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Agricultural intensification and resource conservation in the buffer zone of the Maya Biosphere Reserve, Peten, Guatemala

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Agricultural intensification and resource conservation in the buffer zone of the Maya Biosphere Reserve, Peten, Guatemala
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Shriar, Avrum Joseph, 1961-
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344 leaves : ill. ; 29 cm.

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Agricultural land ( jstor )
Agriculture ( jstor )
Amplification ( jstor )
Crops ( jstor )
Deforestation ( jstor )
Farmers ( jstor )
Farms ( jstor )
Forests ( jstor )
Land degradation ( jstor )
Land use ( jstor )
Dissertations, Academic -- Geography -- UF ( lcsh )
Geography thesis, Ph. D ( lcsh )
City of Gainesville ( local )
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bibliography ( marcgt )
non-fiction ( marcgt )

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Thesis:
Thesis (Ph. D.)--University of Florida, 1999.
Bibliography:
Includes bibliographical references (leaves 323-344).
General Note:
Printout.
General Note:
Vita.
Statement of Responsibility:
by Avrum Joseph Shriar.

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AGRICULTURAL INTENSIFICATION AND RESOURCE CONSERVATION
IN THE BUFFER ZONE OF THE MAYA BIOSPHERE RESERVE, PETEN, GUATEMALA











By

AVRUM JOSEPH SHRIAR


A DISSERTATION PRESENTED TO THE GRADUATE SCHOOL OF THE UNIVERSITY
OF FLORIDA IN PARTIAL FULFILLMENT OF THE REQUIREMENTS FOR THE DEGREE
OF DOCTOR OF PHILOSOPHY

UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA


1999























To my father, Samuel Hertz Shriar...
Still the most clever, interesting, and soulful man I have ever known.















ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

I am deeply indebted to the many farmers in Guatemala who shared their time, knowledge,

opinions, and patience with me. I learned a great deal from them as we hiked, biked, and rode

through the Peten landscape in my quest to understand the trials and tribulations of farming in a

neglected, dangerous, and harsh frontier region. I hope to repay this debt by working toward

effective policies and programs that will allow for Peteneros' basic needs to be met on a sustained

basis, in an environment that will remain healthy and beautiful.

The field research for this dissertation was funded through a grant from the U.S. National

Science Foundation. Without this support, only a much less detailed study would have been

possible.

I gratefully acknowledge the excellent guidance, support, and encouragement I received

from my dissertation committee members at the University of Florida (UF) throughout my course

work and research: Nigel J.H. Smith (Chair), Abraham C. Goldman, Peter E. Hildebrand, P.K.R.

Nair, Marianne Schmink, and Marilyn (Mickie) Swisher. Dr. Ken Portier of the UF Department of

Statistics deserves special mention for his assistance in relation to the statistical analysis for this

work. I also would like to thank Norman B. Schwartz of the University of Delaware, who openly

shared with me his tremendous insights into the sociocultural and environmental reality of Peten

and who proved to be a fine mentor, both during and after the field work.

Many people currently or formerly working with organizations active in PetWn contributed

to the research by providing logistical help or useful information. These include, in particular:

Francisco Barquin, Esau Guerra, Antonio Fion, Salvador Bolafios, Teresa Robles, Armando









Ozaeta, Carlos Collado, Cipriano Beletzuy, Misael Vasquez, Antonio Pineda, and many others at

Centro Maya; Venicio Montero and Byron Milian of CARE; John Beavers at The Nature

Conservancy (TNC); Victor Hugo Ramos of CONAP; and Chindo Garcia with The Peregerine

Fund. Clearly there are others who made useful contributions and I apologize for any oversights

and omissions to this list.

I also want to thank Roan McNab, Erick Baur, and David Rinck for their assistance and

friendship, and for acting as reliable drinking buddies when I was back in Flores after lengthy

periods in el campo. Special thanks are due to my girlfriend, Angela Caudle, whose

accompaniment during much of the field work in Peten made it a more enjoyable experience than it

otherwise would have been. Our feline friend, Frank Lopez Guzmin, from Palestina, Libertad,

also deserves special mention for his role as a first class rat catcher in Peten, and for being an

ongoing major source of pleasure and comic relief in Gainesville.

I am grateful to my siblings, Judy, David, and Ruth for their encouragement, humor and

advice, and for the faith in me they have shown over the years. Finally, I would like to thank my

parents, Samuel and Elsie Shriar, who initially inspired me to work toward a better world and who

selflessly have encouraged me to persevere with completing this dissertation, despite my father's

ongoing, tragic and sorrowful struggle with Lou Gehrig's disease.















TABLE OF CONTENTS

page

ACKNOW LEDGM ENTS .................................................... iii

A B ST R A C T ... ..... ..................................................... ix

CHAPTERS

SIN TRODUCTION .. .... .................................... 1

2 THE THEORETICAL FRAMEWORK: LAND DEGRADATION,
DEFORESTATION, AND AGRICULTURAL
INTENSIFICATION ...................................... 8

Introduction ................................................... 8
Land Degradation .............................................. 9
Defining the Problem and its Relevance ........................ 9
Traditional Causal Explanations and Official Responses ........... 11
An Alternative Approach to Addressing Issues of Land Degradation
and Land Cover Change ............................. 15
Colonization and Deforestation .................................... 19
Direct Causes of Deforestation and the Importance of Scale in
Assessing Impact .................................. 22
Indirect Causes of Deforestation ............................. 24
Underlying Factors ....................................... 29
Perspectives on Agricultural Intensification and Change ................. 32
Regional Scale Factors .................................... 33
Farm/Household Scale Factors .............................. 39
Sum m ary .................................................... 48

3 THE REGIONAL GEOGRAPHIC SETTING ....................... 51

Introduction .................................................. 5 1
Historical and Political Background ................................ 51
Physical Geography ............................................ 64
O verview .............................................. 64
Geology, Hydrology and Climate ............................ 66
Soils, Vegetation and W wildlife ............................... 69
Human Geography ............................................ 72









Demographic, Sociocultural, and Economic Characteristics ........ 72
Agricultural Systems .......... ..................... ... 78
Land Tenure Issues and Categories ........................... 90
Sum m ary .................................................... 95

4 RESEARCH DESIGN AND STUDY AREAS ....................... 97

Study Objective and Approach .................................... 97
Hypotheses ...................................... .......... 99
Study Phases and Methodology ................................... 102
Study Area Descriptions ........................................ 108
Study Area 1: Ruta Bethel ................................ 110
Study Area 2: Ruta Naranjo ............................... 112
Study Area 3: Ruta Tikal ................................. 115

5 FARM HOUSEHOLD CHARACTERISTICS AND STRATEGIES ...... 121

Introduction ................................................. 12 1
General Household Characteristics ................................ 122
Property and Land Tenure ....................................... 127
Household Cropping Strategies ................................... 134
Household Agricultural Technologies .............................. 138
Other Land Covers and Characteristics ............................. 149
Other Household Resources and Features ........................... 157
Sum m ary ................................................... 170

6 PATHWAYS TO AGRICULTURAL INTENSIFICATION ............ 173

Introduction ......................................... .... 173
Regression Analysis ........................................... 175
Ruta Bethel Study Area .. ................................ 179
Ruta Naranjo Study Area ................................. 184
Ruta Tikal Study Area .................................. 189
All Study Areas Combined ................................ 194
Analyses of Variance .......................................... 200
Cash Cropping ......................................... 205
Intercropping .......................................... 210
Plow ing .............................................. 212
M ucuna .............................................. 214
Pesticide U se .......................................... 221
Fertilizer Use ................................ .......... 225
Perennial Cropping ...................................... 228
H om gardens .......................................... 231
Influences on Agricultural Strategy: A Synthesis ..................... 234
Production of High Value Crops ............................ 234
Intercropping .......................................... 236
Perennial Crops .............. ......................... 238









H om gardens .......................................... 241
Plow ing .............................................. 241
M ucuna .............................................. 242
Fertilizer U se .......................................... 245
Pesticide U se .......................................... 247
Summary ...................................................250

7 EVALUATING OVERALL FARM INTENSITY .................... 251

Introduction ................................................. 251
The Agricultural Intensity Index .................................. 252
Agricultural Intensity Index Regression Analyses ..................... 254
Ruta Bethel .......................................... 255
RutaNaranjo ......................................... 255
Ruta Tikal ............................................ 257
All Study Areas Combined ................................ 258
Agricultural Intensity Index ANOVA .............................. 259
Ruta Bethel .............................. .......... 260
RutaN aranjo .......................................... 262
R uta Tikal ............................................ 263
All Study Areas Combined ................................ 266
Synthesizing the Results Based on the Agricultural Intensity Index ........ 266
Ruta Bethel ................................ ........... 268
RutaN aranjo .......................................... 268
Ruta T ikal ............................................ 269
All Study Areas Combined ................................ 271
Summary: Comparing the Degree of Intensity Among the Three Study Areas. 272


8 THE DYNAMICS OF AGRICULTURAL INTENSIFICATION IN THE
BUFFER ZONE OF THE MAYA BIOSPHERE RESERVE:
CONCLUSIONS AND IMPLICATIONS .................... 275

Introduction ................................................. 275
Intensification Strategies and Motivations ........................... 278
Intensification through Plowing ............................. 278
The Use of Mucuna as a Green Manure ..................... 280
Cultivation of Cash Crops ............................... 283
Intercropping .......................................... 284
Perennial Crops and Homegardens .......................... 285
Fertilizer U se .......................................... 286
Pesticide U se .................... ................. .. 286
Regional Level Influences on Intensification: Demand Themes and
Technology Themes ..................................... 287
Intraregional Variation in the Dynamics of Intensification ............... 290
Ruta Bethel ........................................... 290
Ruta N aranjo .......................................... 293









R uta T ikal ............................................ 296
Implications ........................................... 299
Farm Level Influences on Intensification ............................ 300
Land Quantity and Quality ................................ 301
Labor Supply .......................................... 302
Off-Farm Income ....................................... 302
Land Tenure Credit ..................................... 303
W health and Poverty ..................................... 306
Farmer Experience and Knowledge .......................... 306
Other Considerations and Implications ............................. 308

APPENDIX: COMMON PETEN CROPS ....................................... 321

REFEREN C ES ........................................................... 323

BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH ................................................. 344















Abstract of Dissertation Presented to the Graduate School of the University of Florida in
Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy

AGRICULTURAL INTENSIFICATION AND RESOURCE CONSERVATION
IN THE BUFFER ZONE OF THE MAYA BIOSPHERE RESERVE, PETEN, GUATEMALA

By

Avrum Joseph Shriar

December 1999

Chairman: Nigel J.H. Smith
Department: Geography

The Peten region of northern Guatemala has been the focus of massive in-migration in

recent decades. This has led to substantial deforestation because land use, as in most frontier

regions, is extensive. To reduce pressure on remaining areas of forest and ensure that regional

food security requirements are met in upcoming decades, efforts are needed to improve economic

conditions in Peten and intensify agriculture in areas already cleared of forest.

This study examines the factors influencing whether Pet6n farmers adopt more intensive

agricultural practices and strategies. Research methods included discussions with farmers,

community leaders, and institutional representatives; participant observation; and a detailed survey

of 118 farmers in three study areas within the buffer zone of the Maya Biosphere Reserve.

Analysis of the data relied on multiple regression, analysis of variance (ANOVA), and the

development of an agricultural intensity index to help measure the overall intensity of each

household's farming system and facilitate inter-household comparison.

The study points to various factors that influence the need for, the benefits from, and the









possibility of adopting more intensive practices. At the farm household scale these include, but are

not limited to: property size, the amount of remaining forest and fallow land on the property, tenure

type, plot distance, soil quality, household wealth and labor supply, and off-farm income. At the

community or area scale, the following factors proved to be influential: land quality and micro-

climate, market conditions, physiologic density, land distribution, off-farm employment

opportunities, settler origins, and the length of time since the area was colonized.

Extension agencies in Peten should pay closer attention to these factors in planning and

executing their programs. In addition, conservation and development institutions in the region

should address several fundamental needs that if met, would assist or induce farmers to manage

their land more intensively and sustainably, and thereby exert less pressure on remaining forest.

These needs include the development of markets, farmer organizations, and low cost credit

programs. However, forest conservation in Pet6n ultimately will succeed only as an integral part

of a functioning and more equitable regional economic system, one which provides income

opportunities that allow basic human needs to be met.















CHAPTER 1
INTRODUCTION


The Peten region of northern Guatemala (Figure 1-1) contains one of the largest remaining

areas of tropical rainforest in Mesoamerica. However, as in other lowland frontiers of Latin

America, Peten has been the focus of massive in-migration in recent decades. In less than 35 years

its population, of which about 75% is rural, has increased by at least 2,500 percent, from 25,000

in 1965 to perhaps more than 730,000 in 1999.' One result has been rapid deforestation because

land use, as in most frontier regions, is extensive (Boserup 1965, 1981; Netting 1993; Southgate

and Pearce 1988). As recently as 1970, 70 to 80 percent of the administrative region or

"department" of Peten was densely forested (Schwartz 1990), but satellite imagery reveals that

only half the area now remains under forest (Sever 1999). The main proximate causes have been

agricultural colonization and shifting cultivation by small farmers, mostly ladinos and Kekchi

Maya from the highlands, and the establishment of cattle ranches by large, often absentee,

landowners.

