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close this bookAgricultural Expansion and Pioneer Settlements in the Humid Tropics (UNU, 1988, 305 pages)
close this folder16. Organized settlement on the Amazon frontier: The Caquetá project in Colombia
View the document(introductory text...)
View the documentThe project
View the documentProject characteristics
View the documentTarget population
View the documentDevelopment or stabilizing strategy
View the documentThe environmental issue in Colombia
View the documentMaterial accomplishments of Phase II
View the documentProject investment and cost
View the documentSocio-political events in the project area
View the documentStability of the production model
View the documentEnvironmental effects
View the documentEnvironmental costs
View the documentFrontier stabilization alternatives
View the documentFrontier management technology

(introductory text...)

The project
Project characteristics
Target population
Development or stabilizing strategy
The environmental issue in Colombia
Material accomplishments of Phase II
Project investment and cost
Socio-political events in the project area
Stability of the production model
Environmental effects
Environmental costs
Frontier stabilization alternatives
Frontier management technology

Sergio Duran

Colombia's agricultural frontier, like that of most developing countries, has been expanding mainly at the expense of clearing its tropical forests, including the rain forests of the Andean slopes and intermontane valleys.

Due to increasing social unrest related to land scarcity in heavily populated rural areas and as an alternative to the implementation of an agrarian reform programme, which met with heavy resistance from the landowning class, in the mid-1960s the government sought to relieve such pressures by supporting organized settlement schemes. Among the areas selected were the Amazon and Orinoco river basins, which at the peak of the agrarian reform controversy (1968) were practically uninhabited or, at most, scarcely populated by migrant peasant farmers arriving from the inter-Andean valleys.

The most important settlement schemes, located in the state of Caquetá (Amazon tributary) and the region of Arauca (Orinoco basin), are known and distinguished as the Caquetá Project and the Arauca Project. The former covers an area of about 1,800,000 ha and the latter about 832,000 ha. Both projects were conceived by the same government agency, INCORA (National Institute for Agrarian Reform), responsible for implementing agrarian reform, and were based on the general justification of land distribution and promotion of rural development for groups of poor peasant farmers displaced by the modernization of agriculture in the more developed areas of the country.

INCORA, in spite of organized resistance by landowners, had achieved by the mid1960s a certain degree of institutional capacity to implement rural development projects (including land tenure reform) and had gained the respect of the multilateral finance institutions (IBRD, IDB, AID). When political support (i.e. budget allocation) in Congress began to falter, the agency had a large project implementation capacity which, however, could be directed only towards projects in areas where they were not a threat to influential landowning groups.

It was thus that not only INCORA but also both the World Bank and the InterAmerican Development Bank became involved in the promotion and support of colonization projects in the marginal soils of the Amazon and Orinoco basins (for in other geographical areas, land reform projects had no access to Congress approved counterpart funds). The purpose of this paper is to present preliminary findings of a research project (funded by the United Nations University, Tokyo) whose objective is to identify and appraise the effects of organized settlement schemes on the Amazon frontier and to relate valuable experiences which may help in understanding the costs implied in indiscriminate forest clearing and change in land use.

Due to the fact that the Caquetá and Arauca projects were identified and implemented by the same agency (INCORA), socio-economic objectives and development strategies were based on the same model, and because, in the view of the researcher, the overall effects, environmental cost, and misconceptions were similar, this paper will deal specifically with the IBRD funded Caquetá Colonization Project.