The United Nations Development Program’s Equator Prize recognizes grassroots and indigenous groups that have reduced poverty by sustainably managing their natural resources.
For the seventh time in the prize’s history, an IAF grantee is part of this prestigious group. We congratulate Asociación de Forestería Comunitaria de Guatemala Ut’z Che’ (Ut’z Che’) for being one of ten winners of the 2020 Equator Prize.
Founded in 2006, Ut’z Che’ is a network of over 40 indigenous, community, and farmers’ associations in Guatemala’s western highlands. Ninety percent of Ut’z Che’s more than 200,000 members are indigenous K’iche’, Kaqchiquel, and Q’eqchi’ Mayans. Members’ communities have historically faced food supply shortages and natural resource degradation due to chronic droughts and encroachment by extractive industries. These conditions have made it difficult for residents to earn a living and has led many to migrate. To address these challenges, Ut’z Che’ encourages sustainable farming practices to protect natural resources and ensure local families’ long-term ability to make ends meet.
With IAF support, Ut’z Che’ has trained more than 300 farmers across the country in collecting native seeds and adopting natural insect repellents and biofertilizers. Over 30,000 families have benefited from these techniques. The organization incorporates Mayan traditional and cultural knowledge into its farmer-to-farmer learning exchanges and best practices in forestry. So far the network has protected more than 74,000 hectares of forests. The organization has also uplifted indigenous voices, particularly indigenous women, within its leadership, and has consistently emphasized democratic inclusion and financial transparency in its organizational structure.
Ut’z Che’ Executive Director Yovani Alvarado credited the network’s members for the organization’s success: “This award is not the product of a few people’s efforts. It is the result of 14 years of tenacious work from the entire network of organizations that make up Ut’z Che’.” Receiving this prestigious international development award has only strengthened the organization’s commitment to upholding the rights of the indigenous peoples and protecting traditionally indigenous lands from large building projects that further deplete natural resources.
We are currently working with Ut’z Che’ to redirect funding to create a seed bank in three communities. By buying local seeds for areas where they are scarce, Ut’z Che’ is helping its communities build continued resilience during the COVID-19 pandemic crisis.
We are proud of Ut’z Che’ and excited that it has received global recognition with the Equator Prize. We’re confident that Ut’z Che’ and its members will continue to be leaders not only in their communities, but in international development. We stand with all of our grantee partners in times of both challenge and celebration.