Deforestation has generated tremendous concern among both foreign and Guatemalan

conservationists. This led to the establishment in 1991 of the 16,000 km2 nMaya Biosphere Reserve

(MBR) in northern Pet6n, which was designed to conserve a sizeable area of forest in the region

and protect a large number of Mayan archaeological sites, such as Tikal. The MBR is flanked by

Belize on its eastern boundary, and by Mexico on its northern and western boundaries. Along its


'This figure is an extrapolation, based on the 1990 estimate of 311,000 and the assumption that the
estimated growth rate of 9.5% per annum that prevailed in the 1980s (AHT/APESA 1992: 65) has
remained constant in the 1990s. See Chapter 3 for details.







































Figure 1-1 Guatemala and the Peten Region









3

southern edge is a 5000 km2 buffer zone in which population growth and deforestation have been

rapid. Clearing also has occurred within the reserve itself, particularly on the west side (Sader

1999).

The establishment of reserves is an important element of biodiversity conservation in the

tropics. However, such areas can be protected over the long term only through the improvement of

livelihoods and the intensification of agriculture in surrounding areas that are already cleared. The

development of more intensive yet sustainable alternatives to shifting cultivation and cattle

ranching is a critical requirement for conserving remaining forest (Brady 1996; Sanchez 1994;

Serrao and Toledo 1990;, Myers 1989; Sanchez et al. 1982; Smith 1990; Srivastava, Smith and

Forno 1996; Tivy 1990), in conjunction with other structural measures that address the

socioeconomic roots of deforestation (Nations and Komer 1983; Schwartz 1995; Utting 1991).

However, relatively little attention has been devoted to the land use situation in areas

outside of the MBR and other, smaller reserves in Pet6n. As in most frontier regions (Maos 1984;

Collins 1986; Jones 1990), the colonization of Peten has been poorly managed, with the result that

land use has been inefficient from a spatial perspective and impacts on the forests and habitats of

the region have been severe.

Virtually all conservationists concede that the massive in-migration has its roots largely in

the skewed distribution of land and wealth in southern Guatemala, the area from which people are

moving to Peten. However, there is little recognition that much can be done within the region to

foster development patterns and land use systems that will meet basic human needs while reducing

pressure on remaining areas of forest. Among conservationists very little emphasis seemingly is

placed on the facts: 1) that the vast majority of people in Peten live entirely or in part through










4

agriculture;2 and 2) that it is possible to influence agricultural patterns and practices, and more

broadly, the relationship between communities and the land, to reduce pressure on remaining areas

of forest. In general the issue of agricultural land use has been, and continues to be, neglected

among conservationists. As an example, a recent collection of articles about the MBR (Nations

1999a) published by Conservation International and entitled "Thirteen Ways of Looking at a

Tropical Forest: Guatemala's Maya Biosphere Reserve," contains not one article that focuses in

any significant way on agriculture or on how it can be made more compatible with long-term

conservation and development objectives. Most of the research and activity in Peten conducted

under the guise of conservation consists of biological and ecological studies, planning and

management of protected areas, and using cutting edge GIS and remote sensing technology to

monitor deforestation. These efforts are important but they do nothing to address the underlying

forces that will continue to generate rapid destruction of habitat and life support systems.

A critical part. if not the most critical part, of the solution to the problem is to address the

needs for a) sustainable forms of agricultural intensification in areas outside of the reserves; and b)

patterns of socioeconomic development that will foster such intensification and, more broadly,

create a regional economic system that will allow for basic human needs to be met. It is worth

bearing in mind that notwithstanding the massive in-migration that has occurred in recent decades,

population densities in Peten remain very low, just a fraction of the densities that prevailed in the

region for centuries, at the height of the classic Maya civilization, over 1100 years ago.3 Hence,

the potential clearly exists for developing more land efficient and productive agricultural systems


2Over 60% of Peteneros claim agriculture as their primary occupation (AHT-APESA 1992), but many
other people farm to meet subsistence requirements.

3If we assume that the population of the region (36,000 km2) currently stands at about 700,000, this
amounts to less than 20 people per km2. Population densities in the Central Maya Lowlands at the height
of the Classic Maya civilization have been estimated at 117 to 151 people per km2 (Whitmore et al. 1990),
but other estimates are much higher (Rice 1991; Turner 1990).









5

that can support large numbers of people, and probably at a higher level of material well-being

than exists at present. The need for such systems is compounded by the fact that the population

growth in Peten is unlikely to moderate in the near future, given its roots in the severe poverty and

inequality that prevails in southern Guatemala (World Bank 1995a).4

This dissertation explores the socioeconomic and agronomic conditions under which

farmers adopt more intensive alternatives to maize-based shifting cultivation. It addresses

concerns of both theoretical and practical importance. Many debates and issues pertaining to land

use change, and more specifically to agricultural intensification and technology adoption, are far

from resolved. For example, a recent plan for research on global land use and land cover change

presented by the International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme (IGBP) and The Human

Dimensions of Global Environmental Change Programme (HDP) highlights the need for a better

understanding of the relationship between land use and land cover change by linking these

phenomena to human actions actions that "are the product of individual and group behaviours

within specific socioeconomic and environmental settings" (Turner et al. 1995: 20). The report

notes that improved modeling of land cover change will depend on additional basic research on

underlying factors that determine land use. The "driving forces (exogenous variables) of land use

as they operate through the land manager" is listed as one of four key topics in need of improved

understanding (Turner et al. 1995: 8).

In addressing this topic I conducted field research within three study areas in the buffer

zone of the Maya Biosphere Reserve to identify factors influencing agricultural strategy at two

scales the farm household and the sub-region. The research involved a combination of rapid rural

appraisal, participant observation, discussions with numerous farmers and community members,


4It is estimated that in the country overall, 75% of the population lives below the poverty line while 58%
live below the extreme poverty line (World Bank 1995a).









6

interviews with government agency and NGO personnel, and a detailed survey of 118 farmers in

the three study areas. The survey data have been analyzed and compared primarily through

multiple regression analysis, analysis of variance, and the development of an agricultural intensity

index to facilitate inter-household comparison.

The study identifies important influences on particular agricultural practices and

strategies, and suggests that existing constraints on more sustainable and intensive land use in

Peten are intimately related to the lack of support for agriculture and to regional economic neglect.

The literature on colonization reveals quite clearly that well-planned and managed settlement

schemes, while invariably involving some deforestation, can limit the impact on the natural

resources of an area, and lead to improved living conditions on a more sustained basis (Manshard

and Morgan 1988: Uhlig 1988). Some thoughtful analysis has been carried out on what needs to

be done to improve the agricultural and general economy of Peten (see Volume III of AHT/APESA

1992), but only to very few of the suggestions that emerged from these studies has there been a

response. Instead, the primary focus has been on more narrow and traditional conservation

initiatives that deal with the reserve itself, with finding sustainable economic alternatives, such as

ecotourism and woodworking, for a handful of small communities, and with monitoring the

destruction through remote sensing. These activities are important and should be encouraged, but

the main focus must shift to the underlying factors and circumstances that influence the behavior of

the hundreds of thousands of people in Pet6n who live primarily through agriculture. This, of

course, is a formidable challenge, but it is the one that must be faced if lasting benefits are to be

achieved from a human development and conservation standpoint.

The remainder of this dissertation is organized as follows: Chapter 2 examines the

theoretical framework in which the study is situated. In particular, it explores relevant concepts

described in the literature on three subject areas: land degradation, deforestation, and agricultural









7

intensification. Chapter 3 turns to the regional geographic setting, with an examination of Peten's

historical and political framework, and its physical and human geography. Included in the latter is

general information on farming systems and land tenure, particularly in the buffer zone areas in

which the research was conducted. Chapter 4 describes the research design and methodology, as

well as the three study areas and communities therein. The hypotheses that guided the research

also are covered here. Chapter 5 presents descriptive statistics and information based on the

survey data about farm household characteristics, including resource endowment and land use

practices. Chapter 6 analyzes the factors influencing agricultural strategy. It presents the results

of regression analyses and analyses of variance (ANOVA) that were used to identify the factors

that seemingly account for the use. or lack thereof, among farmers of particular intensification

strategies, such as plowing, use of green manure, intercropping, and so forth. Chapter 7 examines

the factors that influence the overall intensity of the area's farming systems, again using regression

analysis and ANOVA. Overall fanning system intensity was measured using an agricultural

intensity index I developed. The index assigns a total "intensity score" to a household based on the

array of strategies on which they rely, and at what scale. It thus helps compare households not

regarding their use of particular intensification strategies but rather, in terms of their overall

complex of activities. Finally. Chapter 8 presents the conclusions and implications that emerge

from the research. The conclusions relate primarily to the conditions that foster agricultural

intensification and sustainable rural development, as revealed through the differences among the

areas and households studied. Some of the main general implications for Peten pertain to the need

for 1) research on solutions, rather than on the problems and their symptoms: and 2) initiatives that

will foster a broad pattern of rural socioeconomic and institutional development, one that helps

people earn a decent living and meet basic human needs.















CHAPTER 2
THE THEORETICAL FRAMEWORK: LAND DEGRADATION,
DEFORESTATION, AND AGRICULTURAL INTENSIFICATION


Introduction

This study examines the factors that account for how land is used or abused by human

groups and individuals. The primary focus is on agricultural change and intensification in a

frontier region that to many observers faces significant problems of land degradation and

deforestation. My goal for this chapter is therefore to review some salient issues and

characteristics of land degradation, deforestation, and agricultural intensification, and thereby lay

down the theoretical framework within which this research is situated. This review also helps

rationalize the approach and research design that I adopted for this study.

My review of the literature and my own field experience in various regions have shown

that any investigation of the factors that explain particular forms of land use will greatly benefit

from an explicit analysis of the scale or scales at which these factors manifest themselves. Such an

analysis is especially helpful for identifying suitable policy and program interventions that seek to

alter human actions for conservation or development objectives. The consideration of scale

therefore represents an important theme in each of the sections that follow.









9

Land Degradation

Defining the Problem and its Relevance

Any definition of land degradation must incorporate two key aspects: 1) that it results from

human activity, rather than natural forces in and of themselves; and 2) that it leads to a decline in

biological productivity or usefulness to humans. Johnson and Lewis (1995: 2) refer to land

degradation as a "substantial decrease in either or both of an area's biological productivity or

usefulness due to human interference." Blaikie and Brookfield (1987: 6) refer to land degradation

as "a reduction in the capability of land to satisfy a particular use." This reference to a "particular

use" highlights the subjective nature of the concept of land degradation, an aspect of considerable

complication that is discussed further below.

Declines in usefulness or productivity of land can result from a variety of factors that

reduce organic matter and nutrients, or otherwise alter the chemistry and structure of soil. These

include soil erosion (El Swaify et al. 1983; Stadel 1991) and soil "mining" (Turner et al 1993) due

to inappropriate cropping patterns, and salinization and waterlogging, commonly associated with

irrigation projects (Pimentel 1993). Thus, all of these changes in land quality commonly are seen

as the identifying characteristics of land degradation.

However, degradation can be reversible in the short term, and thus of limited consequence,

or it can be non-reversible. Cultivation on most arable land will lead to a fertility decline as

nutrients are exported from the system through the harvest, or through leaching and erosion. But

this can be addressed through "short-term rehabilitation ecology" (Johnson and Lewis 1995), for

example, by leaving the land fallow, as in swidden systems, or by applying fertilizer or other soil

amendments to restore the land's capability. However, for many resource poor farmers in the

Third World the options for such restoration may be limited.









10

Most of the literature on land and other forms of environmental degradation centers on bio-

physical and climatic factors. In general, the subject has been neglected by social scientists,

notwithstanding some early classic treatments (Malcolm 1938; Glover 1946; Hyams 1952; and

Jacks and Whyte 1939). But as emphasized by Blaikie and Brookfield (1987) and implied in the

above definitions, land degradation is first and foremost a social problem, one that ultimately is

perceived by human users and caused by human activity. Natural science is of course very

relevant with regard to the physical reasons for land degradation, but why it is not managed and

prevented by human users lies squarely in the realm of social science. This is increasingly

recognized and there is a "resurgent awareness of the pertinence of socioeconomic and political

processes" in relation to environmental degradation (Little et al. 1987: 1). Geographers have been

focusing on the issue for many decades, but among anthropologists and economists, for example, it

is a relatively new concern.

Hence, the theoretical base on which to rely in studying land degradation is poorly

developed. This is due to the limited attention it has received among social scientists, at least until

recently, and the continued lack of cooperation in the work of natural and social scientists

regarding the behavior of land managers. There often are opposing views on the significance of

land degradation and a common failure to see the social roots of the problem (Blaikie and

Brookfield 1987; Little et al. 1987). Another source of the "fundamental theoretical confusion"

surrounding land degradation is the failure to see it "within a wide historical and geographical

framework" (Blaikie and Brookfield 1987). The lack of solid longitudinal data in all but a handful

of world regions likely is a factor in this regard. Serious misinterpretations of land degradation

issues commonly result from a lack of data over a long enough time frame that covers a range of

climatic states (Johnson and Lewis 1995: 11).









11

Much of the confusion surrounding land degradation also emerges from the fact that it is a

subjective and perceptual concept. There is no clear consensus on how land degradation can be

identified and operationalized. It must be defined with reference to a particular land use type. For

example, the clearing of forest, although problematic to a biologist, may not be seen as degradation

to an agriculturalist, or to a rancher that wishes to increase the size of his herd. Of course,

biophysical changes such as erosion, salinization, and acidification can be described in objective

terms, but these identifying characteristics must then be evaluated in social terms, with regard to

socially relevant impacts, such as on crop yield or game populations. The economic effects of such

impacts also must be calculated, but different resource users will be affected in different ways and

to varying degrees. Some parties may benefit from the resulting changes and some will be in a

better position than others to adjust their livelihood strategies, for instance, by having other

alternatives to which they can turn. It is increasingly recognized that the "the determination of an

environment at risk should be the product or outcome of analysis, and not an a priori assumption"

(Little et al. 1987).



