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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

Development or stabilizing strategy

Pioneers who have come to the region in search of their own piece of land do not represent a single homogeneous social class. However, most migrant farmers share one characteristic-their place of origin. The Caquetá region is separated from the more developed Magdalena River valley by the eastern formation of the Andes.

TABLE 1. Caquetá rural settlement project (Phase II), invested funds by category (US$ '000)

Activity   Percentage of total No. of beneficiaries(families)
Long term credit 10,874 27.0 2,326
Roads 16,753 41.4 12,000
Construction of schools 555   700
Equipment 1   (direct)
Teaching materials 56    
Subtotal 612 1.5  
Hospitals 202   12,000
Rural clinics 200   (indirect)
Malaria eradication 1,928    
Sanitary engr. 1,324    
Subtotal 3,654 9.0  
Research and tech. assist.     1,110 (48%)
Adaptive research 171    
Extension 748    
Forestry research and reset. 162    
Subtotal 1,081 2.67  
Project administation 7,389 18.3  
Total 40,382 100.00  

The valley's agriculture was transformed by the construction of several large irrigation districts in 1960, a factor which triggered the change of land use to highly mechanized and more profitable crops such as rice and cotton. Landless workers and small landowners attracted by the hope of possesing virgin land without size restrictions began to migrate to the Caquetá region where, for small sums of money one could purchase, if available, improvements or claims set up earlier by preceding pioneer farmers who, through the use of slash-and-burn, had cleared large tracts of land. Depending on the availability of economic resources, a newcomer could purchase a tract of cleared land of variable size and, by using either family or hired labour, expand his territorial claim. The process of land clearing in Caquetá is recent enough so that the third stage of the colonization process (i.e. the consolidation of large properties by purchasing improvements or pastures from small- and/or medium-holders) has only begun to appear in the last two to three years.

Thus, the prevalent method of consolidating a territorial claim follows a welldefined pattern which may be depicted as follows: A settler, with the help of his family, clears about 2 to 3 ha for subsistence crops (maize, beans, cassava, plantains), which are planted at the beginning of the rainy season. When the crop is half-way through its vegetative period, the farmer plants grass in the form of either seed or vegetative material. Once the crop is harvested, pasture covers the surface and is fenced in. In the first few years, while the farmer has enough savings from the sale of part of his crop and sometimes from selling his labour, he rents out his pasture to a wealthier farmer. Eventually (after about 5 years) a farmer who has persevered has enough savings to start his own herd and has already established natural pastures in about 30-40 per cent of the claimed tract.

The development strategy envisioned by a joint team of FAO-IBRD experts (called in to design the project) sought, in the first place, to speed up the land clearing and pasture establishment process, to shorten the settler's capital accumulation time period and thus stabilize and contribute to the consolidation of a regional cattle raising and fattening industry operated by small- and medium-size settlers.

Such a strategy materialized by setting up a subsidized credit in-kind programme whereby eligible settlers would receive a small herd of 15 cows and 1 bull (about 7080% of the loan) and the remainder (20-30%) in cash, for fencing, pasture establishment, and home improvements. By providing these loans on a 12 year term (amortization starting in year 5), it was hoped that the settler would clear land and set up a more rational production scheme (i.e. clear by burning less forest land and be in an economically more comfortable position to establish pastures and derive income from his cattle sooner). Concomitant to this process, a scheme was envisioned for reaching scattered and hitherto isolated groups of settlers by improving and building new feeder roads and thus accelerating their integration into the already dynamic local commercial centre Florencia, from where the meat consumers of the country's large cities could be supplied.

These economic strategies were complemented with a not very generous (9% of total investment) health infrastructure and services programme, and with an even less ambitious education programme (1.5% of total investment), as well as with a loosely defined forestry research and reserve protection component (1.4% of total investment).

It should be added that a sum equivalent to 2.47 per cent of the total investment was set aside for adaptive research and extension (agronomic and veterinary). The purpose of this subproject was to contribute to the development and transfer to the settlers of locally adapted pastures and cattle management techniques.