“You see a gradient. The more rural, the more remote, the higher fertility,” said Carr. In Guatemala, for example, fertility rates range from below four children per woman in Guatemala City, to as high as eight in the remote Maya biosphere reserve, which is mostly indigenous. “These are the populations that are growing the fastest and the ones who are living in direct proximity and whose livelihoods are predicated directly on the rainforest, whether it’s through resource extraction or…agricultural expansion,” said Carr.
Liza Grandia, assistant professor of international development and social change at Clark University, spent many years working in the Maya biosphere reserve with the Guatemalan NGO ProPeten to address deforestation. However, after years of alternative livelihood projects, “it became clear that many of those efforts would be undermined by population growth and continued migration into the region,” she said in an interview with ECSP.
Grandia and ProPeten conducted a study as part of the Demographic and Health Surveys to examine the linkages between health, population, and environmental trends in the Peten region. Based on these findings, Grandia founded Remedios, a program that partnered with International Planned Parenthood Foundation and the Guatemala Ministry of Health to provide family planning services to “one of the most remote places in Latin America.”
Remedios used mass media, such as the radio soap opera “Between Two Roads,” broadcast in Spanish and Q’eqchi’ Maya, to reach people across this remote region. In the popular soap opera, “the villain is a cattle rancher, the heroine is a midwife, and through the tales of daily life in this village we weave in messages about domestic violence, use of family planning, agrarian problems, like land speculation, and a whole host of other issues that come up in people’s daily lives,” said Grandia. “In three years as a result of that work, the total fertility went from 6.8 to 5.8. To date, 10 years later, it’s dropped to 4.3.”