Traditional Causal Explanations and Official Responses

An even greater source of confusion and complexity relates to the causes of land

degradation. In examining the literature on this topic it becomes clear that there is no uni-causal

model of explanation. Many hypotheses have been put forward, but they prove to be invalid in far

too many cases. The problem of land degradation and its causes is too complex and too variable.

No single explanatory theory is acceptable, although some useful foundations of a theoretical

framework or approach have been laid down in various recent works, such as Blaikie (1985),

Blaikie and Brookfield (1987), Moran (1984), Schmink and Wood (1987), Johnson and Lewis

(1995), and Little et al. (1987).









12

Some of the traditional and more common explanations of the causes of land degradation

include: 1) population pressure on resources (PPR); 2) ignorance and inappropriate behavior of

land users or managers; and 3) environmental "fragility" or sensitivity to degradation. Each of

these explanations and their inadequacies is discussed below in the remainder of this section. In the

following section an alternative approach to analyzing and interpreting land degradation and land

cover change is described.

Several influential theories relate to the issue of population pressure. The first of these,

referred to as neo-Malthusian theory, sees population growth in entirely negative terms and as the

key threat to the global environment and its carrying capacity. But although population growth

likely is a matter of concern, there are a lot of misconceptions and erroneous assumptions based on

inadequately measured and understood trends. For example, Eckholm (1976: 18) writes that

"Whatever the root causes of suicidal land treatment and rapid population growth...in nearly every

instance the rise in human numbers is the immediate catalyst of deteriorating food-production

systems." Ehrlich and Ehrlich (1970: 201) posit that "an area must be considered

overpopulated...if the activities of the population are leading to a steady deterioration of the

environment."

There are several problems with these analyses. First, they do nothing to account for the

array of other factors that influence whether or not land degradation results from human activity.

There are many examples of populations with very high densities that have effectively managed

their resource base in a sustainable manner for thousands of years (Blaikie and Brookfield 1987).

There also are cases in which rising population densities have corresponded with considerable

improvement in environmental conditions (Tiffen and Mortimer 1992: Turner et al. 1993; Tiffen,

Mortimer and Gichuki 1994).









13

Second, they offer little explanation for the high levels of degradation and deforestation, as

discussed below, that commonly occur under very low population densities, for example in frontier

regions, or in some cases where population is declining (Zimmerer 1993; Garcia-Barrios and

Garcia-Barrios 1990).

Third. by using the term or concept of "overpopulation" the implication is that there is

some critical threshold of carrying capacity beyond which land degradation will occur. But human

"carrying capacity" or the number of people that can be supported in a given zone, can change

considerably with each socioeconomic evolution, technology change, or crop introduction (Blaikie

and Brookfield 1987). In some cases such "intentional changes" (Johnson and Lewis 1995) may in

fact contribute to land degradation, for example, salinization in the case of poorly designed

irrigation systems, but in other cases they have been followed by population growth and

sustainable patterns of land use (Tiffen and Mortimer 1992: Goldman 1992; Tiffen, Mortimer and

Gichuki 1994). Hence, carrying capacity is a dynamic concept and PPR is only a conditional

hypothesis with regard to land degradation.

Another theme commonly encountered in the literature (e.g. Ives et al. 1992; Stadel 1981)

is the notion that some environments are more susceptible to erosion and other forms of land

degradation, by virtue of climatic, topographic and edaphic characteristics. While this undoubtedly

is true, it still does not explain why the necessary measures to avoid degradation are taken in some

"fragile" environments and not in others. Many highly susceptible environments in Africa have

been occupied and farmed under high population densities for a very long time (Kates, Hyden and

Turner 1993: 18). Similarly, Peten is widely regarded as a fragile region but it formed a core area

of the Classic Maya civilization and supported very dense populations.

Another common explanation of land degradation, popular among government officials,

aid agencies, and those conservation organizations that have a poor understanding of peasant









14

farming, relates to the supposed ignorance, stupidity, irrationality, and conservatism of farmers and

other rural resource users (Little et al. 1987). But as discussed by Blaikie and Brookfield (1987),

this argument is simplistic because it inherently assumes:

that the objectives of peasants are or should be same as those of government or other

conservation organizations;

that peasants have a sufficient degree of choice in how they manage their land. In reality, of

course, their choices may be quite limited due to shortages of labor, cash, capital, knowledge, and

so forth. This situation may force them to neglect longer-term concerns in favor of short-term

survival considerations (e.g. Ashby 1985; Collins 1987: Blaikie 1985: Zimmerer 1993);

that there is no rationale in peasant conservatism; in fact, their actions are oriented primarily or

largely toward meeting food security and basic survival needs and thus risk-taking is something

they cannot afford, at least in relation to most of their activities.

Many international organizations, government agencies and some development

organizations continue to view land degradation as a result of population growth or the ignorance

and "traditional practices" of local people in agricultural and herding regions. These perspectives

have led to broad programs aimed at population control, and in some countries, particularly after

1900, to the establishment of government agencies with the power to enact and enforce legislation

aimed at soil and water conservation. Many projects aimed at soil and water conservation also

have been implemented by governments, international agencies, and NGOs, generally with limited

success.

The perceptions and priorities of these organizations and the project planners so often have

been at odds with those of the local land users. Current et al. (1995) discuss the mixed record of

agroforestry projects in Central America, mostly aimed at soil conservation, because of conflicting

interests of local people and project proponents. In many cases, traditional resource management









15

systems have been severely misunderstood. For example, in the colonial period burning was

prohibited in some countries of Africa and the result was a major build-up of insect populations

(Blaikie and Brookfield 1987).

In addition, insufficient attention has been paid to the resource constraints on farmers, and

hence, to their ability or interest in implementing the recommended or required conservation

measures. Their involvement in the design of projects usually has been absent. Expensive, time

consuming projects aimed at terrace construction have been implemented, only to result in the

terraces being washed away, due to lack of maintenance (Blaikie and Brookfield 1987). In

general, assessments of land degradation often have not been seen in a broad enough context to

enable a rational understanding of its significance or lack thereof. The factors influencing local

land use strategies often have been poorly understood, and thus policies, legislation, programs, and

projects have been inappropriate. A useful review of these problems in the African context is

provided by Farley (1996).



An Alternative Approach to Addressing Issues of Land Degradation and Land Cover Change

From a technical point of view many forms of land degradation can be prevented through

the use of soil conservation systems such as terracing and contour planting, and agroforestry

(Johnson and Lewis 1995: 292). And although the task of maintaining land capability can vary

considerably due to differences in resilience and sensitivity, "human management of the land

without leading to degradation is not only possible in a great majority of environments, but has

been frequently accomplished in human history" (Blaikie and Brookfield 1987).

These facts lead to some important questions. Johnson and Lewis (1995) ask: why does

land degradation continue unabated and why is it seemingly accelerating in many places? Blaikie

and Brookfield (1987) question why land management failures have occurred and whether the









16

problem has been perceived by those responsible at the time and place. However, the study of land

degradation is made complicated and difficult because of 1) the complex interaction between

development and environmental change; 2) the effect of scale perceptions, both temporal and

spatial, on assessments of the significance of environmental change; and 3) the many data problems

related to availability and to uncertainty regarding what is appropriate to measure. The link

between physical changes and productivity changes is not always clear, as is true of the cause-

effect aspect in general.

In light of these factors it is clear that no single theory of land degradation is appropriate.

Rather, a broader, more flexible approach to analyzing and addressing issues of land degradation

and land cover change must pay greater attention to the following considerations and requirements.

First, given that there exist competing social definitions of land degradation, plural perceptions of

the issue must be considered and accepted. Numerous writers emphasize the need to consider the

perspective of various stakeholders and classes concerning the causes and effects of environmental

change (e.g. Messerschmidt 1987; Little et al. 1987; Blaikie and Brookfield 1987).

Second, analysis should begin at the point where uncertainty is lowest, i.e. at the level of

and from the perception of the land manager. Data on the relationship between the land manager

and the land are fraught with least uncertainty (Blaikie and Brookfield 1987). Once a solid

understanding of the land manager's actions and perceptions is obtained, factors at various scales

that may be influencing their decisions, and constraining what they can or cannot do, can be

identified.

Third, a case study approach is needed to improve our understanding of the causes and

implications of land degradation, and of how to deal with it where necessary. Many areas of the

Third World suffer from a set of related symptoms that combine the results of land degradation,

political and economic marginalization, stagnant production, outmigration, and poverty. However,









17

each region may be quite distinct in terms of history, outside influences, colonization, the degree of

tradition that prevails, and other factors (Blaikie and Brookfield 1987).

Finally, the issue of scale, and the need for its explicit recognition, proves to be

particularly important in relation to land degradation. Scale implications must be explicitly

addressed to place land degradation in spatial and temporal context and to better understand the

plurality of perceptions on the matter. There are several reasons for this:

1) Various scales such as the field, the farm, the watershed, the region, and the nation, tend

to be linked to distinct decision making processes and parties, for example, the farmer, the

watershed management authority, the state government, or the national government. Thus, the

decision makers involved, and the social and environmental data on which they rely, should be

recognized.

2) Scale has important implications for the accounting of costs and benefits. For example,

if a farmer is concerned primarily x% ith the highest quality lands on his farm, such as the more

humid valley bottom areas, he may be willing to sacrifice other parts of the farm, for instance by

permitting or encouraging soil erosion from upland sites to benefit the bottomland areas where

production is concentrated. Johnson and Lewis (1995) describe numerous cases of "creative

destruction" in which some degradation is tolerated or encouraged to yield a net benefit to the

overall system. These can involve a wide range of scales, from a field or farm, to a nation, for

example if lands on the frontier are overexploited, and hence, sacrificed, to generate resources

needed for broader national objectives. Thus the "unit of account" must be specified to

appropriately consider costs and benefits.

3) Scale perceptions have a strong influence on analysis and explanations of land

degradation and land cover change. For instance, at larger scales such as that of the watershed,

land degradation tends to be viewed as a technical problem that can be explained from a natural









18

science perspective. At an even larger scale, political economic factors may dominate the

explanation, for example a history of exploitation and marginalization of farmers within a given

region. But at the level of the farm, the farmer may see the issue as one of "creative destruction" in

which nutrients or other matter are taken from one area to another one, or as strategic management,

in which priority is placed on short-term subsistence needs. Longer term restorative concerns are

placed on the back burner, at least until circumstances change.

4) Temporal scale also must be considered, because time lags may exist in the emergence

of negative consequences of particular actions. In addition, a current land degradation problem

may have its roots in centuries of agricultural practice, or in recent resource system changes or

pressures. The whole history of land use ideally should be considered in explaining a present

situation (Blaikie and Brookfield 1987: 68).

A broad historical and geographical framework helps one recognize that almost all natural

landscapes are under continuous modification and have been for thousands of years. Part of the

landscape may become degraded in the process, but this is not necessarily or automatically a cause

for concern. By adopting a broad temporal and spatial perspective, the causes and implications of

land degradation can be better understood.

The common element in most cases of long term. significant land degradation is "pressure

of production on resources" (Pavelis 1983), but this can arise in many ways and for many different

reasons. The approach outlined above, based largely on the ideas of Blaikie and Brookfield

(1987), can help identify the key causes of such pressure and point to appropriate ways of dealing

with it.









19

Colonization and Deforestation

The details and dimensions of deforestation in Peten are discussed in Chapter 3. But given

the importance of the issue in the regional context and its link to the rationale for the present study,

the topic warrants some discussion from a theoretical perspective in this chapter. This section

examines the deforestation phenomenon using key elements of the alternative approach just

described for analyzing land degradation and land cover change. The primary focus is on

analyzing the causes of deforestation, the varying scales at which these exist, and on some of the

prevailing debates in the literature regarding particular factors and the degree to which they result

in forest clearing. The main emphasis is on deforestation linked to agricultural activity and

colonization. It becomes clear that deforestation related to agricultural activity is largely, if not

primarily, a function of agricultural intensity. The latter is the subject of the final section of this

chapter and the main focus of the overall study described in subsequent chapters.

Much descriptive and quantitative work has been carried out on deforestation. However,

solid analysis is relatively rare and. as with land degradation, theory on deforestation is poorly

developed despite the considerable attention it has received as a global problem. This opinion is

shared by several other authors, for example, Utting (1991), Kummer (1991), Stonich and Dewalt

(1996), and Schmink (1994: 258), who refers to "the simplicity of many analyses and

prescriptions" related to deforestation. When causes are addressed, the distinction between

proximate and indirect causes sometimes is not made, and thus it is not uncommon to see, for

example, chainsaw usage and international debt being described in the same sentence as if they

were comparable phenomena. In a similar vein, indirect causes often are reviewed without any

explicit recognition of the distinct scales at which they operate. Finally, it is clear that relatively

little work has been done to understand the causes of forest clearing at the level, and from the

perspective, of the land user, i.e. at the micro scale of the farm household.









20

A large number of processes and phenomena can be, and have been, identified as

"indirect" causes of deforestation. While some forest clearing obviously occurs directly through

activities such as logging and agricultural expansion, the indirect causes, as the term generally is

used, help explain the degree to which these activities emerge in a particular region, and the extent

to which they affect forest cover.

I feel it is useful to go beyond the normal two category distinction of direct (or proximate)

and indirect causes. Thus, although I have not seen it done elsewhere in the literature, in this

discussion I will classify the causes of deforestation into three broad categories: 1) direct or

proximate causes: 2) indirect causes: and 3) underlying factors.

