work as insecticides in the fertilizer, to seeing the finished result in 15 days on a follow-up conference. Taking part in the conference was rewarding for me in several ways. I got to learn more about the scientific side of agriculture as well as actively engage with the participants. The enthusiasm towards change and the care for the environment that I felt coming from the participants is, however, what I remember the strongest.

We left the conference feeling satisfied with the day and continued to the house of the promotor Isaias. He took us around his plantations, talking about how this season’s rains had destroyed large parts of the sesame plantation and the entire chili plantation, which resulted in large investment losses for the family. Isaias has, however, been relatively lucky as his papaya plantation is recovering well and the prices for papaya are high this year. Though, he also explained the risk of planting papaya as you cannot foresee the market prices. As we walked through the fields I realized how dependent the farmers are on their environment. It is all a gamble and you never know if you are going to win or lose. I feel that I have come to the right place to carry out my studies, as I believe there is no other place where humans interact so actively with their environment as in the campo.

Emelie’s work with Semilla Nueva marks the culmination of her masters in Human Ecology, looking at the most effective ways to bring about positive and lasting environmental and socio-economic change to developing countries. She brings a fresh perspective and a welcome enthusiasm to our team.

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