Reporting on food security in Sayaxché, Petén

Stepping off the plane in Flores, Petén, the humidity enveloped me. After a week at high altitude in Guatemala City, the tropical climate was a welcome change. Petén is Guatemala’s largest department, and it borders both Mexico and Belize.

Along with Gena Steffens and our fixers, we headed to the hotel in Flores. An hour later I was en route to Sayaxché. African palm plantations cover huge extensions of the municipality, and I had come to report on local women’s organizations working towards food security. Our driver already knew the route, while Morena Pérez, one of our trusty fixers, alerted our source that we were right on time.

Learning about edible plants in Sayaxché, Petén.

I have reported in Mexico since 2014 and feel comfortable reporting on my own in all sorts of situations. Yet the Adelante trip in Guatemala has opened my eyes to the strength of working in a team, and the importance of transportation, security and local collaborators.

When we arrived in Sayaxché, the coordinating committee of a women’s organization greeted us. They shared stories of how the nearby African palm plantations have impacted their way of life. Many families have lost access to farmland, so they must make do with smaller plots to grow crops like yucca, plantains, corn and beans. Q’eqchi’ is the primary language spoken in the community, and two women leaders translated from Q’eqchi to Spanish as I carried out my interviews.

I felt humbled by the network of people supporting me to report the story: drivers, fixers, translators, local sources. Reporting in this rural community in Guatemala’s most remote department would have been all-but impossible on my own. Hearing first-hand the stories of how these women are organizing for food security and increased political participation was a remarkable opportunity.

I became a journalist to tell these stories, but few outlets support freelancers to do so. Working on a story from home and calling sources for interviews will never compare to getting out in the field and seeing the issues for myself.

The heat and humidity drained me on my first day in Peten, but I returned to the hotel inspired by the women I had spoken to, and their determination to make the most of the very difficult situation in Sayaxché.

Martha Pskowski, Fall 2018 Guatemala Reporting Fellow.

African palm in Sayaxché, Petén.


Martha Pskowski, Fall 2018 Guatemala Reporting Fellow