As stated, activities or phenomena such as logging, agricultural clearing, and mining, are

relatively direct or proximate causes, in that forest generally is directly displaced through their

occurrence in an area. These then fall into the first category of direct causes. But among causes

that are less direct than this. a further distinction can be made, based on the "degree of directness"

they involve as a cause of forest clearing. For example, agricultural colonization in a frontier

region can be seen as a more direct cause of deforestation than, say, a shortage of non-agricultural

income opportunities or a highly skewed distribution of land in the country as a whole. If present,

either or both of the latter conditions might propel a process of agricultural colonization which, in

turn, would lead to forest clearing at the farm level (the direct or proximate cause).

Before listing the factors or causes that fall under each of the three categories, we should

recognize the importance of scale for classifying deforestation causes. Three scales of analysis can

be usefully distinguished, without getting too complicated. First, there is the scale of causes that

manifest themselves at the immediate level of the resource user, whether a farmer, a miner, a

logger, a property developer, or what have you. Let us consider, for example, a farmer who clears

forest on his property because he has acquired additional resources that enable him to manage a









21

larger area under cultivation. In this example the act of clearing the forest is a direct, user-scale

cause of deforestation, while the acquisition of resources by the farmer is an indirect cause, but

also one that operates at the user scale. Second, there are indirect causes that manifest themselves

beyond the level of the resource user, at a community or regional scale. For example, a lack of

alternative employment opportunities in a region may compel households to farm on marginal land

that in the interest of sustainability should remain under forest cover. Finally, there are indirect

causes of deforestation consisting of phenomena at a national or international scale. A high level

of national debt, for example, may compel a government to reduce subsidies for fertilizer, thereby

causing fertilizer price increases for farmers. This in turn might affect the relative costs and

benefits of different farming strategies, with implications for forest cover. Therefore, the three

scales are: 1) user scale (that of the household or other resource-user); 2) community or regional

scale: and 3) national and international scale.

A more explicit illustration of the framework just described is presented in Table 2-1, with

particular reference to deforestation linked to the activities of farm households. It lists the causes

of tropical deforestation in seemingly appropriate categories of directness and scale. In some cases

a particular indirect or underlying cause may fall into several scale categories simultaneously, but

for the purposes of this analysis I have sought to list each cause under the scale category into

which it most commonly falls.

The following sub-sections discuss these direct and indirect causes, and underlying factors

in greater detail. In relation to each discussion I try to identify the scale or scales at which these

causes and factors manifest themselves and highlight the issues on which there appears to be

debate or disagreement. In terms of the indirect and underlying causes of deforestation that operate

at the narrow level of the land user, that, is at the farm level, many of these are intimately tied to










22

the issue of agricultural intensification. In some cases, then, they are discussed more fully in the

next section of this chapter, which addresses that topic.

Table 2-1 Causes of Tropical Deforestation and the Scales at Which They Operate
Resource User Scale Community/Regional National/International Scale
Scale

Direct -logging
Causes -fuelwood
collection
-agricultural expansion

Indirect -agricultural strategy -access to frontier regions -population growth
Factors -farm-gate prices (e.g. road construction) -frontier colonization
-available technology -market conditions and policies/programs
-household land infrastructure
availability and tenure -land tenure insecurity
-other resource
endowment

Underlying -poverty -economic inequality -land hunger and
Factors -farmer experience and -marginalization concentration
education -unemployment -agriculture and land policy
-household needs and -agricultural -neglect of the
wants underdevelopment peasant/smallholder economy
-international trade and
economic policy
-national economic policy
-national debt


Direct Causes of Deforestation and the Importance of Scale in Assessing Impact

The proximate or direct causes of forest clearing are relatively few in number, simply

because there are only so many activities or purposes for which forest vegetation must be cleared.

These include: 1) logging, 2) fuelwood collection, 3) agricultural expansion (including ranching);

4) urban expansion; and 5) other activities requiring forest displacement, such as mining and oil

drilling.

Through most of these activities the degree to which natural trees and other forest

vegetation are displaced may vary. Logging and fuelwood collection, for example, may involve

only selective harvesting, or may be oriented toward more complete removal of biomass.









23

Similarly, agricultural activity may have a greater or lesser displacement impact on trees,

depending on the agricultural system involved. For example, traditional, extensive shifting

cultivation has minimal impact on the immediate forest ecosystem over the long run, because it

generates only small disturbances to the soil and vegetation, from which the system can easily

regenerate (Warner 1991; Conklin 1957). A number of other agroforestry systems, such as those

aimed at coffee or cacao production, also maintain a substantial presence of natural or planted

trees (Nair 1993: Arnold and Dewees 1995). Even urban development can vary in the degree to

which it displaces natural forest, depending on the land use densities involved. Low density

suburban development can make it possible to retain patches of forest as part of the landscape.

These examples might lead to the conclusion that low intensity shifting cultivation and

suburban development are ideal land uses from the standpoint of forest conservation. In fact, such

a conclusion can be evaluated only through a more explicit consideration of the scale of analysis.

At the immediate local scale, a suburban area may present a pleasant, well-forested environment

that surely comprises better wildlife habitat than a high density urban environment. Similarly, at a

local level the forest environment is better conserved through extensive shifting cultivation or tree-

shaded coffee systems than through more intensive, multicropping systems.

However, if a larger scale of analysis is considered the desirability of such extensive land

use patterns may be called into question. The reason for this is simply that on a per unit area

basis, fewer people can be supported or accommodated through extensive agriculture or suburban-

style development than through more intensive land uses. Therefore, to support a given number of

people, more space must be utilized, with graver overall consequences for the displacement of

forest or other natural areas. In many if not most circumstances, particularly where population is

relatively high and growing, it will be preferable from a forest conservation standpoint to seek land

use efficiency through more intensive agriculture or higher density urban development. These will









24

concentrate human impacts in particular areas, and thereby make it possible to conserve forest, in

large reserves and/or in smaller patches.

Of course, in pursuing these more intensive land use patterns, a balance must be struck

among competing objectives. In relation to agriculture this would mean that intensification should

not be pursued at all cost. For example, organic and agroecological approaches to intensification,

through multicropping, agroforestry, green manures, and the like should be favored over

agrochemical approaches, given the risks they carry (NRC 1993; Tivy 1990). A balanced

approach to land use will help foster a patchwork or mosaic landscape of diverse cover types and

habitats, while accommodating the needs and wants of society. Such a landscape, comprised of a

mix of land uses, has been viewed as optimal from the perspective of biodiversity conservation

(NRC 1993, Vandermeer 1996; Srivastava, Smith, and Fomrno 1996; Forman 1990; Gulinck 1986).



Indirect Causes of Deforestation

This section addresses the indirect causes of deforestation and the main emphasis is on

those that operate at the community/regional scale and the national scale. These include population

growth, roads (frontier access), frontier colonization, market conditions and infrastructure, and

tenure insecurity. Other indirect factors that operate at the level of the land user, such as

agricultural strategy and resource endowment, are reviewed in the section on agricultural

intensification.

Population growth is an oft-cited cause of deforestation (Sambrook, Pigozzi, and Thomas

1999; Zurick 1995; Bowonder 1985-86; Allen and Barnes 1985; Eckholm 1976), just as it is in

relation to land degradation. But again, many of these arguments are simplistic, in that they

commonly fail to recognize the array of other factors that will determine whether population

density or growth are in fact a concern in a given region. As argued very convincingly by









25

Bilsborrow (1987), the pursuit of activities that involve tree clearing is just one option open to

people when faced with population pressure on resources (PPR). PPR is only partly related to

population growth. It may not be a problem if the society and economy involved are structured to

accommodate, if not benefit from, the growing numbers (Blaikie and Brookfield 1987; Tiffen and

Mortimer 1992: Tiffen, Mortimer, and Gichuki 1994).

Numerous studies comparing regions and countries have found no relationship between

population density and the loss of forest cover (Harrison 1991: Burgess 1991: Kummer 1993).

With just 18 person per km2. Brazil's population density is less than one-tenth that of The

Philippines, with a density of 220 persons per km2, yet its deforestation rate is higher (Kummer

1993: 148). In the Philippines deforestation is currently occurring most rapidly in the areas with

the lowest population densities (Ibid: 136).

As pointed out by Barraclough and Ghimire (1990), simplistic population-related

explanations of deforestation distract attention from other factors that might be more effectively

addressed. But this may in fact be convenient for governments because it enables them to shift the

blame for deforestation and other forms of resource degradation on the peasantry. They can

appear helpless in the face of hordes they cannot control (Domrner and Thiesenhusen 1992), therebN

limiting pressure to implement difficult political measures that might actually reduce deforestation,

such as land reform or fundamental changes in agricultural or trade policy.

In a context of limited or poorly distributed agricultural land, and limited income

opportunities outside of agriculture, population growth forces households and communities to

respond in other ways, sometimes simultaneously. As per Bilsborrow (1987), these may include:

1) "economic" responses, such as agricultural intensification; 2) "demographic-economic"

responses, such as rural out-migration, to urban areas, to other rural areas (such as frontiers), or

even other countries; or 3) "demographic" responses, such as celibacy and use of contraception.









26

Another possible response to PPR, not explicitly considered in Billsborrow's model, is rebellion or

the pursuit of drastic political change; for several decades in latter part of the 20' century this has

been pursued by the Guatemalan people.

The situation in Peten and the region's deforestation issues, stem from the second category

of responses and more specifically from frontier colonization. Colonization tends to be a rather

obvious, indirect cause of deforestation, because it generally involves activities, such as agriculture

and ranching, which invariably require the displacement of trees, to greater or lesser degrees. In

cases such as Guatemala's, where underlying 'push factors' such as land hunger, weak economies,

and high unemployment prevail in densely populated areas of a country or region, the option of

frontier colonization will prove to be very attractive to large numbers of people. This is

particularly true if migration is encouraged through the construction of access roads or formal

settlement schemes (Smith 1982; Schwartz 1990; Rudel 1983). Since about the 1940s dominant

political interests in Central America have looked upon frontier colonization as a convenient way of

reducing pressures for land reform (Jones 1990).

A large body of literature has emerged on frontier colonization, both spontaneous and

planned, and on the factors that condition land use practices and patterns in frontier areas (Jones

1990; Smith 1982; Schmink and Wood 1992; Pichon 1997; Schwartz 1990; Rudell993; Moran

1993; Ozorio de Almeida 1992 ). These factors relate to tenure insecurity, poor market conditions

and infrastructure, lack of technical assistance, and the abundance of land available to colonist

farmers, at least in the early phases of settlement. Most of these factors are discussed in further

detail in the section below on agricultural intensification and change. However, in the remainder of

this section I will cover some dimensions of the relationship between market conditions and

deforestation, and of the issue of insecure tenure in frontier regions.









27

In frontier regions market development is closely associated with road construction. The

latter has received considerable attention in the literature on colonization because of its link to

deforestation. Most writers and studies have suggested, often simplistically, that road building

causes deforestation (Stearman 1983; Wennergren and Whitaker 1976; Schneider 1994; Sader et

al. 1997). And certainly it appears quite clear from the evidence, and intuitive, that roads, such as

logging roads, which help open up an area to settlement, obviously lead to deforestation through

agricultural expansion and other human activities (Rudel 1989). However, the presence or

development of roads in areas that have been settled for some time and in which tenure is

reasonably secure (see below) may not lead to continued deforestation. Kummer (1993: 135)

found that over time road density declined in importance as a cause of forest clearing in the

Philippines. In part, this can be attributed simply to a reduction in the area of forest, but

nevertheless, the author maintains that in general the road-deforestation link is not as clear as is

commonly assumed.

Moran (1996) suggests, albeit without providing evidence, that the improvement of road

networks in areas already opened up may in fact have a positive impact on forest protection and on

land stewardship. This may well be the case because with better access to market and to inputs.

farmers may be in a better position to intensify and diversify production, and thereby conserve or

even enlarge the forested areas on their parcels. Pichon (1996a: 364) points out that while road

networks that expand into forested areas will erode incentives for sustainable resource use, "an

improved network of farm-to-market roads is essential for almost any other rural development

effort to succeed" and can help "intensify the use of existing accessible land..." This in turn would

make it possible for farmers or communities to conserve forest on their land.

A change in market conditions, whether road-related or not, has been found to have an

effect on deforestation rates, largely because of its impact on agricultural intensity and the amount









28

of space a farmer requires to meet his needs and wants. In Uganda, significant declines in major

cash crops in the 1970s and 1980s reportedly coincided with agricultural expansion, at the expense

of much forest land, because farmers compensated for the loss in income by planting other crops

that yield less income per unit area (Hamilton 1984). Kummer (1993: 89) cites various studies

that showed that the commercialization of agriculture in remote areas of The Phillippines generated

a transition from shifting cultivation to more intensive systems. Raintree and Warner (1986) also

describe cases in Southeast Asia and Africa where a switch has occurred from subsistence level

shifting cultivation to commercial orchard or smallholder production of fruits, cacao and other

products. Roche (1988) maintains that the solution to land degradation in the uplands of Java is

the spread of cash crops to these areas and better economic integration of the region into the

national economy. As noted earlier, improved feeder roads may be an important component of

regional economic integration and market improvement.

Most, but not all, of the literature on colonization reveals that efforts to plan and manage

land settlement in a rational manner have met with limited success (Uhlig 1988; Manshard and

Morgan 1988). In general, there are relatively few examples of projects that support small farmers

in ways that help bring them out of poverty and reduce their pressure on forest. However, almost

all writers agree over the need for support services for settlers in frontier regions, such as

extension, credit, land titling and registration, and marketing (Jones 1990; Maos 1984; Collins

1986; Manshard and Morgan 1988; Rudel 1993).

