|Agricultural Expansion and Pioneer Settlements in the Humid Tropics (UNU, 1988, 305 pages)|
|15. Colonization in Central America|
A series of observations can be made which generally apply to the process of new land colonization in Central America.
A fundamental problem observed in the development of new lands for colonization is the lack of clear definition of environmental objectives for the colonization activity and of the assignation of institutional authority to implement these objectives.
Environmental guidelines tend to be defined and enforced within traditional institutional lines. Land use with trees is assigned to forestry, land use with crops is assigned to the Ministry of Agriculture, land use for protection is assigned to parks or natural resources. The diffusion of authority and the competition which ensues for control over project funds leads to a definition of project activities so as to conform with the administrative mandate of a national institution rather than to the development needs of a region.
No successful methods have been developed for the regulation of environmental factors in colonization. The most usual situation is for one government agency to be assigned as an environmental "watch-dog" over another agency which manages colonization. There is a tendency for this to develop into a gadfly relationship, where environmental recommendations are seen as unrealistic and a nuisance. Information flow is impeded, and new activities may even be intentionally concealed from the oversight agency to avoid problems.
Another fundamental problem observed in the development of new lands for colonization is the lack of clear definition of social objectives for the colonization activity and assignment of institutional authority to implement these objectives. Clear tendencies toward land concentration and environmental degradation develop in many colonization areas because no institution has the mandate to observe and correct these tendencies or because policies for recognizing (or not recognizing) land titles have not been sufficiently co-ordinated with overall social and environmental goals to ensure that they have the desired effects. The most destructive problems environmentally currently associated with the colonization of humid areas have to do with patterns of title holding.
At one extreme, land occupants who are given insufficient guarantees of tenancy have no incentive for maintaining the long-term productivity of the land. Forest cover is sold or burned, and the land is "mined'? of nutrients for a few seasons. The major concern is how to extract the most benefit from the land over a short period of occupancy.
At the other extreme, the ability to clearly establish title over land leads to attempts to assert title for the purpose of resale rather than for farming. Farm improvements are designed to improve resale value rather than to ensure land productivity or the permanence of the farming enterprise.
Some attempts have been made to give clear title to land but prevent individual alienation through co-operative ownership arrangements. These have not been evaluated to analyse their efficacy. In any case, the problem is complex and depends on such factors as the local market for land, the condition of export markets, and the national demand for small-farmer crops. It is likely that a number of alternative solutions must be proposed even within single countries.
The process of colonization seems to proceed with a minimum understanding of preexisting patterns of land tenure and land tenancy. Areas are occupied on the assumption that they are unoccupied and on the assumption of certain patterns of land holding for occupants. Insufficient effort is directed to discovering patterns of occupancy and regularizing these to conform to the social and environmental objectives of the general colonization programmes.
Colonies can be seen to replicate national agricultural conditions rather than create new ones. This was nowhere clearer than in Nicaragua, where the best roads in the colonization zone were built to service the large farms of government officials in Rama rather than the growing colonist population of Nueva Guinea. In similar fashion, newly colonized lands tend to produce "traditional" small-farmer crops, especially grains. Lands are then absorbed into larger farms as commercial elements are introduced into the new areas; these commercial elements also follow a "traditional" strategy of establishing extensive cattle ranches.
The expansion of national agricultural practices into newly colonized lands tends to bring along the generally accepted "solutions" to agricultural development problems.
The establishment of large-scale enterprises for export crops is an explicit goal in some colonization efforts, where innovative forms of tenure or participation are proposed to ensure that these enterprises will benefit a maximum number of farmers (rather than revert to a few large land holders). In most countries, this is a generalized strategy used by agrarian-reform agencies for all regions and not only in colonization areas.
Mechanization and increased use of agro-chemicals are frequent recommendations for new co-operative enterprises. These measures are quite clearly inappropriate in humid environments, where disturbance of the thin layer of soil or soil compaction are major problems, or where soil conditions do not permit the effective use of fertilizers by plants. These are clear examples of generalized solutions which are inappropriate for humid areas but which are routinely recommended on the basis of experiences in other life zones.
Policy changes in colonization areas seem to correspond more to national political conditions than to the success or failure of programmes in the field. Changes in agricultural strategies or development objectives, or the mere neglect of established programmes, are the product of budgetary factors or changes in high-level personnel within the relevant government agencies.
