|Colonization and Environment: Land Settlement Projects in Central America (UNU, 1990, 155 pages)|
|Introduction: Lowland Settlement and Environmental Impacts in Central America|
Dangers of Misdirected Policies in Land
Role of the Current Study
The Colonization Areas
Global concern with social and environmental conditions in Central America in the 1980s have raised the profile of the region for much of the world. These higher levels of concern are a mixed blessing, since they invite both support and intervention from outside the region. Official development assistance to Latin America has increased by 76 per cent in real dollars between 1981 and 1987, and by 115 per cent for Central American countries, excluding El Salvador (World Bank 1989); much of that assistance is directed toward resource-related and potentially contradictory problems, specifically deforestation and agricultural development (see esp. Leonard 1985). The relationship between resource use for immediate needs and resource management for long-term benefits is nowhere clearer than in the land settlement process. Experiences from land settlement programmes in Central America provide insights into attempts to resolve resource use conflicts and demonstrate successes and pitfalls of different approaches.
Tropical lowland colonization has been a product of both national and international efforts at agricultural development. The settlement of these lands has been a longstanding objective of Central American governments, and more recently, an unintended outcome of social reform efforts such as the Alliance of Progress, which poured money into "land reform" efforts directly through us government sources and indirectly through the Inter-American Development Bank and the World Bank (Montgomery 1984). Simultaneous pressures for land reform and export-led development resulted in a pattern of financing forest destruction for new land uses, such as cattle ranching (Parsons 1976). The growing evidence of impending environmental damage caused by these programmes has begun in recent years to spur a response on the part of donor governments (see esp. u.s. Congress 1985) and international organizations.
International concern with deforestation has crystalized in a variety of forms, either as direct financing, political pressure through private sector groups, or "leveraged" environmental protection through debt swaps and other instruments (Page 1989). Financing has been applied to fund conservation agencies or individuals, and even to the purchase of lands for conservation purposes (Holder 1986; Barnard 1989). In other cases, attempts have been made to influence international markets to change patterns of incentives for forest clearance, as in boycotts of fast-food using Central American beef.
The objective of this study is to review Central American land settlement projects in the context of the two somewhat opposed objectives of development and conservation. Such a review cannot pretend to be exhaustive, but more illustrative of conditions and problems. The description of the land settlement process and programmatic attempts to ameliorate environmental problems helps demonstrate both government concerns and domestic political and economic constraints which influence programmes. What emerges is an almost bewildering variety of strategies responding to the specific environmental and social conditions of each country. While such variability does not easily lend itself to broad strategy recommendations for the region, it does demonstrate the rationale for promoting local involvement in the development of national and local strategies; that local concerns must be addressed to ensure observance of environmental policy guide-lines and to avoid the transformation of these policies into costly and counter-productive exercises in unpopular law enforcement (see esp. Cernea's 1989 review of social forestry projects).
On a more abstract plane, this study argues for a change in the perception of deforesting farmers in Central America, and possibly in all Latin America. Deforestation is often portrayed as an economic strategy, especially as a beef production strategy (Parsons 1976; DeWalt 1982; Partridge 1984), a view which is only half correct (Edelman 1985). Deforestation is also a title establishment mechanism, in which cattle serve primarily to demonstrate active land use, and, I would argue, only secondarily as a source of income. Farmer decision-making with regard to new land is driven by the process of establishing title within the usufruct framework common to all Latin America (Hartshorn et al. 1982 and Sáenz and Knight 1971 describe the practical and legal aspects of land titling for Costa Rica, and Bunker 1985 and Goodland 1984 do the same for Brazil). From the perspective of forest resource conservation, the distinction is crucial, since it addresses fundamental concerns of the farmers, whose co-operation will be necessary to carry out environmental management in the region.