|Agricultural Expansion and Pioneer Settlements in the Humid Tropics (UNU, 1988, 305 pages)|
|16. Organized settlement on the Amazon frontier: The Caquetá project in Colombia|
In the view of INCORA, the success of any project is measured in terms of percentage of original target population reached and attainment of initial financial and physical targets. There are other evaluation criteria, such as meeting credit amortization schedules and economic rate of return (within internationally accepted ranges).
Following this, the material accomplishments of the project are satisfactory, excepting the natural resources component, which proved troublesome.
The credit component fell short of its original target (2,850 families), with only 2,326 obtaining credit under the terms mentioned earlier. Because of recent guerrilla activity in the area, it has not been possible to obtain accurate data regarding project impact on the beneficiaries. However, a survey of about 10 per cent of the target families provided sufficient information to obtain an idea of the achievements made.
The average family benefiting from the project operates a holding of between 80 and 120 ha which, according to a 1982 land tenure survey, accounted for 56 per cent of the number of total holdings in the area (table 2).
TABLE 2. Distribution of farm size 1982
A direct result of the credit component was the influence it exerted on the settler's forest clearing activity. It is believed that without access to capital for livestock purchase, a settler is compelled to clear a higher percentage of forest area since his main income would come from the sale of cash crops. Given the rapid loss of soil fertility of this particular virgin land, the settler is forced to establish a high rotation pattern, which implies that a growing percentage of his tract becomes brush or secondary growth instead of pasture.
Settlers obtaining credit, however, received sufficient cash income to establish pastures in areas which previously remained as unproductive brush. The additional gain to the settler and the community was that an important area of tract (about 30%) could be left as a forest and natural resources reserve. This new pattern of land use is shown in table 3.
From table 3 one may observe that the area used for cash or subsistence crops decreases; this arises from the shift in the settler's source of income from the sale of crops to income from the sale of calves and cash from the loan. There is also a significant increase in natural and improved pastures relative to the increase m brush area and decrease in forest area. This shift means a more productive, economical use of brush land which, previous to the project, remained unused, while more virgin forest land was cleared for growing crops for subsistence and cash income.
There is an argument to be made for the environmental advantage of having more surface covered with pasture than cash crops as the lesser of two evils if the forest cover must inevitably come down. I will return to this subsequently.
Initial area (ha)
Present area (ha)
|Cash or subsistence|
Source: Caquetá Phase II project evaluation, INCORA 1982
Two final comments on the achievements of the credit component are related first to the impact of technical assistance (i.e. agronomic and veterinary) and second to the managerial aspects of the production unit.
With regard to technical assistance, a recent survey of a random sample of beneficiaries reveals the following:
(i) 52 per cent of the settlers reported not having been visited by the extension officer in the last 1-2 years
(ii) The introduction of both improved and new varieties of pasture and adequate rotation techniques have contributed to increasing the carrying capacity of the area in pasture from 0.5 to 1.0 head per hectare in the initial years of the projects
(iii) The introduction of several livestock management techniques, induced by the credit component, such as vaccination and spraying for external parasites, together with mineral supplementation through salt feeding, have contributed to raising the average birth rate from 45 per cent to 65 per cent
(iv) Apart from the above-mentioned practices, other, equally important, management techniques such as record keeping (fertility, lactation, etc.) and rudimentary bookkeeping have not been acquired by the beneficiaries
(v) None of the settlers keeps records or registers important economic data of the new technology. This means that there is no awareness at this level of the nutrient extraction rate of the new pastures nor of the expected sustainability of both soil fertility and future pasture carrying capacity
(vi) Finally, the appearance of side benefits not originally envisioned, such as the settler's entrepreneurial talent to devise means of obtaining supplementary income from the sale of milk and other dairy products, indicates that alternative models to the original simple cow-calf production model could have been conceived in order to take into account the available family labour which, when concentrated on indiscriminate tree clearing, is poorly rewarded.