However, the impact of improved agricultural market conditions on forests, or more

specifically, on the farmland-forest interface, depends on the crop types and technologies that are

stimulated through the change in market conditions. If the crop or technology in question is labor

intensive per unit area, its stimulation likely will be positive from the perspective of conservation.

Coca production in the piedmont areas of the Andes, for example, and the use of green manure









29

systems, reportedly have helped limit deforestation at the farm or regional level. On the other

hand, technologies that are labor saving, and typically capital intensive, such as tractors, are likely

to promote forest clearing. They increase returns to labor per unit area and thus provide an

incentive to expand production. They also tend to expel labor, which could lead to frontier

migration (Angelsen and Kaimowitz 1999).

Tenure insecurity is commonly cited as a key indirect cause of deforestation (Southgate

and Pearce 1988: Southgate and Whitaker 1992). One reason for this, it is claimed, is that farmers

feel compelled to clearly demonstrate to others that they have claimed a particular site or parcel.

However, in Peten and probably most other frontier zones, such insecurity is a temporary condition

because informal social controls develop among farmers and communities that limit access to

claimed property, including their forested sections. As Rudel (1993:192) points out, "in many

rain-forest regions open access is a transient condition. It begins when road building crews open

up areas for exploitation, and it ends when claimants partition an area." So long as members of the

elite do not develop too strong an interest in controlling land and resources in frontier areas, as they

did in southern Para, Brazil, for example (Schmink and Wood 1992: 64, 341-42), smallholders will

feel reasonably secure against expropriation by speculators or wealthy landowners. They also will

feel less compelled to wastefully clear every inch of their parcels in a desperate attempt to

strengthen their claims.



Underlying Factors

A fundamental underlying cause of deforestation at the national scale is land concentration,

particularly in Latin America (Bilsborrow 1987, Southgate and Basterrechea 1992). This has

forced a growing number of farmers to seek land in marginal frontiers, such as Peten. If

meaningful land reform programs were implemented, frontier migration likely would not be as










30

prominent. But in most of Central America, the preferred strategy by government has been the

promotion of colonization, with varying degrees of support (Jones 1990).

The effects of land scarcity are compounded in contexts where smallholder agriculture and

rural development are poorly supported and where economic alternatives for rural households are

limited (Dorner and Thiesenhusen 1992). Therefore, numerous authors call for more research on

ways to intensify and support agriculture through low input approaches (NRC 1993; Sanchez

1994; Brady 1996; Harwood 1996; Hatfield and Karlen 1994; Johnson and Lewis 1995). In an

interesting comparative study of Costa Rica and Nicaragua, Vandermeer (1996) shows how

policies and programs aimed directly at supporting small farmers in Nicaragua during the 1980s

served to significantly reduce pressure on forested regions. When this policy framework was

dramatically altered in 1990, it led to a substantial increase in pressure on the country's forest.

Unfortunately, in many countries of the Third World, particularly in Latin America,

agricultural and land policy has served to marginalize and displace peasants, rather than help them,

contributing further to their migration to frontier regions (Barraclough and Ghimire 1990). Under

the dominant political economic system in Central America the main emphasis has been on

promoting large scale, commercial, export agriculture rather than the smallholder sector that is

oriented toward basic food and income security. The expansion of cattle ranching' and plantation-

based export crop agriculture, and the allocation of the most favorable land to these activities, have

marginalized a large segment of the population that simply is unable to participate in these

activities. The resulting dislocation and social inequalities have exacerbated pressure on forested

areas (Williams 1986; Stonich and Dewalt 1996). An emphasis on export crops does not


'The Cattle industry in Central America experienced a boom in the 1960s and 1970s, largely in response
to demand in foreign markets (Utting 1991; Partridge 1984). However, the industry now is oriented
toward meeting local demand, which has increased greatly in recent decades. In Guatemala, beef exports
amounted to just US$300.000 in 1997 (CEPAL 1998).









31

invariably displace small farmers and rural labor (Carter et al. 1996), but in most cases in Central

America, particularly where a large-scale plantation emphasis has predominated, these have been

the effects.

The displacement and marginalization of rural people can lead to severe socioeconomic

and environmental impacts if few jobs are available outside of agriculture, in the urban and

industrial sectors. In general, we can conclude that the nature and extent of environmental and

social impact from economic change is a function of the political economic structure of the country

or region in question. If this structure marginalizes or displaces people and offers them few or no

economic alternatives, they will be forced to survive by relying on forest frontiers or other marginal

lands. This is a basic argument of the political ecologists, who see inappropriate development

policies or political economic structures as a major cause of social inequities that in turn lead to

deforestation and other forms of resource abuse (Blaikie and Brookfield 1987; Blaikie 1988;

Stonich and Dewalt 1996; Vandermeer 1996; Schmink and Wood 1987; Redclift 1987; Zimmerer

1993).

Many political ecologists thus call for policies and programs that will foster a

socioeconomic system in which excessive pressure on forests will not arise in the first place.

Unfortunately, the development of such a system faces very difficult challenges. To begin, as

noted by Kummer (1993: 139), "Governments in many countries do not represent the public;

rather, they represent elites." Policies that would help the masses are not of high priority.

Furthermore, many of the structural, underlying socioeconomic forces that influence pressure on

forests and other natural resources have their roots in complex international phenomena. Examples

include international markets (Utting 1991), external debt (Stonich and Dewalt 1996), and more

broadly, structural adjustment (Reed 1992). In general, the globalization of industrial and

economic activity, and free trade, have rapidly placed many countries into a situation where they









32

must compete more intensely with each other to attract sources of employment and income (Vilas

1996). This generates pressure to limit the costs and restrictions imposed on industrial companies

or agribusiness, and in general, to reduce governmental "interference." Governments thus have

become increasingly constrained in their abilities to regulate activities and prevent destructive

practices, and to maintain policies aimed at limiting economic marginalization and poverty (Blaikie

and Brookfield 1987, Garcia Barrios and Garcia Barrios 1990; Boron 1996; Vilas 1996; Cook and

Kirkpatrick 1997).



Perspectives on Agricultural Intensification and Change

Agricultural intensification is a form of technological change. According to Turner and

Brush (1987) such change can be viewed as intensification if it entails greater use of factor inputs

per unit area. However, other definitions of intensification emphasize outputs, rather than inputs,

as the defining variable. Netting (1993: 262) writes that intensification is "a process of increasing

the utilization or productivity of land currently under production, and it contrasts with expansion,

that is, the extension of land under cultivation." Brookfield (1993: 28) describes it as, "in relation

to constant land, the substitution of labour, capital or technology for land, in any combination, so

as to obtain higher long-term production from the same area." Thus we see that definitions of

intensification relate to increasing yield and productivity over time through increases in inputs of

one form or another.

The hypotheses presented in Chapter 4 address the factors and circumstances that

influence agricultural intensity in the buffer zone of the Maya Biosphere Reserve. This section

summarizes just some of the copious literature and theory relevant to this topic, particularly as it

pertains to the unique conditions found in frontier regions. Following from the approach described

earlier in the chapter, the discussion is divided into two sections based on scale. The first sub-









33

section looks at broader scale regional (or sub-regional) factors such as population density and

market influence. The second sub-section covers narrower features of the farm household that

influence agricultural change and intensity.2



Regional Scale Factors

Until Boserup (1965) wrote her classic work, it was widely assumed that subsistence-

oriented farmers automatically benefit from techniques that serve to intensify agriculture, i.e.

produce more per unit area over time. Even today, most resource development models assume that

farmers seek to maximize rents from a given unit of land (Southgate and Pearce 1988). As noted

by Netting (1993), conventional economic wisdom also posited that agricultural change is a

consequence of scientific and technological innovation, and that farmers improve their welfare by

"progressing" through an evolutionary sequence of reliance on simple hand tools, followed by

animal traction, and eventually more mechanized systems involving ever greater energy

applications (cf. Rostow 1960).

Such a modernization-theory orientation (cf. Harrison 1988), and various conventional

economic assumptions implicit in these "technology themes" (Turner and Brush 1987), were

effectively challenged by Boserup (1965), who suggested that in the absence of land or other

resource scarcity, farmers do not necessarily intensify, mainly because the requisite technologies

and practices involve more work. Boserup's (1965) premise was that subsistence farmers place

primary emphasis on labor efficiency, and they choose an agricultural strategy, and a degree of

intensity, that meet their needs with the least amount of personal effort. Thus, intensification and



2Regional scale and farm/household scale factors may be closely related. For example, in areas recently
colonized farm households have limited experience with local conditions. Similarly, in sub-regions close to
urban centers, off-farm income sources may be more common. And market access will vary both between and
within sub-regions, for example, based on distance between the farm and a road.









34

agricultural change occur principally out of need the need to grow more food per unit area if

population pressure rises sufficiently and if other possible responses, such as colonizing virgin

lands, cannot be utilized.

Another assumption of the Boserupian perspective is that technological limits of a

particular farming system are not necessarily being reached at any given time. Rather, it is posited

that production levels will respond to changes in inputs of labor and technology. But again, this

will occur at a cost of lower marginal returns to labor. Thus, farmers seek to achieve a culturally

defined or determined output level at least effort and cost, and thus at the lowest possible level of

intensity.

The Boserupian notion that population growth is the independent variable driving

agricultural intensification has been controversial to some. Two main reasons for this are outlined

by Grigg (1980), both of which relate to assumptions associated with the technology themes

described above. The first reason is the widespread assumption that farmers are fully

commercialized, and that their decisions are oriented toward profit maximization. In reality, the

principal aim of most farmers of the Third World is to meet family consumption requirements

(Grigg 1980).

The second reason why population has been rejected as the main independent variable

generating intensification is the widespread Malthusian assumption that population growth is

possible only as a result of technological changes which serve to increase human carrying capacity.

In other words, population growth is seen as a function of agricultural change. However, there is

convincing evidence that this is an invalid assumption based on the historical record of rapid

population increases in Europe as well as the Third World. Rather, the most important cause,

independent of agricultural change, has been improvements in sanitation and medicine that served

to reduce death rates (Grigg 1980).









35

Evidence for a positive relationship between population density and agricultural intensity

emerged initially through field observation, by Boserup (1965) and subsequent writers (Clarke

1966; Netting 1969; Vermeer 1970), but also through earlier studies by Cook (1916), Palerm

(1955), and Brookfield (1962). More recent analyses have been more systematic, testing and

determining a statistically significant relationship between population density and agricultural

intensity (e.g. Boserup 1981; Brown and Podelofsky 1976; Turner et al. 1977).

One of the outcomes of this line of research has been a better understanding of why

subsistence cultivators and other small farmers commonly reject the advice of well-meaning

extensionists. This is particularly true in frontier areas with little aggregate land scarcity. Shifting

or swidden cultivation has been the main form of agricultural land use in thinly populated tropical

lowlands for hundreds, if not thousands of years. It is widely recognized to be an economically

rational and ecologically viable system if fallow periods are long enough to ensure soil fertility

restoration over time (Blaikie and Brookfield 1987. FAO 1984; Raintree and Warner 1986).

Where there is an abundance of land, but a relative shortage of labor and capital, as in many

frontier regions, it is rational for a farmer to substitute land for labor and capital. Such a

substitution, and its rationale, can be explained by induced innovation theory (Binswanger and

Ruttan 1978; Binswanger 1986; Hayami and Ruttan 1987) discussed further below. The dominant

land use strategy in a region will provide "maximum returns to the most scarce production factor,

whatever it might be" (Raintree 1983: 179). In frontiers with limited labor supply, the result is a

land extensive, low technology strategy in which nature, rather than human and capital inputs, is

relied upon to restore the fertility of the land through vegetative regrowth. Hence, unless the need

arises, it would appear unwise for a farmer in such an environment to break from relying on nature

to restore fertility.









36

This helps explain why farmers with knowledge of, and experience with, intensive

practices have been known to adopt an extensive agricultural strategy after migrating to sparsely

populated regions. This was observed among German and Italian colonists in southern Brazil

(Boserup 1965, 1981) and in many other frontier areas, including those in Sri Lanka, Vietnam and

Nigeria (Netting 1993). Even in Petdn, the vast majority of colonists have experience with

extensive practices in the more densely populated regions of Guatemala from which they came.

With the wider availability of modem, purchased inputs, and because of more pervasive

market forces, influences on small farmer strategy have become more complicated in recent

decades (Netting 1993). Market involvement can yield advantages to farmers if the cash that it

brings helps improve their quality of life. The desire for cash thus may serve as an incentive to

intensify production (Goldman 1993). However, market integration also may foster a need to

intensify, if for example, a farming household becomes dependent on purchased inputs or supplies.

The ongoing rapid integration of peasant farmers into the market economy makes cash security a

more important concern, in part for the purchase of agricultural inputs (Peter Hildebrand, pers.

comm., April 1996).

In a study of six villages in Bangladesh, Ali and Turner (1989) found that market activity

explained 19% of the variance in agricultural intensity, while almost 27% was accounted for by

population density. In the highlands of western Guatemala Smith (1975) found, as per von Thunen

(1966) theory, that distance from a regional marketing center accounted for 40% of the variance

in production intensity.

