In El Salvador, paving the road for better opportunities

man in El Salvador
Julio Armando Gutiérrez, president of Cooperativa San Antonio. (Photo: Mauricio Martínez/UNDP El Salvador)

For decades, poor roads between the municipalities of the Balsam Mountain Range in El Salvador kept the place isolated, slowing economic potential of small villages such as San Antonio.

Despite having an agricultural cooperative of over 700 manzanas (about 1200 acres), 40 percent of which are dedicated to coffee cultivation, and a mild climate and landscape with a high tourism attraction potential, the village was basically isolated from growth opportunities.


  • Total investment in the new highway is US $8.3 million
  • The highway was built with local workforce and more than 200 direct jobs have been created
  • Cooperativa San Antonio extends for 6 of the 8.9 km of the highway

"It was difficult to transport the coffee to be sold,” said Julio Armando Gutiérrez, president of the Cooperativa San Antonio. “The area is rainy, and trucks would get stuck; people had to load three to five pounds of coffee up to the small squares, and walk for a half hour in muddy roads with landslide debris. Since the coffee goes bad in two days, the company that receives it paid us less."

The outlook changed when almost 9 kilometres of the Tamanique-La Libertad highway were paved through a programme supported by the Ministry of Public Works, Transportation, Housing and Urban Development (MOP) and UNDP. The project is breaking new ground for over 13,500 locals and joins four other projects in the mountainous region, two of which have already been completed.

Coffee production is the main activity of Tamanique. Last year, the area was hit by the “roya” (rust), a fungus that affects the coffee plant. It was the worst epidemic in 33 years, and coffee farmers faced serious economic losses. But the losses were partly mitigated by the construction of the highway, which was carried out using a local workforce. This created more than 200 direct jobs.

"This type of public infrastructure initiative, which has received technical assistance from the United Nations Office for Project Services (UNOPS), improves the quality of life of communities and contributes to raising the level of human development of our country," said Rafael Viale, Social Investment Area Coordinator of UNDP El Salvador.

UNDP has worked closely with MOP since 2010 to promote the implementation of road works that have economic and social impact, built by following cost-effective public investment processes to reduce the vulnerability of the communities.

"Not only was the drainage of the road surface improved, but walls and embankments also were built, improving the road’s lifespan and preventing flooding," said Viale.

The people of San Antonio remember how during Tropical Storm 12 E in October 2010, they had to evacuate because a gully opened and flooded the school. Now, this community not only feels safer, but can mobilize themselves more easily in an emergency.

Public transportation also comes more frequently and easily, allowing people to work or study outside the town, where there is no higher education.

The president of the Cooperativa San Antonio also emphasizes the new future that the highway has given to agriculture, trade and tourism.

"Now we can easily deliver our crops and create a tourism project to benefit low-income families, because in the 711 manzanas of the Cooperative, there are three water sources and cypress forests with trails,” he said.

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