In the early 1990s, thousands of the Salvadorans who had fled the country during the Civil War returned to El Salvador during the peace negotiations. Most did not go back to their home villages in the highlands, deciding instead to settle on the coastal lands of the Bajo Lempa that had been former private cotton plantations. Here the refugees laid claim to agricultural plots, and many families as well as former guerrillas were granted land as part of the 1992 Peace Accords.
The rural population which emerged has, since then, been working towards sustainable, community-based growth with the support of La Coordinadora, a local grassroots movement born in the 1990s encompassing over seventy villages, with the aim of promoting food security, environmental conservation, social justice and disaster prevention.
The people of the Bajo Lempa, predominantly small scale farmers and fishermen, have become aware that the protection of the natural resources and immense biological diversity that the region offers is paramount to their livelihood and future. Being one of the areas in Central America most affected by climate change (the coastal lowland constantly prone to natural disasters such as floods, hurricanes and droughts) has also made them realise the need to address the environmental issues affecting their society.
In an attempt to fight the perennial inequalities in Salvadoran society, where the vast majority of the population lives in poverty while a privileged few live in wealth and opulence, the Bajo Lempa has become a redoubt of environmental sustainability, economic self-sufficiency and democracy, a model for grassroots participation, unparalleled in most parts of the world.
The communities have organised themselves to promote food sovereignty, sustainable fishing practices, turtle conservation, mangrove protection and restoration, and the implementation of disaster prevention measures and response systems. Managers of their own area, the inhabitants have advocated for the responsible use of the natural resources whilst providing work to the population with the almost unanimous consensus that the region’s future lies in sustainable development and ecotourism rather than luxury tourist resorts and other private land developments.
Showing more climate change awareness and initiative to adapt their lifestyles than others worldwide, the Bajo Lempa people fight, like they have done all their lives, for the development of lasting, resilient communities.