Role of the Current Study
Central American land settlement programmes have evolved considerably over
the past decades. The initial tendency to prescribe new land settlement as a
generalized panacea for social, political, and economic ills of society has
given way to a more circumspect appreciation of the potentially negative
economic and environmental impacts of these programmes (Nelson 1977). In
response, projects have incorporated new elements designed to alleviate
environmental problems, address social concerns, and ensure economic viability.
While not always successful, these efforts have been instructive with regard to
interactions of farmers and policy.
New policy concerns which have emerged include (1) a more rational use of
forest resources in colonization areas, (2) the stabilization of the
colonization front, and (3) an increased emphasis on the characteristics of the
participants in settlement programmer.
One of the most negative impacts of the usufruct based tenure system has been
the careless destruction of valuable forest resources to establish title.
Valuable timber species are cut and either burned or left on the ground to rot,
destroying the forest as an ecosystem and the timber as a saleable commodity.
The losses through forest destruction amount to hundreds of millions of dollars
in environmental damage and lost income; it is not uncommon for settlers to face
the ultimate irony of purchasing building materials after clearing their own
land. Control efforts have included (1) the creation of national forest agencies
and lumber corporations, (2) the training and licensing of settlers to process
and market wood from settlement areas, and (3) the requiring of forest
harvesting plans controlled through permits.
The stabilization of the colonization front is a growing concern for
settlement programmer. Settlement areas often serve as "jumping-off"
points for forest penetration by commercial interests. New roads and
infrastructure are used for lumber exploitation or to facilitate the entry of
non-farming land speculators. Settlers themselves may use project settlements as
a home base from which they try to claim and manage extensive landholdings in
forest lands. A variety of strategies have been attempted by governments and
projects to regulate access to adjacent forest lands: (1) requirements of
timbercutting and transport permits, (2) the creation of local participant
groups for timber exploitation and management, and (3) withholding of land
titles for specified periods from settlers and threat of not granting title for
land use infractions.
There has also been an increasing focus on screening participants in
settlement projects in response to public and environmental concerns with what
might be termed "settlement fraud." Individuals may join settlement
programmes, not to farm, but to reap the benefit of land appreciation due to
subsidized public infrastructural development and the private investments of
their neighbours. These individuals may even serve as agents of large
landholders, who are legally excluded from settlement lands; these
pseudosettlers collude to obtain lands based on their own landless status, only
then to turn over new lands in exchange for short-term employment or lump-sum
payments. Such fraud is discouraged through (1) tenure conditionality based on
patterns of land use (such that land may revert to the state), (2) residence
period requirements and delayed titling, and (3) screening procedures to
identify individuals unlikely to be successful farmers.
Although the measures described here have not been entirely successful as
currently implemented, they will be elements of future strategies for
environmental management in settlement areas. An appreciation of their successes
and failures will form a sound basis for improving their application in the