Guatemala Agriculture and Fishing Overview

Agriculture and fishing

Agriculture accounts for a tenth of the economy and employs about one third of the working population. Most are small farmers who grow for their own housing needs or for the home market. The base crops are corn and beans.

  • CountryAAH: Comprehensive import regulations of Guatemala. Covers import prohibitions and special documentation requirements for a list of prohibited items.

The land distribution is very skewed, many lots not least in the highlands are too small to support a family. Malnutrition is widespread and when drought strikes, starvation occurs (see Social conditions).

A couple of percent of landowners control over two-thirds of farmland, especially on the fertile coastal land along the Pacific Ocean. Commercial agriculture is dominated by sugar, banana, coffee and cardamom export crops. In recent decades, Guatemala has become a world leader in cardamom. For Guatemala defense and foreign policy, please check themotorcyclers.

The vastly varying world market prices for the large export crops mean that revenues travel on the roller coaster. Investments have therefore been made on exports of fruit, green beans and other vegetables, cut flowers and fish, among other things. Palm crops have also become commonplace in a short time and Guatemala has become a leading exporter of palm oil.

The palm farms are largely built on land bought by poor farmers who have previously been self-catering. Promoters say that the palm oil industry creates jobs and investments in disadvantaged areas, while others argue that investors buy land cheaply and then pay so low wages that people give up. The money from land sales, according to critics, often becomes a trigger for people to leave the United States – and many of the migrants forced to return end up as poorly paid employees on what was previously their own land.

Guatemala means “the land of the trees” and most of the land area was previously wooded. Deforestation has been rapid, the proportion of forests has shrunk to one third and continues to decline. Trees are cut down mainly to turn into firewood, but also to clear new agricultural land, to make furniture, to build houses and to extract precious wood such as cedar and mahogany. From the balsa tree is extracted chicle, a kind of raw rubber used for chewing gum. Deforestation causes major problems with soil degradation and lack of groundwater. This means worse conditions for agriculture and greater risk of landslides in storms. Only about 60 percent of the forest is owned by the state or municipality, the rest is privately owned, which is an unusually large proportion compared to other countries.

Fishing occurs on the Pacific coast and to a lesser extent on the short coast towards the Caribbean. Shrimp are also grown and caught wild, as are shrimp, tuna, shark, tilapia and mackerel. The fish and shellfish are largely exported to the EU, Mexico and the USA.


Agriculture’s share of GDP

10.0 percent (2018)

Percentage of land used for agriculture

36.0 percent (2016)

  • Offers how the 3-letter acronym of GTM stands for the state of Guatemala in geography.



Alarms about attacks on activists

December 21

Two human rights groups report that activists are increasingly exposed to violence. 223 attacks were reported during the year. Fourteen people have been murdered and seven have been tried for murder.


Training effort against the gang

November 15

Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras launch a joint effort to fight gang crime in the countries, called the “Northern Triangle”. Police and military in each country should share intelligence and operate primarily along borders. The force will show the United States that the countries are actively combating violence and smuggling, which is behind a large part of the illegal migration to the United States (see also Foreign Policy and Defense). In 2015, 17,422 murders were reported in the three countries, which are the most violent in the world where there is no war.

Journalist murdered

November 11

A TV journalist and his wife are shot to death on a motorcycle southwest of the capital. It is reported to be the ninth murder of a journalist this year. In 2015, four journalists were murdered.


Football Federation turned off

October 28

The International Football Association (Fifa) shuts down the Guatemalan federation Fedefut, due to the leadership’s involvement in the international corruption scandal that has come to be called Fifagate (see also January 2016).


Dangerous for environmental activists

1 September

Guatemala and Honduras are the two most dangerous countries in the world for environmental and land activists, reports Amnesty International. They are subjected to threats, false accusations, dirt throws, attacks and even murders, Amnesty notes.


OAS liberates Belizean soldiers in border incident

August 27th

An investigation added at the request of both Guatemala and Belize reveals that it was Belizean environmental activists who traveled with the soldiers who shot the 13-year-old (see May 2016), since his company opened fire on the soldiers. Environmental activists were on the scene after reports of poaching occurred in the area.


Protesters demand public efforts

July 14

Trade unions are demonstrating with demands for increased funding for education and healthcare.


New prosecution against former president and vice president

June 16

Former President Otto Pérez Molina and his Vice President Roxana Baldetti are charged with corruption, embezzlement and money laundering. In total, some 70 people are suspected of being involved in a tavern where public funds were used to purchase luxury goods and services. The new indictment is alongside the scandal that got Pérez Molina and Baldetti on the fall of summer 2015.

Ex-ministers arrested

June 11

Former Interior Minister Mauricio López Bonilla and former Defense Minister Manuel López Ambrosio are arrested, suspected of money laundering and other corruption crimes. They are both former soldiers who stood close to President Otto Pérez Molina (2012-2015), and are accused of using public funds to give him a helicopter as a gift. Detention orders are issued for three other ministers who have left the country, however.