However, rural populations tend to be denser nearer towns and cities, or along

transportation arteries that facilitate access to and from these market centers. Thus, as noted by

Netting (1993: 291), "Boserup's population density and von Thunen's market zonation tend to

coincide" insofar as the influences on agricultural intensity of population density and markets are









37

similar. Smith (1975: 33) writes that "both theories would adequately predict production

intensity." With such a coincidence between the two factors it begs the question of whether market

influence, in and of itself, stimulates agricultural intensification. Goldman and Smith (1995) and

Netting (1993) provide evidence that it does, citing cases from India and Nigeria in the 20th

century. In the 16th century, both the south and north part of the province ofFujian (Fukien),

China had similar population densities and environmental conditions, and similar access to

improved seed varieties and other new technologies. But intensification occurred only in the south,

because proximity to coastal ports and inexpensive river transport made intensification and

diversification profitable to peasants (Rawski 1972).

Turner and Brush (1987) cite as "demand themes" those explanations of farming system

change that are rooted in farmer needs and objectives. These contrast with the technology themes

discussed earlier which see technological change as the driver (independent variable) of changes in

agriculture (the dependent variable). The demand themes traditionally could be divided into two

categories consumption demand and commodity demand and adherents of each have battled it

out in the literature over the degree to which agricultural change is a response to subsistence need

versus market signals However, since the late 1980s, a synthesis of these approaches seemingly

has been emerging and is being referred to as "modified consumption demand" (Turner and Brush

1987) or "induced intensification theory" (Kates et al. 1993; Turner and Ali 1996).

This more contemporary perspective recognizes that two types of production strategies,

namely subsistence/consumption oriented and commodity oriented, may prevail on a single farm.

The concept of the "dual farmer" has thus emerged (Collinson 1972; Ortiz 1973), together with a

realization that different influences on a farm or farmer may operate and be responded to

simultaneously risk avoidance in the case of subsistence production, and risk-taking in the case of

commodity production. Of course, among poorer farmers the risk-avoidance or security concerns









38

related to subsistence production may predominate. Collinson (1972: 33) writes that "the

frustration of government-directed, market-oriented development efforts by the dominance of

nonmarket priorities has generated views of peasant irrationality and has brought disillusions with

small farm improvements as an instrument for development."

Some writers distinguish between the types of changes made at the farm level in response

to consumption needs vs. market objectives. Concurrently they seemingly accept that technological

change may be a driving force. This perhaps can be perceived as a budding synthesis of the

demand and technology themes. Simon (1981), for example, distinguishes between "population

push" types of changes that are adopted out of necessity, and "invention pull" innovations that

increase production with no or little labor increase. Brookfield (1984) draws a similar distinction.

He uses the term "innovation" for adoption of new technologies or cultivars that increase the

productivity of labor, but restricts the word "intensification" to changes that decrease labor

productivity and are made out of necessity.

In general, however, the literature does not provide compelling evidence that the two types

of production and demand can really be sharply distinguished in all cases. In many regions,

including Peten, most farmers sell what is not needed for family consumption. Food crops, rather

than "commodities" are the principal items sold. Therefore, it is questionable whether a

meaningful distinction can be drawn between the two types of production, and in the sources

endogenouss vs. exogenous) of technologies or mechanisms used for increasing yield.

Furthermore, the small amount of cash earned by most farmers in Peten and many other regions

probably should not be perceived as distinct from subsistence. It rarely is used for the purchase of

luxuries, but rather for very basic items necessary for survival. So is there really a distinction

between subsistence and commodity production types and in the sources of the technologies that










39

influence them? Probably not everywhere. In any case, more work on this issue may be

warranted, at least for theoretical clarification purposes.



Farm/Household Scale Factors

By examining fannrm-to-farm differences in the availability of productive resources one can

better understand the variation of responses at the farm level to broader scale influences on an

entire community (or sub-region). As noted by Long (1992: 27), who stresses the importance of

detailed community level analysis in understanding social change, "different social forms develop

in the same or similar structural circumstances."

While population density and market access, for example, are generally similar for an

entire community, household resources for production may reveal distinct inter-household variation

(Barlett 1982; Schelhas 1996), with implications for the need for, and benefits or disbenefits

achieved through, intensification. Small farmers can be perceived as "constrained utility

maximizers" (Berry 1980) who try to organize their activities to maximize overall utility, subject to

prevailing constraints in their access to a) productive resources of land. labor and capital; b)

technical knowledge; and c) market opportunities. Of course, a peasant family's endowment of

productive resources will vary over time (Chayanov 1966).

As emphasized by induced innovation theory (Binswanger and Ruttan 1978; Hayami and

Ruttan 1987; Binswanger 1986), strategies and technologies employed by farmers will be

determined by the relative scarcities of the production factors they have at their disposal. For

farmers with little land but much labor, one can assume that land-saving technologies will be

preferred. On the other hand, among farmers with large properties and limited labor, reliance on

labor-saving technologies, such as tractors and herbicides, will be more likely. As noted by












Binswanger (1986), "the payoffs to different types of technical changes are dependent on the

relative scarcities of the factors which are saved by the technical change."

Where land is abundant, as it tends to be in frontier regions, there will be little demand for

yield-increasing innovations. This will become clear if an appropriate method is used for

measuring total factor productivity, i.e. one that recognizes land as a variable rather than fixed

input. According to Binswanger (1986) the best measure is total cost reduction per unit of output

because it implicitly considers the costs of various inputs and maximizes to the most costly input

variable.

Induced innovation theory is a useful analytical framework and has been helpful in

explaining contrasting agricultural development patterns in various countries and regions (Ruttan

1984; Binswanger and Ruttan 1978; Goldman 1993). It reveals that innovations are not adopted

similarly in all regions simply because the same input savings are not as important everywhere

(Binswanger 1986). It also provides a framework for predicting the types of innovations likely to

be used in particular settings based on whether they are yield-increasing (e.g. fertilizers, HYVs,

and pesticides), labor-saving (e.g. tractors and herbicides), or quality-enhancing. Binswanger

(1986) notes that all of these innovations also contribute to increasing yield and thus to land use

intensification, but in some cases, e.g. herbicide, this is not its primary function and its impact in

this regard is comparatively low. If the benefit of quality-enhancing innovations is "the extra value

of the crop" (Binswanger 1986), this also constitute higher yield, of monetary output as long as

production rates per unit output (by weight or volume) are not lowered through the quality

enhancement.

In any case, induced innovation theory has its limitations. First, there is an implicit

assumption that output levels associated with a particular technology can be easily estimated. In

many cases, particularly in frontier regions, comparing technologies on the basis of total factor









41

costs associated with a particular output level is fraught with tremendous uncertainty. Therefore,

the issues of risk, and varying abilities to afford risk, come into play (see below).

Of particular relevance to frontier regions is Goldman's (1993) point that the theory

overemphasizes technology demand but neglects the issue of technology supply. This of course

can have an important bearing on whether use of a technology is even an option for farmers in an

area, and at what cost. In general, induced innovation theory is primarily focused on constraints

rather than opportunities. Opportunities provided by market conditions and environmental

conditions, for example, have received less attention (Goldman 1993), except perhaps in Pingali,

Bigot, and Binswanger (1987). as have the influence of off-farm opportunities.

These limitations stem from the fact that induced innovation theory relates primarily to

conditions at a national or even larger scale, and thus differences that emerge at lower scales go

unrecognized. This is true not only in regard to variation among regions, areas, and communities,

but also to inter-household differences. Thus although land in frontier regions generally is

abundant and property sizes are large, one can also find many farmers with little or no land of their

own. The amount of land relative to the number of consumers and producers in a household often

has a profound influence on agricultural strategy and the level of agricultural intensity (Chayanov

1966; Boserup 1965).

It also must be recognized that a complete absence of land scarcity is rare in frontier

regions, except perhaps at the earliest phases of settlement. Even Binswanger (1986) notes that

"long before the land frontier closes, inframarginal land scarcities arise." A decision to increase

production will have to compare expansion and thus, forest clearing, with other options through

which production can be increased (Larson 1991), such as those aimed at intensification.

However, the literature on frontiers generally fails to recognize that even though land is a variable

input (like labor or chemicals), other factors apart from immediate economic concerns have a









42

bearing on how much of it the farmer wishes to use. Very rarely is it explicitly mentioned that the

decision to clear forest may be weighed against the perceived benefits of keeping that forest intact.

Oddly enough, almost all the literature on deforestation related to agriculture seemingly assumes

that farmers have no incentive for, or interest in, conserving forest on their parcels. But as

discussed further in the concluding chapters, my research suggests that this is not the case, as does

the work of Schelhas (1996). Most farmers in Peten who have a minimum degree of land tenure

security want to conserve forest on their parcels, but they recognize that circumstances sometimes

compel them to compromise on this objective.

This likely is particularly true among farmers who live at a subsistence level, clearly the

majority in Pet6n, and whose activities are aimed principally at household food security. Based on

modelling work done in relation to subsistence oriented producers, Kaimowitz and Angelsen (1998:

22) point out that "farmers expand the amount of land they farm until they can produce enough

food to meet their subsistence target. If they become more productive or receive higher prices for

their produce they need less land to meet that target and hence clear less forest."

Biophysical influences on land quality are commonly cited as significant constraints to

intensive agriculture in most areas of the humid tropics, with implications for the sustainability of

such activity (Ledec 1992: Weischet and Caviedes 1993). However, Boserup (1965: 1981) rejects

the notion that natural soil fertility or other environmental factors effectively limit human

occupation and utilization of a given region. Schelhas (1996) also maintains that environmental

factors have not been the principal constraint to intensive agriculture in the tropics; the evidence in

recent years suggests other factors as being more relevant determinants.

To begin, there is archaeological evidence of high pre-Columbian population densities in

much of tropical America, including Pet6n, where large urban populations during the Classical

Maya period were supported by intensive agriculture in the surrounding area (Rice 1991). Second,









43

the role of government policies and frontier conditions in supporting extensive and often destructive

land use practices have been well documented for regions such as Amazonia (Browder 1988; Hecht

1985; Moran 1988), and the lowlands of Central America (Utting 1991), including Peten

(Schwartz 1990. 1995). Third, research on improved production systems for tropical soils has

demonstrated some promising results (Sanchez et al. 1982; Rao et al. 1993). Smith (1992)

describes an array of positive trends in Amazonia involving perennial-based cropping systems and

improved, more intensive pasture management.

Another factor to bear in mind is that the quality of an agricultural environment is as much

a product of its use as it is of "raw nature" (Kates et al. 1993). Terraces on steep slopes, raised

fields in wetland areas, irrigation systems in arid zones, all are examples in this regard. Thus a

more important question than the influence of the environment on agriculture may be why some

human groups have reshaped their environments while others have not (Blaikie and Brookfield

1987).

Nevertheless, soil and other environmental factors cannot be entirely disregarded. While

they rarely place severe limits on the ability to intensify they surely influence how intensification

can be pursued (Goldman 1993) and the degree of difficulty and effort involved. Various

investigators have shown that the relationship between agricultural intensity and population density

is strongest where land quality constraints are moderate (Brookfield 1972, 1984; Turner et al.

1977).

In regards to household labor supply, the work of Chayanov (1966) is relevant. Chayanov

(1966) was one of the first to formulate theory on peasant behavior, based on his studies of farmers

in Russia between 1870 and 1920. His "theory of peasant behaviour" centered largely on the

notion of a culturally determined standard of living. Production increases beyond this point yielded










44

lower marginal returns to labor and increasing "drudgery" and hence, were unlikely to be pursued.3

Production changes thus occurred out of need due to changes in the size of the production unit, i.e.

family size, and the ratio of producers to consumers within the household. These factors influence

the required labor output per producer.

Chayanov's theory has been criticized for over-emphasizing the economic effects of

household demographics. Critics claim that class differences among farm families, and the social

and economic relations between farmers and landlords, have a stronger effect on intra-community

variations in household production. Nevertheless, an analysis of Chayanov's hypotheses in various

societies, both stratified and un-stratified, including cases where labor is provided by family

members only and is hired, reveals that household composition and labor supply considerably

influences family farm production (Chibnik 1984).

Another factor to consider in relation to agricultural intensity is off-farm employment. The

availability of employment in industry, tourism, urban services, or commercial agriculture, for

example, can help deflate pressure to intensify smallholder agriculture. On the other hand, the cash

generated through off-farm work may enable farmers to invest in intensification measures that will

increase farm income. Schelhas (1996) reviews the reasons why farmers engage in off-farm

employment in the Atlantic Lowlands of Costa Rica; these include insufficient land or farm

development (e.g. in the case of new settlers), need for cash for farm investments, better returns

and other benefits through wage labor, and less risk.

If a farm household has little land or other productive resources, off-farm employment may

be necessary for survival. But even where sufficient land and other requisite resources are

available to meet a family's needs exclusively through farming it may be optimal to work off-farm


3Boserup (1965) was unfamiliar with Chayanov's work when she wrote her book but arrived at similar
conclusions regarding the labor costs associated with intensifying production.









45

rather than invest time and energy to agricultural production. In general, the comparative

feasibility of opting for off-farm employment as a form of economic diversification will depend on

the resources available to a farmer for improving his or her farming operation (Kates et al. 1993),

but also on market conditions, as these will greatly affect the feasibility of agriculture as an

economic alternative.

Another issue related to household resource endowment is the ability to afford the risks

associated with agricultural innovations and investments or other changes to improve livelihood

(Brookfield 1984). A pilot study I conducted in Coto Brus, Costa Rica (Shriar 1997) suggested

that farmers' likelihood of experimenting with alley cropping to increase yields in traditional

covered bean (frijol tapado) systems depended largely on their ability to afford the risks of altering

their prevailing strategy and land use allocations.

Tenure insecurity commonly is cited as a key indirect cause of extensive land use and

deforestation (Southgate and Pearce 1988; Southgate and Whitaker 1992). The situations of open

access that characterize most frontier situations commonly lead to haphazard exploitation and poor

stewardship of the land (Bromley 1991: Southgate 1990).

