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close this bookColonization and Environment: Land Settlement Projects in Central America (UNU, 1990, 155 pages)
close this folder5. Colonization in Honduras
View the documentIntroduction
View the documentColonization Areas
View the documentConclusion


A number of important experiments in land use techniques and colonization planning have been carried out in Honduras, but in general they have lacked a generalized environmental perspective which would contribute to the resolution of broad problems of environmental management in the tropics. The experience of INA in Bajo Aguán is exceptional in its breadth and scope. The agro-forestry cooperatives of COHDEFOR are unique in Latin America and offer promising solutions to certain problems. Nevertheless, there is a clear need for a co-ordinated approach to the problems of land use in humid areas which would incorporate aspects of both the INA and the COHDEFOR strategies.

The Bajo Aguán project is important as a pioneer experiment in tropical land development, in that it attempts to create a major new agricultural region. Its objective is considerably more ambitious than that of other projects of humid tropical land use, since the project has envisioned and funded an integrated agro-industrial development of the area rather than the re-creation of a subsistence farming economy. At the same time, there have been problems in the process of development in Aguán There has been some reluctance by farmers to accept the co-operative structure, and more importantly, the uncontrolled expansion of hillside agriculture in areas which endanger the valley development project indicate potential problems for this and similar projects. The Aguán project is an extremely well-financed project, so it is a valuable testing ground for alternatives; this same financial advantage may mean, however, that the methods used and the results obtained will be difficult to duplicate in other areas.

It is necessary to address the question of small-farm land use in marginal lands, such as the upper Aguán or the hillsides of the lower Aguán Despite the orientation of agrarian reform toward the colonization of flat, relatively fertile valley lands, the small farmer population has continued to grow in new colonization areas and adjacent to INA colonization schemes. This phenomenon suggests that some basic aspects of small farmer economics are not understood and that the levels of remuneration programmed for INA colonies do not completely compensate for the farmers' abandonment of their small-farm production strategy.

The urgency of the need for land use innovations has been made clear by the repeated floods suffered in Honduras. Virtually all parts of Honduras have been affected by flooding at some time. While these floods can be directly tied to exceptional climatic conditions, such as Hurricane Fifi, the actual event of flooding is the final occurrence in a long series of land mismanagements. Van Ginneken (1981) recommends that steps be taken to ameliorate the effects of cultivation in the steeper areas of the Aguán valley to avoid endangering the investments made in the valley, a recommendation which should be extended to many other areas in Honduras.

Heavy rains are the norm in Honduras, and the problems experienced in old agricultural areas are likely to be duplicated in new agricultural areas unless steps are taken to avoid the replication of problematic agricultural production strategies. During the rainy season of 1984, in September, the several major rivers of Olancho, the Guayape, Guayambre, and Patuca were observed to be extremely muddy, almost certainly as a result of farm land clearance in the upper reaches of the rivers. These areas have not reported problems of flooding, but this may be a reflection of the low population density of the area, so that flooding problems either go unnoticed or have no social economic impact.

One major failing at present is the lack of alternative strategies for production which incorporate positive soil conservation measures. Although farmers and government workers are aware of the need to utilize soil conservation techniques and incorporate "agro-forestry" techniques into their activities, there is a generalized lack of concrete recommendations or demonstrations in areas which need them. There is also a need to develop permanent crop alternatives and forestry alternatives which can be validated and recommended to farmers in the relevant areas.

Several opportunities exist at present to study the costs and benefits of watershed and soil fertility management strategies. The work being carried out in association with the Choluteca Watershed Project can serve as a field experiment to be adapted to the conditions of other areas in the country. CARE-SANAA, in co-ordination with the Peace Corps, is carrying out a project of "mirco-watershed management" in which conservation techniques are being introduced at the farm level. In Choluteca, the existence of a mulching strategy as an alternative to burning deserves attention as a possible method for improving land use techniques. All of these experiences should be carefully analysed for their possible contributions to the development of broad strategies of land management which can be introduced in new land colonization areas.

The efforts of INA and COHDEFOR in the establishment of co-operatives are also activities which deserve more detailed attention. The establishment of forestry cooperatives and communal landholding groups could be a strategy of major importance for the development of forest industries and the protection of forest resources if the economic and organizational problems which have made them unattractive to farmers in the past could be overcome. Nevertheless, no systematic review has been undertaken of the impact of INA colonies on adjacent forest areas, nor has the Sistema Social Forestal of COHDEFOR been given the attention it deserves. An especially important question to be answered is how to deal with the problem of paternalism in these types of projects. This is a major problem in the establishment of the co-operatives in the Bajo Aguán valley, where it seems to many farmers that co-operativization means no more than that they work for a large government-run corporation rather than a large foreign corporation. Implicit in the SSF strategy is the objective of giving peasants a personal interest in the maintenance and management of the forest, but if the control and ownership is seen to reside outside the co-operative members, it is unlikely that this objective can be achieved. Nevertheless, the concept of co-operativization has possibilites of being effective as a way to manage land in difficult environments, and it may represent the most viable alternative in forest management for the country. While it is clear that many mistakes have been made by both INA and COHDEPOR, they are valuable experiences which, carefully analysed, will offer suggestions as to improvements in the design of further attempts in these directions.

The lack of co-ordination between government agencies also presents a major stumbling block in the development of viable strategies for the use of humid lands. In the upper Patuca area, there is virtually no co-ordination between COHDEFOR and INA, despite the close proximity of their work areas. Forestry co-operatives officialIy are not given any extension services, and agricultural co-operatives have no forestry extension recommendations, despite their obvious need for trees, fuelwood, building materials, and land protection. The inability to establish mechanisms for the control of even the most critical watersheds in Tegucigalpa and Juticalpa is evidence of this problem of co-ordination. Efforts are now being made to improve institutional coordination, but it is inevitable that this question will arise repeatedly in regard to the complex problems of land management in the development of new lands.

Consideration must be given to how long-term land use planning decisions can be implemented and enforced within the framework of existing government institutions, so that planning obligations and enforcement responsibilities are clearly defined and the means are provided to carry out specific policies.