|Colonization and Environment: Land Settlement Projects in Central America (UNU, 1990, 155 pages)|
|4. Colonization in Nicaragua|
The Nicaraguan Natural Resource Institute (IRENA) is the national entity most concerned with questions of forest conservation and resource management. Since the revolution of 1979, the policy focus of national institutions has been explicitly directed to production for the generation of income. IRENA has been generally overlooked in this process, since its major function was perceived as that of resource conservation and therefore the obstruction of the productive process. In August 1984, IRENA was in the process of being incorporated into the Agricultural and Agrarian Reform Ministry, which many hoped would provide it with a better position for communicating and enforcing its mandated objectives.
The major policy interest of IRENA in humid areas was the improvement of forest management techniques. A Bulgarian team worked on this plan until August of 1984, when it was removed from the area due to intense guerrilla activity. A report was prepared in the meantime. A Swedish team was also working on the problem.
IRENA's office of co-operatives was planning a joint CORFOP-IRENA project for the production of charcoal from almendro de río (Andira inermis), which has a wood too hard to be commonly used. One of the major activities of this office was environmental education carried out in agricultural areas. Instruction was to be given in co-operatives and schools and focus on conservation and the prevention of forest fires. Its activities also included the promotion of agro-forestry through the establishment of demonstrations in a few private farms of the Nueva Guinea area.
In 1984, a draft of a "natural resources strategy" was being considered by government authorities, although no copies were available for wider circulation. The major tasks were presented verbally in interviews with members of IRENA staff. They included (l) management of natural forest areas; (2) enrichment of degraded forests; and (3) the enhancement of the process of natural regeneration. The details of the strategy are expected to be presented in the final report by the Bulgarian mission.
The subdirector of IRENA emphasized that everything having to do with the advance of the agricultural frontier was the province of MIDINRA and ClERA and not part of the mandate of IRENA.
CORFOP is the nationalized wood-processing industry which was originally part of IRENA but was separated several years ago in an administrative reorganization.
The major concern of CORFOP is forest production. In Nueva Guinea its major activity is the management and exploitation of broad-leaf forests. Investigation is limited to areas in the forest production areas.
Another activity of CORFOP is the development of forestry co-operatives. One suggestion which is still in the planning stages is the management of unproductive forest areas for fuelwood. The suggested project areas would be brush lands which produce no marketable timber and which would be harvested for fuelwood and planted to Eucalyptus. While this strategy could conceivably be applied in Nueva Guinea, it was reported that it would be more likely in areas closer to existing population centres in western and central Nicaragua.
It is noteworthy that individuals in other ministries perceived CORFOP's activities as highly exploitative and short-sighted. They cited an exclusive focus on harvesting with little emphasis on reforestation and insufficient attention given to the design of management strategies.
MlDINRA's Cacao Project
One of the most active projects in the development of land use alternatives for the humid lands of Nicaragua is the MIDINRA cacao project. This ambitious project is attempting to redress some of the problems caused by the haphazard colonization which had previously been promoted in the area. Members of the project staff pointed out that farmers had been brought from the Pacific coast to the Atlantic area by the PRICA project without any preparation or technical assistance. Early research efforts at the El Recreo experiment station were made to test the possibility of lime applications to the acid soils of the area, but the test results indicated that the treatment would be too expensive to be economically viable, and no comprehensive management recommendations seem to have resulted.
Cacao is one of four crops MIDINRA promoted for cultivation in tropical areas. The others are rubber, coconut, and oil-palm. Projects involving cacao, coconut, and oilpalm are well developed, while research was still being conducted on rubber production in August of 1984. While the immediate plans for these projects contemplated less than 20,000 ha, MIDINRA technicians foresaw the cultivation of these crops on a very large scale in the relatively near future.
The cacao co-operatives are located on the best lands available, with the objective of completely replacing the production of annual crops in the area. The project envisions a number of co-operatives formed of 8 to 25 families each, with an average of 6 mz of cacao per family. The plan calls for the planting of cacao with plantain (Musa spp.) for shade, to be replaced later with tree species. There was a proposal for the plantations to be granted 30-year loans with a 7-year grace period, but the final decision on financing will be made at the ministry level by MIDINRA and the National Finance System.
The establishment of the co-operatives began with donations of land and purchases from farmers who did not wish to participate in the project. This proved to be too expensive, however, and the project now relies on other methods.
Project technicans felt they faced several problems in the implementation of the project. First, there was the poor track record of government agencies in the area. Farmers had seen several projects come and go; the production of pineapple and coffee had been promoted, only to discover that no marketing provisions had been made. There was also a lack of co-ordination between the cacao project loan programme and that of the National Development Bank, which resulted in some cases of farmers using one loan to pay off another, rather than making the prescribed investments.