Lack of secure title makes it almost impossible to get a loan for long-term investments in a

property, such as for soil conservation, productivity improvements, or to acquire perennial crops

that could be used, say, for agroforestry schemes. Rather, it reportedly serves to encourage

extensive land use activities that require little operational capital, such as shifting cultivation and

cattle raising (Utting 1991). I am not sure I agree that cattle ranching requires little operational

capital, at least from a farmer's perspective. In Peten, it is precisely the costs of installing fencing,

digging wells, and purchasing animals that prevents all but a small minority of farmers from

engaging in ranching.









46

In any event, the importance of closed access, legal tenure, and particularly its impact on

farmer strategy and motivation may be overstated. As Rudel (1995) points out, these "legal

centrist" arguments assume that only governments can limit access to forests. They overlook the

existence of informal social controls that serve this function. There is considerable evidence for the

existence of customary laws among indigenous peoples which, for example, influence the use and

management of common property resources, including forests (Berkes 1991).

But even among non-indigenous people there exist informal social mechanisms that restrict

access to particular areas or resources (McCay and Acheson 1987; Berkes 1991). These controls

also provide for the recognition of, and respect for, the private property rights of individual

community members, including their ability to sell the land using informal instruments (Cruz et al.

1992; Reinhardt 1988). It is commonly claimed that in the absence of secure title farmers have

little incentive to manage their land in a sustainable manner because they have no guarantee that

they will reap the future benefits of any investments they make in their properties (Utting 1991;

Southgate and Pearce 1988; Southgate and Basterrechea 1992: Southgate, Sierra and Brown

1991). However, if informal recognition of property rights provides a farmer with a reasonable

degree of certainty that he will continue to maintain usufruct rights over his holding, there is no

reason to assume that his interest in managing the fertility and productivity of his land will be

lessened.

As discussed further in Chapter 3, such a situation clearly prevails in Peten. Land is sold

informally in the absence of legal title, using nothing more than a carta de venta, or bill of sale,

recognized as giving the fannrmer derechos, or the rights to use and enjoy the fruits of the land.

Furthermore, no discernible difference in land use strategies can be seen between those with, and

those without, formal title to a long-term holding (e.g. a non-rental). In fact, even farmers with









47

agarradas (literally, "grabbed" plots) inside Sierra del Lacandon National Park actively seek to

maintain the fertility of their soils, for example through the use of green manure.

If Petdn is any indication of the situation that prevails in other frontier regions, the risky

market and production conditions generate little interest for commercial credit, even among those

with secure title. Presumably the fear of facing a burdensome debt that cannot be easily paid off

accounts for this low level of interest. This matter is returned to in the concluding chapters.

Poverty is another issue at the household scale that has an important bearing on land

management. It may encourage a preoccupation with meeting short-term objectives or needs and

thereby drive farmers to use unsustainable practices and neglect conservation measures (Dorner

and Thiesenhusen 1992: Zimmerer 1993; Blaikie and Brookfield 1987: Ashby 1985; Collins

1987). In explaining land degradation and deforestation in Nepal, Blaikie (1988) places primary

emphasis on peasants' lack of resources which, for example, would enable them to substitute

kerosene for wood fuel and chemical fertilizers for composted forest products. They rely on the

latter to transfer fertility from the forest to the land, but with negative impacts on the forest

because of the extent to which this practice is being carried out.

In the context of the Ecuadorian Amazon. Pichon (1996b) calls for strategies to improve

the ability of smallholders to manage their resources, and suggests that pervasive poverty is a

factor that currently limits their management capability. He writes that "enhancing the quality of

life in the area of settlement can do much to encourage small farmers to intensify land use, seek

alternative sources of off-farm employment, and invest in the long-term conservation and

improvement of their holdings" (Pichon 1996a: 365-366). He maintains that governments can

promote the stabilization of agriculture, and thereby reduce deforestation in frontier regions

through assistance with crop marketing and other services, such as research, extension, and credit,

that improve human capital (Pichon 1996a).









48

The length of time farmers have been in a region will influence their knowledge of local

conditions. With more knowledge and experience they may be more likely to intensify, simply

because they presumably know more "tricks" on how to do so in labor efficient ways. Farmers in

new or unfamiliar environments, or using unfamiliar practices, can rarely zero in rapidly on an

optimal strategy (Schultz 1975). "Intensification by means of microenvironmental specialization in

land use, stable fence lines, optimal field-farm location patterns, and regional trade connections

represent the results of experiments and investments over a period of years" (Netting 1993: 267).

In relation to the frontier regions of Amazonia and the Atlantic Lowlands of Costa Rica,

respectively, Smith (1992) and Schelhas (1996) describe various beneficial changes in land use

that have emerged primarily as a result of farmers' accumulated experience and experimentation

over several decades

Governmental or non-governmental agencies must recognize the importance of local

knowledge in regards to issues of land management and degradation. However, as noted by Blaikie

and Brookfield (1987: 245) "local knowledge clearly is not enough, otherwise there would be no

problem." Resources to assist farmers or to strengthen local organizations also may be needed,

although the nature of such assistance should be influenced by local knowledge and perspectives.



Summary

The earlier sections of this chapter addressed some key aspects and causes of land

degradation and deforestation. These pointed to the need for an approach to the study of these

issues that relies on multi-scale analysis, and particularly one that begins with the perspective and

reality of the land user. The discussion also highlighted the importance of sustainable agricultural

intensification as a means to reducing pressure on marginal lands and remaining areas of forest.









49

The above section has covered a number of issues concerning the influences on the degree

of agricultural intensity that prevail on a given farm or within a region. These influences or factors

include population density, market access, land and other household resources, off-farm

employment, and farmer experience and knowledge. The discussion suggests that although various

theoretical models, such as Boserup's theory and induced innovation theory, are helpful in

analyzing agricultural intensification and strategy, they provide only a limited framework because

they neglect an array of factors that may be important in a given context. A more useful approach

in regards to intensification is to examine the factors at the household scale and the community or

regional scale that condition the need for intensification, the advantages or disadvantages involved,

for instance in improving returns to scarce production factors, and the ability to afford the changes

required to intensify. The hypotheses described in Chapter 4 will be tested empirically to ascertain

the relative importance of these factors in the context of Peten.

Some may consider this a simplistic and overly general approach. However, as discussed

in Chapter 8, given the regional and household variation that exists, it proves to be highly effective

for identifying how these factors actually manifest themselves in a particular context.

Finally, it is worth emphasizing at this juncture that higher intensity agriculture or

agricultural growth in general do not necessarily correspond with improved food availability or

well-being for a population. The literature is replete with cases of stagnation, involution (Geertz

1966), and environmental degradation (Johnson and Lewis 1995). Even if farmers are able to

intensify production, as a result of market pull, appropriate technology change, and sufficient

resources, this may not lead to broad based development. In fact, if the result is intensification in

terms of monetary output per unit area, this may increase land values and lead to greater land

concentration and thus landlessness. Therefore intensification likely will need to be accompanied









50

by other mechanisms or programs in cases where it is being used as a tool for meeting development

or conservation objectives.















CHAPTER 3
THE REGIONAL GEOGRAPHIC SETTING


Introduction

This chapter presents a brief description of the principal features of Peten's historical,

physical, and human geography that are relevant to the present study. It gives the reader a basic

understanding of the setting in which the research was conducted, and the context in which the

region's problems have developed and its solutions must be found. It begins with some historical

and political background, and then discusses salient aspects of the physical and human geography

of the region. Included in the latter is general information on farming systems and land tenure,

particularly within the areas of the buffer zone in which I studied.



Historical and Political Background

In 1697, a century and a half after conquering the rest of Guatemala, the Spanish finally

conquered Tayasal in central Pet6n, the last independent Maya stronghold in the region. From this

point, up to about 1970, the physical environment of Pet6n remained relatively unchanged

(Schwartz 1990). In fact, due to a decline in the native population, the area likely became more

forest-covered and pristine (Binford et al. 1987), in a pattern akin to that assumed for other regions

of the Americas (Smith 1999; Denevan 1992).

For the better part of the next three hundred years Peten remained distinctly undisturbed

due to its low population and the lack of natural resources of significant interest to outside interests

(Schwartz 1990). The main activities in the region over the course of this period were smallholder











agriculture (mostly shifting cultivation), livestock raising for markets in Yucatan, Mexico (cattle,

horses, mules), logging by British and American firms (beginning in the 1800s), and harvesting of

non-timber forest products. The latter included, and still includes, chicle from the the sap of the

chicozapote tree (Manilkara zapota), used as the base for natural chewing gum. And since the

1960s, xate (Chamaedorea spp.), a palm used in the floral industry, andpimienta gorda or

allspice (Pimienta dioica) also have become commercially important. The chicle was the first

product to integrate the region to world markets in any significant way, beginning in the 1890s, and

it formed the core of the region's economy until about 1970 (Schwartz 1990).

Pet&n's status as a relatively undisturbed tropical rainforest zone began to change around

1970. Until this point, the department's population remained very low. As recently as 1964, it

amounted to just over 25,000, with about 45% living in twelve small towns and the remainder

residing in even smaller villages. But by 1990 there were an estimated 240,000 to 311,000 people

in the department (AHT/APESA 1992). Whereas in 1970, some 70 to 80 percent of the area

remained densely forested (Schwartz 1990), satellite imagery reveals that only half of Pet6n now

remains forested (Sever 1999). In the buffer zone of the Maya Biosphere Reserve, deforestation

rates in the early 1990s averaged 3% per year, while in areas south of the buffer zone, clearing

rates reached 4.8% per year between 1993 and 1997 (Sader 1999).'

Most of the population growth has been due to in-migration, initially encouraged through

government-sponsored road building, colonization, and land distribution programs that began in the

early 1960s. The latter were aimed at relieving socioeconomic, political, and land hunger problems

in other regions of Guatemala, particularly the highlands and the Pacific coastal region. Frontier

colonization also was seen by Guatemala's political and economic elite as a way of defusing


'Presumably these rates do not apply to the protected areas of southern Petdn, of which there are several.
Together, these cover almost 5,000 km2 (Reining 1999: 98).









53

pressure for meaningful land reform and economic justice, which were pursued, albeit briefly, by

the governments of Jacobo Arbenz and his predecessor Arevalo, until the Arbenz government was

removed through a CIA-sponsored coup in 1954 (Schlesinger 1982). Unfortunately, as discussed

below, the colonization of Peten has received minimal meaningful support from the government,

and thus it generally has proceeded in a rather chaotic and destructive manner. This has led to

very inefficient land use patterns, and severe impacts on the forests and other natural resources of

the region.

The majority of farmers who have migrated to Peten in recent decades report that the

quality of their lives and that of their families has improved since they came to the region.

However, because the underlying structural conditions within Guatemalan society remain intact, it

may be just a matter of time before the severe problems found in other parts of the country are

transferred to Peten, which had been, at least until the 1970s, relatively peaceful and settled.

Schwartz (1990: 8) writes that "the second conquest of Peten threatens to replicate in the lowlands

many of the conditions found in the highlands, including extremes of wealth and poverty, land

hunger, environmental degradation, brutal repression, and endemic political violence."

It remains to be seen whether this gloomy scenario will materialize, and to what degree.

For the time being, land hunger and poverty are less severe than in most areas of the country. Even

landless farmers find it much easier to earn a decent living in Peten than it was in their previous

homes. In northern Peten they still can rent land at a relatively low cost and employ low input,

shifting cultivation practices that require minimal if any cash. But without a doubt, the opening of

Peten has brought with it numerous potential dangers to the environmental and socioeconomic

integrity of the area. In addition to attracting numerous campesinos, the improved access and other

incentives have attracted large scale cattle ranchers, guerrillas and military personnel, foreign and

national logging companies, and foreign entrepreneurs eager to exploit other forest resources,









54

including oil (Rosenfeld 1999). Thanks to the 1996 Peace Accords, political violence throughout

the country has subsided, at least for now. The main problems currently confronting Peten are

poverty and underemployment, and the deforestation and land degradation to which they

contribute. Another concern is pollution associated with oil extraction and human settlements.

The land cover change and environmental degradation pose considerable risks for the area's

economic well-being in the coming decades.

As discussed in the previous chapter, problems of resource abuse and degradation, can be

explained by both direct and indirect factors. With regard to deforestation, the direct causes have

included: 1) the expansion of cattle ranching, which previously was confined mostly to the Pacific

coastal region; 2) commercial logging, often practiced illegally; 3) the in-migration of colonists,

mostly engaged in extensive shifting cultivation; and 4) wood-cutting for fuelwood at a scale

proportional to the in-migration (Schwartz 1990). According to Nations (1992), the relatively

large scale cattle ranchers in Pet&n represent, in conjunction with colonist farmers, the most serious

threat to the forests in the area, and to activities aimed at their sustainable use, such as collection of

non-timber forest products.

This dissertation focuses on the most significant direct cause of deforestation in the region

- agricultural activity. As discussed earlier, the extent of deforestation generated through

agriculture is primarily a function of the intensity of the farming systems in use. Hence, this

research seeks to identify the socioeconomic and agronomic factors that influence the intensity of

the systems in use by farmers in the Maya Biosphere Reserve (MBR) buffer zone. However, one

must also consider why so many people are moving to Peten in the first place. In other words,

what are the indirect and underlying causes of the mass migration to this region which, until a few

decades ago was almost empty of people? The answer to this question is rooted in several

phenomena that are serving to drive the overall process. These include: the "agro-export" focus of









55

the Guatemalan economy; the maldistribution of agricultural land; the expansion of cattle ranching;

and population growth.

