The UN estimates that El Salvador has already lost 95% of its natural forest – the second highest rate of deforestation in the world. Erosion and irrational use of agrochemicals has left much of the land infertile and 95% of El Salvador’s lakes and rivers are contaminated with agro-chemicals, untreated sewage, refuse and industrial waste.
During the war, many rural communities were forced to flee, and when they returned, they found the land poisoned by bombing, widespread deforestation and soil erosion. Community infrastructure was destroyed and people were often forced to create entirely new communities in isolated areas with steep, arid land and no basic amenities like drinking water, electricity or agricultural training.
Since the 1950s Government-led campaigns have taught farmers destructive farming practices like ‘slash and burn’. Local seed varieties have been lost and each year pesticides banned in the West are imported into El Salvador. With no proper guidance, these pesticides end up contaminating water supplies, poisoning the land and endangering health.
Since the 1980s El Salvador’s economy has moved from being mainly based on the export of cash crops, to having its focus on urban sweatshops (maquilas), the financial sector and remittances from the USA. Crop prices have fallen and as 40% of El Salvador’s land is unsuitable for cultivation small farmers find it ever harder to make ends meet.