|Colonization and Environment: Land Settlement Projects in Central America (UNU, 1990, 155 pages)|
|1. The Process of Colonization in Central America|
In reviewing the process of land settlement in Central America, it is crucial to recognize the central importance of individual decision-making. While the largest and most visible colonization activities have taken place under the aegis of governmentally managed "colonization" programmes, the process of settlement, and the success achieved even within the government programmes, can best be understood in the context of individual settlers. Government programmes have facilitated, in some degree, the occupation of new lands, but these programmes have not been sufficient to achieve the broader goals of permanent, economically successful occupation.
Nowhere is the significance of individual activity more visible than in deforestation. The degree of deforestation which accompanies land settlement is in a certain sense a measure of the failure of government programmes to adequately guarantee land title; farmers prefer to rely on usufruct rights rather than government programmes to protect their new farms. Given the common and often very long bureaucratic delays in individual titling within colonization programmes, usufruct farmers may be justified in their decision. Even in areas where government programmes exist, it is common to find active populations of spontaneous settlers who find government programmes inadequate for their needs and, resisting attempts to incorporate them, directly compete with government-sponsored settlers for resources.
The individual nature of spontaneous colonization has contributed to a situation in which most of the areas identified as "forest lands" currently have human occupants. These occupants may not have formal titles, and can be found even in areas of dense forest. Any attempt to address problems of land settlement or deforestation must recognize that these forests are now in the hands of individual farmers whose most effective method for ensuring their title has been land clearance. Policies promoting "improved" land management may have just the opposite effect if they do not adequately address farmers' needs and concerns.