Migration Management Challenges in Guatemala: From Farmhand to Community Developer

  • Delbert H. Field, Jr. | Chief of Mission, IOM Guatemala

Guatemala - Rodrigo grew up in the countryside, raising livestock, cattle and goats. He learned the business from his father, eventually earning USD 5 a day.  He is 34, with a primary school education, a wife, and three young kids.  They no longer rent. After his first season as a farmhand in Canada, Rodrigo paid cash for the land they live on, and is half done building his family a comfortable house.  He is affable, outgoing, and self-assured.

Rodrigo has spent most of the past two years working on a middle-sized farm in Eastern Canada.  He nets USD 65 a day and puts 80 per cent of that in the bank.  He eats at the family table, and pays Canadian income tax.  He takes his legal deductions, and keeps records to prove he deserves them.  His airfare between Guatemala and Canada at the beginning and end of each season, like his Canadian health insurance, is paid by his employer.  The International Organization for Migration (IOM) in Guatemala recruited Rodrigo, on behalf of his employer, and helped the whole family prepare for his time in Canada.

Rodrigo knew well enough how to raise cattle before he left home. He pastured them on community land or tied them beside the road.  On the rare occasion he had something extra to feed them, he scattered it on the ground.  The Guatemalan Central Highlands are mostly rugged, precipitous terrain, so it is not unusual for a stray cow to tumble hundreds of meters down a steep gully, to become food for vultures before she can be sold at market.

The first time he saw the 300 cattle that would be his responsibility in Canada, Rodrigo noticed they were not just more numerous, they were younger and fatter than his animals back Guatemala.  Their eyes were more alert.  He soon learned the value of trough feeding (less loss, better hygiene), penning his cattle, and machine milking (higher yield).

He learned ways of controlling bovine parasites, the roundworms, lungworms, grubs, and lice that plagued his small herd at home.  The next time he was home in Guatemala, Rodrigo found a veterinary outlet that stocked the same products.  They were cheap. Soon he and his neighbors were hauling fatter cattle to market earlier, losing fewer to the ravines, and getting more milk from their cows.

I asked Rodrigo to compare Canada, where he works, with Guatemala, the homeland he loves. In a serendipitous blend of French, English, and Spanish, he told me Canada was bonito, safe, orderly, and confortable. Guatemala meant family and future. Guatemala also meant crime, insecurity, and distrust.

What had he learned from his life as a legal, temporary worker in Canada? “If you treat others with respect, everyone will be better off.”

Rodrigo should finish his house with another year’s farm work in Canada.  He wants to be back home to help raise his kids, to make sure they eat right and finish high school. If he stays on that track, I thought, Rodrigo – like Diego in my last post – is bound to make a difference in Guatemala.

July - September 2012