PRODUCTION AGROPECUARIA Y FORESTAL
ED OMNEAR CDAETLRAODERAA SEMINARIO INTERNATIONAL
Turrialba, Costa Rica, Diciembre 10 a 5 de 1980
CONCLUSIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS
The countries of tropical America are experiencing rapid changes
because of population increases, urbanization and the increasing price
of fossil fuel. These changes are intensifying the stresses on the hills
and highlands. Population pressure is promoting the expansion of agri-
culture onto marginal lands (steeper slopes, poorer soils). Urbaniza-
tion has increased the need for the production of annual food crops to
feed the city people while lucrative returns have encouraged the use of
the best flatlands for export crop production. These two factors have
increased the production of staple foods on the hillsides. Finally, the
price of oil for the domestic use of the rural population has become in-
creasingly more expensive, and this coupled with increasing population is
resulting in more rapid cutting of the forest for firewood, which in turn
jeopardizes water resources for the production of hydroelectric power.
The effects of these changes are dramatic in the densely populated
highlands of each nation and along the hilly frontiers of the colonization
zones. These changes in land use are particularly striking when one con-
siders that the steeply sloping areas of Tropical America cover nearly
3 million square kilometers or 50 percent of the Andean, Central American
and Caribbean area. They provide from 40 to 80 percent of the staple food
in each country and a home for approximately 30-50 million people.
Added to the magnitude of the hill and highland area is its diversity.
We must recognize that in addition to the ecological variations, there
exists a wide range of successful income-earning strategies employed by
hill people. Some strategies include the use of multiple ecological zones
("pisos verticales") multiple cropping and diversified employment through
the extended family, migration to new farming areas, and urban sources of
education and cash income.
Reducing the effectiveness of these strategies are factors such as
small land holdings aggravated by inequitable land tenure, lack of in-
fluence in the marketing systems and inappropriate government regulations
which often promote economic inequality and the destructive use of the
land. Because of these limitations in the resource base and the lack of
access to external inputs, numerous hillside families have little alterna-
tive except to over-exploit the environment, reducing its present and
Six basic findings emerged from the conference:
1) The hill lands of tropical America are more important to each nation's
economy than has been generally realized.
2) The hill lands of tropical America have a wide range of complex prob-
lems with significant economic, social, ecological and political con-
sequences. The design and management of hill programs must be adapted
to the specific area.
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3) The hill lands of tropical America have significant potential for con-
tributing to national development through increased production of crops
and animals using traditional and modern farming systems; continued
production of wood and wood products under sustainable forestry manage-
ment; and other economic activities such as generation of hy~droelectric
power and the eventual promotion of tourism.
4) The hill lands contain the highest concentrations of small farmers
and poverty in each nation. The principal object of any development
program must be to solve the problems of these sectors of the
5) While the hill lands should be studied as ecological and watershed
systems, the improvement of the well-being of the people who live in
these areas must receive first priority. Any program to improve the
welfare of the hill people should include the issue of their access
to the productive resources (especially land) and should seek to
develop nonagricultural employment opportunities in response to
high population densities. In order to achieve these goals a
multidisciplinary approach that includes both biological and social
scientists is needed.
6) Finally, the small farmers using complex food production and income-
generating strategies on their hill and highland farms, should not
be considered an obstacle to the development of increased produc-
tivity, but rather a part of the solution to the major problems of
food production and human welfare that face each nation in tropical
A key problem in establishing research programs in hill areas is the
need to identify the basic unit of study. We feel that the focus of study
mnust be, initially, the watershed itself, which places emphasis on the
interaction of different land use patterns and stresses the relationship
between the hills and the flatlands a relationship of interdependency
but also one of competition. Decisions pertaining to land use are made
at different levels (by local farmers, local officials, national planners,
international lending agencies) and these groups must be identified so
that research results will be directed at these decision-makers.
In addition, the interactions between natural phenomena, farming sys-
tems and social systems in the hill areas are very complex. To comprehend
this complexity, both a multi-disciplinary and multi-institutional approach
is necessary in order to understand the intricacies of the constraints
facing both the hillside dwellers and the government's agencies.
With the underlying precepts and priorities established, the following
specific recommendations have been formulated in the areas of biological
and socio-economic research, development policy, education, and the organi-
zation of a Hillside Research Association of Latin America.
1. Priorities for Agricultural Research. To date, the generation of
agricultural technology has been intended for use in zones which are
easily mechanizable and have climates which support crops having high
yield potential. To generate technology suitable for hillside farming,
a broader understanding of the hillside physical and economic environment
is needed. Often non-traditional considerations, for example, energy
flows or social obligations and risk management, are appropriate criteria
to use when evaluating existing systems. Once these systems are under-
stood, useful technological changes can be suggested. Specifically:
a) greater efforts should be made to conserve and develop the full poten-
tial of indigenous crops and animals of the hills and highlands.
b) research should be done on small farmer livestock production as part
of the farming system. The role of animals for nutrition, traction,
fertilizer, and generation of cash is especially important in areas
where a high percentage of the land is marginal for annual cropping.
c) research should be done on soil erodability and mapping in the hill
areas. Generally, mapping systems developed for flat land agriculture
are not appropriate for the steep slopes, and this leads to the current
impression production potential of the hillside farms. In order to
improve mapping procedures, studies should be conducted on how farmers
classify their own soil. In addition, the farming systems that are
seemingly successful in limiting erosion and in producing sustainable
crop yields should be analyzed.
d) research should be supported for irrigation systems in the steep
sloped areas and for soil management practices that improve water
infiltration and limit erosion.
e) research should be undertaken to study the possibilities of changing
land use patterns where the existing systems is no longer sustain-
able. This could include range management research, agro-forestry
research, and conservation cropping systems research.