Emergency permit in Petén

7 June

An emergency permit is announced in Petén in northern Guatemala, where large forest areas are on fire. The fires are largely believed to be caused by drug smugglers to pave the way for runways. The state of emergency hopes to provide access to international aid to fight the fires.

Journalist murdered

7 June

66-year-old TV journalist Víctor Valdez is shot dead in the open street by two men on a motorcycle. He had been the program manager for a local cultural program for nearly 30 years.


Congressmen are suspected of corruption

May 26

The UN-supported Commission Cicig and the Prosecutor’s Office are demanding legal action against seven active members of Congress and have three former members arrested, suspected of corruption. They belong to several different parties, including Líder, UNE and PP. They are accused of hiring a large number of individuals “unnecessarily” to inventions.

Settlement with Belize should dampen tensions

24th of May

After a foreign minister’s meeting, Guatemala announces that a settlement has been reached with Belize to hold joint military exercises, as part of efforts to curb tensions between the countries. The parties will try to “avoid incidents and strengthen economic development in the border area”, and seek funding for an OAS office there.

New incident at the border

15th of May

Guatemala accuses Belize’s army of violence in connection with the arrest of three Guatemalans suspected of illegal mining on Belizean territory. A man is injured in connection with the arrest. The situation has been tense in the area since the shooting death in April.


Excited at the border with Belize

April 22

Tensions are rising in the disputed border area of ​​the Sarstoon River between Belize and Guatemala as Guatemala accuses Belizean soldiers of shooting a Guatemalan 13-year-old boy into Guatemalan territory. Belize faces the accusations that the soldiers acted in self-defense after being attacked by Guatemalans who, in Belize, conducted “illegal activities”. Guatemala sends 3,000 soldiers to the border area.

New bribery charges against the ex-president

April 18

State Prosecutor Thelma Aldana accuses deposed President Otto Pérez Molina and his Vice President Roxana Baldetti of receiving at least $ 25 million in bribes from a Spanish port company. Both deny the charges. The UN-backed International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (Cicig) is behind the bribery investigation.

Protest march for water protection

April 11

Thousands of members of some 80 social movements embark on a ten-day march from various parts of the country to Guatemala City. They demand that the government act to protect water resources from pollution and restrictions caused by commercial projects in mining, agriculture, hydropower, the beverage industry and tourism.


The Ríos Montt trial resumed

March 16

Court hearings on the genocide charges against ex-dictator Efraín Ríos Montt continue (see May 2013 and January 2015). In the summer of 2015, an expert group concluded that the then 89-year-old Ríos Montt was too demented to be brought to justice. A court ruled that the trial should still be held, but that it should take place behind closed doors and that Ríos Montt cannot be sentenced to any punishment, even if he is convicted of genocide.


Historical judgment against ex-military

February 27th

A former officer and a semi-military contract soldier are sentenced to 360 years in prison for murder, rape and sexual slavery by women belonging to indigenous peoples. Rape was used as a weapon during the civil war, according to the UN, which also states that this is the first time such crimes have been tried in the country where they were committed. The verdict concerns 15 women whose men were murdered and who were then forced to do household chores at the Sepur Zarco military base, where they were also subjected to repeated rapes.


Jimmy Morales takes over as president

January 14

At the installation ceremony when Jimmy Morales takes over as President, US Vice President Joe Biden, Spain’s former King Juan Carlos, as well as Presidents from Mexico, Ecuador and several Central American countries attend. In the new government presented by Morales, both the foreign minister and the defense minister are the same as before.

The Football Association’s ex-boss arrested

January 12

The former head of the Guatemalan Football Federation (Fedefut), Brayan Jiménez, who is suspected of involvement in the major corruption legacy of the International Football Association (FIFA), is arrested in Guatemala City. Jiménez has stayed away since the United States in December requested him and extradited 15 other Latin American football pitchers. He was head of Fedefut between 2010 and 2015 and is accused of receiving bribes in exchange for TV rights, along with Fedefut’s secretary general. Jiménez later recognizes himself guilty of extortion and fraud before a US court. Secretary-General Héctor Trujillo was arrested in the United States in December and sentenced in October 2017 to prison.

Ex-military arrested for human rights violations

January 6

Seventeen previously high-ranking soldiers are arrested, accused of, among other things, massacres during the civil war. The arrests pose a challenge to President-elect Jimmy Morales, a week before he takes office. Among the accused is one of the founders of his party, which, however, cannot be arrested because he was elected to Congress and thus has prosecutorial immunity. Among those arrested are Benedicto Lucas García, brother of former President Romeo Lucas García and army commander during his time in power (1978-1982). A former military intelligence chief and a general who was among those who overthrew Lucas García in 1982 are also arrested. An investigation of mass graves excavated between 2012 and 2015 is behind the arrests.

Guatemala Agriculture and Fishing