Farmers of humid zones now being incorporated into national "colonization" programmes have developed some valuable land management strategies which have been underutilized by government programmes. For example:
(i) The use of Stizolobium spp. for weed control and soil improvement in Guatemala is a potential low-cost alternative to the use of agricultural chemicals. The acceptance and cultivation of cardamom is an example of successful adaptation of a non-traditional crop to the needs of humid-land agriculture. The tradition of communal activities in general, and especially communal forests in Indian communities, is an alternative which should be considered as a model for development in areas of poor soils.
(ii) In Panama, farmers of Darien have been involved in commercial plantain production for a number of years. Their experiences in site and varietal selection can provide bases for decision-making or at least for further research by colonization technicians.
(iii) In Costa Rica, farmers of humid areas have experimented with a wide variety of alternative crops and strategies. Agro-forestry combinations, such as Cordia alliodora with pastures or with cacao, are production systems which address both the ecological and economic problems of humidland colonization. Smallscale producers of export crops, such as banana, palm heart, and spices, may serve as examples for development in other areas.
(iv) There is also a need to document the general process of land-use decisionmaking by individuals in colonization areas. An understanding of which factors are in fact taken into consideration in decisions permits the development of projects or policies which address these decision criteria and which will be more likely to have the desired effect on general patterns of land use.
There is a generalized need for the investigation into alternative cropping strategies and most importantly, into the design and testing of these strategies in the field.
Due to the lack of continuity in interest in tropical areas, there are few permanent national centres of investigation in humid tropical areas. As a result, there are few data on long-term outcomes of patterns of production system management and few currently maintained programmes of germ plasm collection, testing, and improvement. Most crop development activities in humid tropical areas must begin, for example, with the establishment of nurseries, germ plasm collections, and varietal trials, which require years to establish properly and to produce significant levels of output, both in plant material and in scientific information. As an unfortunate result, projects must frequently rely on inappropriate germ plasm, either of inferior quality or from inappropriate sources for climatic reasons, to establish new crops.
Recommendations as to improved practices are most likely to be appropriate if they are based on local testing, which can demonstrate the viability of the recommended production system under actual field conditions. This, of course, is a goal seldom achieved, but it is one toward which activity should be directed to ensure the continued development of improved, appropriate production systems. These systems should include not only annual and perennial crops but forestry production. In humid tropical areas, much of the soil is best suited to forestry; without the presentation of realistic alternatives, farmers are obliged to enter into degenerative annual cropping strategies which offer no possibility of sustained prosperity. Special attention must be given to the development of forestry production systems which are viable through entire production cycles and which are manageable within the legal, organizational, and economic constraints of small farmers or co-operative groups.
At present there exists a large body of experience with humid tropical colonization and humid tropical land use generated through the great number of national and international development projects directed to the resolution of the problems of these areas. Nevertheless, very little evaluation has surfaced. Agencies obviously do internal evaluations, but these tend to be tied to institutionally defined operational goals such as budgetary execution and number of registered participants, rather than overall evaluations or comparisons of the strategies employed. Competing government agencies are unwilling to be too frank when this may result in the re-allocation of their scarce budget to alternative agencies, so both intra-agency and inter-agency evaluations inevitably will reflect the institutional bias. Nevertheless, a series of questions of extreme importance for the process of colonization have been addressed and treated at some length, but little attempt has been made to collect and analyse these experiences at a national or regional level.
A variety of organizational strategies for colonization have been utilized in Central America. Co-operatives, individual parcels, and mixed farms have all been tried, but not evaluated.
Different strategies for land control have also been tested. Outright land titling, group ownership, restricted ownership, and sales restrictions may be tools for achieving certain goals in the establishment of certain colonization strategies, such as the avoidance of migratory agriculture and the speculation in land which leads to its concentration in large "latifundio" type farms.
Type of government support, for example, technical support, infrastructure support, and overall planning, are alternatives which dramatically affect the cost of implementing new land settlements. Unfortunately, the activities of different agencies overlap in most areas, so at a programme level it is difficult to distinguish patterns of government support. At a community level, it would be possible to define what support has been provided, who has benefited, and the overall effect on the community.