2. Priorities for Socio-Economic Research. Several dominant themes
emerged from the conference including:
a) The need for more research emphasis on the factors that play a role
in family decision-making practices. Household income comes from a
series of sources agricultural activities, day labor, handicrafts,
and remittances. The strategies that families use to generate income
need to be better understood.
b) Since wage labor is an increasingly important source of income for
smallholders, attention must be given to the inter-relationship
between agricultural production requirements and labor market activi-
ties. In addition, family labor allocation, particularly the division
of labor by sex, is a key element that must be taken into account in
the design of effective development strategies.
c) Migration is an important phenomenon in the hill areas. Its effects
on land use, land ownership and the role of remittances in motivating
change should be better understood.
d) Little is known about the historical and socio-economice forces that
have produced hill farming systems and about the factors that limit
their sustainability. Comparative studies are necessary to isolate
those factors which, in some cases, have led to rapid soil depletion
and land abandonment, while in seemingly similar areas profitable
agriculture continues to function.
e) It is necessary to study the relationship between ecological conditions
and social organization. What is needed is both an historical account
of the evolution of the present system of land tenure and decision
making, and also an evaluation of the role of community organizations
in rural development.
3. Policy Studies. The countries of tropical America have dealt with
the problems of erosion and rural development in the hill areas in dif-
ferent ways. Studies which compare and contrast these experiences are
needed. Specifically we recommend:
a) That a review of the colonization laws and experiences be undertaken
by a team of ecologists, agronomists, sociologists and political
scientists. This commission would study the productivity, sustain-
ability and income generating potential of the various colonization
b) Since nearly one-third of the hills and highlands of tropical America
are areas of steep slopes and intense rainfall, a committee should
study the watershed management procedures that have been adopted in
each country. It would be useful to compare the various government
priorities for watershed use and the regulations enacted to support
c) That a review be made of the new land use patterns on the thin soils
and poor soils that predominate on many of the slopes of tropical
America. Generally these soils are inadequate for annual cropping
and mnuch of the area's native forest has been converted to pasture
lands. A better understanding is necessary of why existing' govern-
ment regulations and price policies promote expansion of low grade
pasture and the destruction of the forest. A new equilibrium between
pasture and forest land use is needed.
d) Since soil conservation on steep slopes that are farmed intensively
by numerous small farmers is only possible through joint efforts,
it is recommended that a comparative study be done on the various
mechanisms presently in use in tropical America to involve the local
community in soil conservation practices. Some of these policies
include government supported bank loans, internationally supported
"food for work" programs and privately supported volunteer organiza-
tions that combine technological soil conservation packages with their
general work of rural development.
e) Since most tropical American countries rapidly are becoming greater
importers of food, the effects of such measures as minimum wages,
pricing mechanisms and credit policies upon food production among
hill farmers should be examined.
4. Education. It is crucial to consider education as a process of ex-
panding people's awareness. This is especially true in the hill areas
where the existing formal education system does not prepare researchers
for the complexities encountered in the field. With this in mind, we
a) Universities and technical schools make special efforts to incorporate
site visits, study projects, on-farm trials, or other methods in the
curricula, which help students understand the complexities of the
hillside farming community.
b) Training centers for researchers, extension agents and farmers include
a hillside orientation so that the trainees can become familiar with
the technology appropriate to steep slopes.
c) Ecology be taught at the normal school level so that future teachers
can include the principles of natural systems into their rural classroom
5. Formation of a Latin American Hillside Agriculture Association. The
steeply sloping areas of tropical America are the home of the continent's
poorest people, while at the same time, the source of most of the basic
food grain production. So far the people in these areas have been neglec-
ted by both national and international agencies because they lack political
power and the areas they inhabit have been presumed to have a low potential
for increased agricultural production.
In order to change this situation of neglect and in order to develop
sound development strategies, it is considered necessary that an associa-
tion of organizations and specialists, with special interest in the hill
areas of tropical America be formed to:
1) Support ongoing research, educational programs and development initia-
tives in the hill areas
2) Initiate new programs of research in the hill areas to produce informa-
tion useful for policymakers, development program designers and agricul-
3) Promote an interchange of ideas and information among hill land research-
ers through forums, newsletters and publications
4) Participate in long-range planning exercises by analyzing on a regional
scale, the patterns of land use of the hill areas
5) Inventory the productive and sustainable systems that currently exist
in the hill areas and analyse their potential transferability to other
To achieve these goals, the Association will develop a network of
academic, research, funding and project-oriented organizations that have
interest in hillside development.
The proposed "Secretariado de Agricultura de Ladera" would include four
regional groupings and two affiliates. The regions would be: Mexico and the
Caribbean; Central America; Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador; and Bolivia and
Peru. These regional units would encompass local organizations with interest
in hill agriculture. Two affiliates (correspondencies) would be established
to North America and Europe to include the numerous organizations and individ-
uals in those areas interested in the development of the hill lands of trop-
In order to initiate action on the Association, the conference has named
provisional representatives for each regional grouping and an interim Secretary
to coordinate the establishment of a network of interested organizations. The
interim secretary will begin to define the administrative organization of the
Association and pursue the possibilities of financing at the national and