One of the weakest links in the development of alternative crops is the capacity for biological research and the maintenance of germ plasm collections. There was an active programme at El Recreo, but administrative reorganizations left the station without any strong institutional affiliations for a time, during which the technical staff and collections were dispersed. Operations were moved to a new station, called Los Pintos, near Nueva Guinea, and in August 1984 there seemed to be an increasingly close cooperation between the cacao and rubber projects and the research station at Los Pintos.
Land Management Planning
Although both IRENA and MIDINRA have planning departments which deal with questions of land use planning, INETER (Instituto Nicaragüense de Estudios Territoriales) is the most comprehensive in scope; the other planning agencies do not consider integrated agricultural and forestry land use planning to be their concern and focus almost exclusively on the activities of their respective dependencies. Nevertheless, there still seems to be some doubt as to the final status and administrative authority of INETER with respect to the other planning departments.
INETER is in the process of developing overall land use strategies within a "national framework for physical planning." One of its major tasks is the collection and organization of data. INETER recognized the need for biological investigation into appropriate cropping strategies and acknowledges the value of the experimental station at Los Pintos. Referring to Nueva Guinea, crops such as plantain, pineapple, coffee, and tropical tubers have been mentioned by INETER as possible cropping alternatives to the current emphasis on basic grains. (Notice the apparent disregard, or ignorance of, the MIDINRA plan.)
The maintenance of Nueva Guinea's current agricultural focus is seen as extremely costly for the nation, given the low output of the area and the necessary government support. Costs of production are thought to be three times higher in Nueva Guinea than in other areas of the country for the production of grains. At the same time, natural fertility of the area has declined drastically over the past 15 years, and yields for unfertilized fields are one-third what they were at the time of colonization. In INETER it was asserted that cattle ranching is unsuccessful in the area due to the excessive humidity, which affects the health of the animals. Nevertheless, a technician from MIDINRA's planning group reported that cattle production was one of the best alternatives for the area.
While there is as yet no formally defined policy with regard to land use, a general strategy has been suggested. This strategy would focus on the settlement of alluvial valley lands, with Sebaco and Jalapa given as examples (these areas are neither particularly humid nor lowland forest areas). A major aim would be the use of "black soils," vertisols which expand and contract according to the level of humidity and have been avoided for agricultural purposes due to a lack of appropriate land use strategies. These soils are fairly common and represent a major soil resource if they can be made to produce, although they tend to be found in the country's drier Pacific lowlands. In sum, INETER seems to have a good grasp of the environmental problems and to understand the need for a proper planning of land use. The next major hurdle for the agency is to implement its recommendations and to come to terms with the other agencies more closely involved in the actual administration of tropical lands.
Planning for Humid Tropics
A new administrative structure is being formed to deal exclusively with development questions in the humid tropics; this structure comprises the directorates of Humid Tropics and of Teaching and Investigation, both of MIDINRA.
In 1984, the Directorate of Humid Tropics was only eight months old and was still in the process of formation. Its function was to serve on the MIDINRA Project Council and provide information and perspectives on humid tropical land use in the process of project formation. The directorate had identified several important problems to be considered in the development of the Nueva Guinea area.
1. Fuelwood. The extensive deforestation in the colonization area has created a fuelwood scarcity, especially in heavily populated areas. Projects should be designed with this problem in mind, and an effort should be made to use fuelwood producing trees wherever possible.
2. Mixed cropping strategies. The intermixing of crops is recommended as a way to avoid environmental problems associated with grain production in humid areas and, at the same time, as a means of providing a subsistence for farmers. Specific mention is made of grains and plantain, although the grains are strictly for noncommercial, smallscale use.
3. Soil fertility management. It may be desirable to include an understorey of small plants with permanent crops, for reasons of both fertility and soil erosion. There is a need for the consideration of soil recuperation in degraded areas and for special studies of the use and management of acid soils.
4. Water balance. While the Nueva Guinea area generally has a short dry season, it seems to be increasing in length and intensity. There are no sources of ground-water in the area, and in a recent, especially severe dry season, cacao production was notably affected.
The Directorate of Teaching and Investigation has formally joined the UNAN (Autonomous National University of Nicaragua) with MIDINRA The objective is to reinforce MIDINRA's capacity for agricultural development through the linking of training and research facilities. For the humid tropical area, it has been suggested that a training centre be established in El Recreo using the large existing physical plant, which was established in the 1940s for rubber research, for housing and labs. The Fondo Simon Bolívar has funded development of the germ plasm and experimental capacity of the station. The centre is to give agronomists and other biological scientists training directly related to the problems of agricultural development in humid tropical areas. In its initial stages, this centre will have to be staffed by MIDINRA technicians, since the university has no one who could carry out such activities. The programme is seen as an answer to the short-term need for technicians, and students will be given three years of generalized training at the university in Managua and two years of specialization at El Recreo. The objective is the creation of 30 technicians by 1986.
A strategy for investigation was still not fully outlined as of 1984, although there were plans to begin a school of forestry and a division of watershed management.