Under Guatemala's political economic system, the main emphasis in the agricultural sector

has been on supporting large scale, commercial, export agriculture rather than small-scale peasant

farming oriented primarily toward domestic consumption. Beginning in the late 1800's laws were

introduced to disintegrate communal land holdings. And throughout the 20th century government

sponsored or influenced programs and services in relation to subsidies, credits, agricultural

research and extension, and so forth have sought primarily to assist large-scale commercial

producers.

This emphasis clearly has yielded a variety of negative external costs on socioeconomic

and natural systems. In Guatemala and elsewhere in Central America one important effect has

been a growing concentration of land ownership. According to the 1979 agricultural census, the

most recent, 31% of all farms in Guatemala, those less than 0.7 ha in size, collectively occupy just

1% of the farmland. If the next farm size category (0.7-7 ha) is factored into the analysis, we find

that 88% of the country's farms are squeezed onto 16% of the total available farmland. At the

other extreme, the farm units over 45 ha in size, just 3% of all units, occupy 65% of all farmland in

Guatemala (Southgate and Basterrechea 1992). The mass of small producers in the country have

been increasingly displaced from better quality land and have had little access to goods and

services that support agricultural production (Utting 1991).

The last few decades also have featured tremendous growth in the cattle industry. In

Guatemala, as in many other countries, this boom was spurred by a growing supply of credit and

credit subsidies, and in general, by active encouragement from both the national government and

international agencies (Valenzuela de Pisano 1996; Utting 1991). As could be expected, the cattle

boom led to a tremendous increase in the area under pasture, and thus, to extensive deforestation.












Between the mid-1950's and the mid-1960's the area under pasture tripled in Central America, to

almost a fifth of total land area (Utting 1991). Almost 25% of the land in Central America overall

is currently under pasture, more than all other agricultural uses combined (Faber 1993: 139).

Cattle ranching also contributes indirectly to frontier colonization and deforestation by virtue of the

fact that it employs very few people, compared to other agricultural activities. A study conducted

in Honduras and Nicaragua found that the employment ratio per ha of pasture is 5 or 6 persons per

day per annum, but 202 person days for coffee and 73 person days for maize (Utting 1991). The

expansion of ranching in an area thus causes a degree of economic marginalization that compels

many rural workers to head for the frontier.

Another underlying cause of migration to Peten is population growth in the country as a

whole. Between 1980 and 1988, the growth rate averaged 2.9% per year, driven by unusually high

fertility levels (AHT/APESA 1992). The growth rate was estimated at 3% per year between 1990

and 1992 (INE 1995), and now stands at about 2.7% (CIA 1998). The population growth is

accommodated through emigration, mostly to the USA, which has been slow, migration to cities, or

through the colonization of frontier regions (Southgate and Basterrechea 1992). The population of

Peten department increased at a rate of 9.5% per year in the 1980s (AHT/APESA 1992).

Such demographic pressure commonly is cited as a cause of deforestation in tropical

countries, particularly when it exists in conjunction with poverty, unequal distribution of wealth

and land, and policies oriented toward large scale commercial agriculture, and toward frontier

development. Virtually all of these factors have been present in Guatemala (Valenzuela de Pisano

1996; FLASCO/WWF 1997) thus it would be easy to infer that the high population growth rates

have propelled people to clear land in frontier areas or to engage in forest harvesting activities. An

important question is which of these factors are most important. For instance, would much









57

colonization and agricultural clearing be occurring in Peten if the land in the traditionally settled,

highland areas of Guatemala were distributed more evenly?

Southgate and Basterrechea (1992) maintain that land reform in Guatemala would not be

sufficient as a means to address the country's environmental problems. They note that even if the

3,077,600 ha of potential crop land in the country were divided equally among all the households

surveyed in the 1979 agricultural census, each parcel would consist of less than 6 ha. They go on

to suggest that a family consigned to a holding this size in Peten would starve. But presumably the

holding sizes allocated to families in various parts of the country would vary depending on fertility,

markets, and other factors. Furthermore, although land reform may be insufficient in and of itself,

one can hardly deny that it would greatly reduce the suffering experienced by many, if not most, of

the country's people in their efforts to survive. In doing so it also would reduce the number of

people who feel compelled to migrate to frontier areas such as Peten.

In any case, a huge number of people have now made their way into the region and the

occupation of the land by small farmers gradually is moving northward from southern and central

Peten, into more pristine forest, and into the MBR. But despite the very rapid growth that has

occurred, population densities remain very low, only a fraction of the rates that exist elsewhere in

Mesoamerica and that existed here in Peten at the height of the Classic Maya civilization, over a

thousand years ago. Why has this low level of population density generated such rapid and

extensive destruction of the region's majestic forests?

My research indicates that farmers in the region have generally had little incentive or

resources to increase productivity per unit area. As discussed in Chapter 2, various factors that

contribute to extensive land use are tenure insecurity, most common in the early phases of an

area's colonization, poor market conditions and infrastructure, the lack of or high cost of credit,

which is related to the tenure issue, and limited technical support for farmers. Virtually all of these









58

factors have been present to a large degree in Peten, and the impact they have had on farmer

decision making has been profound. In large part this has been due to the relative neglect of the

agricultural sector in Peten. The impact of agricultural colonization in the region thus has been

much more costly to the forest than it might otherwise have been.

A distinction can be drawn between planned and spontaneous colonization, but in reality

there tends to be a continuum in the degree of direction that is exerted over land development.

Spontaneous development eventually results in some government planning to manage the

development process and help provide basic services, while programs of planned colonization

invariably have their spontaneous adherents. Most colonization trends in Central America have

leaned toward the spontaneous end of the spectrum, but official encouragement has been present

through government sponsored or sanctioned road building projects and a policy environment in

which all land legislation has a usufruct orientation. The latter encourages colonists to clear

vegetation, fence their parcels, graze some cattle, and plant crops in order to demonstrate that the

land has been occupied and "improved." Some degree of security can thus be obtained, even in the

face of legal but inactive ownership (Jones 1990).

In Guatemala, the earliest colonization projects centered on existing farmlands in the

Pacific coastal region and even in northern lowland areas that were expropriated from German

owners during World War II, rather than on undisturbed rain forest zones. The major colonization

emphasis then turned to forested regions, including Peten and the Franja Transversal del Norte

(FTN), located between Peten in the north and the densely populated highlands to the south. In

1959, a national agency called FYDEP (Empresa Nacional de Fomento y Desarrollo del Peten -

National Enterprise for the Economic Development of Peten) was established to develop and

colonize Peten. At the time, Peten consisted almost entirely of government property; only about









59

two percent of the land was in private hands. Until it was dissolved in 1987, FYDEP had so much

power over development in Peten that critics called it a "state within a state" (Schwartz 1995).

FYDEP's mandate was 1) to develop infrastructure to foster agriculture, industry, and

tourism; 2) to administer and develop the natural resources of Peten (other than oil) for national

and international markets; 3) sell land to colonists; 4) establish cooperatives along the Usumacinta

River, largely to discourage Mexican colonization in Peten or the flooding of Guatemalan territory

through the construction of power dams on the river by Mexican interests; and 5) promote cattle

ranching (Schwartz 1995). Certain areas were exempted from colonization, such as the private

farms that existed before FYDEP's establishment and the entire region north of 17 10', which was

set aside as a forest reserve.

FYDEP succeeded in developing some basic infrastructure, such as roads, small bridges,

an airport, schools, and some health centers, and completed the first all weather dirt road between

central Peten and the highlands. But unfortunately, the agency was plagued by financial and other

constraints that prevented it from managing more thoroughly the colonization process in the region.

For example, very few titles were actually awarded to settlers and technical and marketing support

for farmers was virtually non-existent (World Bank 1995b). Most of FYDEP's budget was spent

on wages and administrative overhead, and on road construction and maintenance. But by 1990

only 1800 km of third class dirt roads had been built. The agency also was criticized for

mismanagement, favoratism, incompetence and venality. Schwartz (1995: 110) writes that "in

spite of many shortcomings, FYDEP accomplished more than is usually recognized. Nonetheless,

FYDEP's meager resources and the national context within which the state decided to settle the

north were not conducive to gradual, well-planned, and well-implemented colonization."

In 1987, FYDEP was dismantled by the civilian Cerezo government because of its historic

link to previous military regimes and its reputation for corruption. Various existing federal









60

agencies, organized on sectoral lines, took over FYDEP's responsibilities in Peten.2 The most

important of these was INTA (Instituto Nacional de Transformaci6n Agraria), charged with land

tenure policy and administration under the same legislation that governed FYDEP. The latter's

other functions were taken over by CONAP (Consejo Nacional de Areas Protegidas), DIGEBOS

(Direccion General de Bosques) now INAB (Instituto Nacional de Bosques), and the Ministry

of Public Works.

The transfer of responsibilities to INTA has been very problematic. With the ability to

raise much of its own funds through land sales, logging, taxes on forest products, and so forth

(Schwartz 1995: 109), FYDEP was comparatively well-financed and powerful, and the agency was

locally based. In contrast, INTA has had even less to work with and its decision making is

centralized in the capital. Over the four years leading up to 1995, only 700 land titles were

processed (World Bank 1995b: 11). Many feel that the transition to INTA control created a

climate of uncertainty and unconnectedness, and that "anarchy" in the administration of land tenure

emerged just when responsibility for this function passed into the hands of INTA, an organization

without the resources to manage such a large area (FLACSO/WWF 1997: 8).

In 1991, the government established the 16,000 km2 Maya Biosphere Reserve (MBR) in

northern Peten, one of the largest reserves or protected areas in Mesoamerica. This can be

interpreted as an effort, at least on paper, to place a limit on the extent of colonization or other

significant forest disturbance that would be tolerated in Peten. Some 7,670 km2 or 47.5% of the

MBR is comprised of nuclear or core zones that are managed as five national parks Sierra del

Lacandon, Laguna del Tigre, El Mirador, Rio Azul, and Tikal and three biological reserves

(biotopos) Laguna del Tigre, Dos Lagunas, and El Zotz (Figure 3-1). Tikal National Park is the


2A few federal agencies, such as BANDESA (now BANRURAL), the agricultural credit agency, already
had a minor presence in Peten during the period of FYDEP's administration.










61








^r""iii. ;p : 'MultipleUse Zone i:: :: :
2P





( IP \ WsfwZsqr/A .... :*. ...


p^. "^~~ ) FloFre P

La Libertad *



Sayaxch6*

The Maya Biosphere Reserve

7 National Parks Poptun
1 P Sierra del Lacandon
2P Laguna del Tigre
3P Mirador
4P Rio Azul
5P Tikal

I Biotopes 20 1 o 2o.
kilometers
1B Laguna del Tigre
2B San Miguel La Palotada
3B Dos Lagunas
Source: CONAP


Figure 3-1 The Maya Biosphere Reserve









62

main draw for tourists visiting the region. According to the National Institute of Tourism,

130,000 tourists visited Tikal in 1996 (Flynn and Bonilla 1996).

The remaining 8,484 km2 (52.5%) consists of a multiple use zone (MUZ), meant to be an

extractive reserve in which the supposed objective is to preserve forest cover while allowing

activities to be carried out in a sustainable manner and with minimal environmental impact. Usage

rights in the MUZ are obtained through community and commercial concessions and permitted

activities include logging, collection of non-timber forest products, such as xate, chicle, and

allspice, petroleum exploitation, and tourism. The MUZ contains some very old "forest society"

communities (Schwartz 1990), such as Uaxactun and Carmelita, that have lived through

sustainable activities in the forest for over a century. Carmelita already has been granted a

concession by CONAP, and the final details of the concession for Uaxactun, which has already

been delineated on the ground, should be finalized by the end of 1999, according to an ecologist

who is active in the community (Roan McNab, pers. comm., 8 September 1999).

To the south of the MBR is a 15 km wide strip of land (4,975 km2 in total) designated as

the buffer zone, which extends from the Mexican border to the Belizean border. The buffer zone

commonly is referred to as part of the reserve (e.g. CONAP/USAID/Fondo Peregrino 1996) but in

reality there appears to be no legal control over land use in the buffer zone, and certainly no

controls that are different from that which prevails over lands to the south. My discussions with

staff at CONAP, INAB (the national forest institute), and other agencies indicate that there

remains significant uncertainty over the legal and institutional framework that applies to the buffer

zone. For example, the Director of CONAP's Department of Flora, Fauna, and Forest

Management (Rudy Sierra, pers. comm., 24 July 1998) declared that the national Forestry Law

(decree 101-96) is applicable in the buffer zone of the MBR, whereas CONAP's legal advisor

(Ochoa. pers. comm.. 24 July 1998) claimed that the opposite is true. The regional director of









63

INAB (Fabio Perez Garcia, pers. comm., 28 July 1998) said the law applies in the buffer zone with

regard to the relatively new forestry incentives program3, but was uncertain as to whether other

provisions apply. In any event, he mentioned that as far as he knew, no regulations yet have been

developed to affect land use in the buffer zone.

However, communities in the buffer zone appear to be receiving somewhat greater

attention from extension and rural development agencies than those in other areas more distant

from the MBR. The buffer zone is meant to serve as a transition area to help reduce pressure on

the reserve, and thus various agencies, particularly CARE and Centro Maya are actively working

to stabilize agriculture and limit deforestation, mostly through agricultural extension and land

titling activities. However, the extension effort in the buffer zone appears to be having limited

fundamental impact. The buffer zone has an estimated population of over 48,000, according to

CONAP (Grunberg and Ramos 1998), but there are fewer than 30 active extension agents working

in the area, within CARE, Centro Maya, and Profruta. Furthermore, the extensionists can be only

so effective given that the institutional presence in Pet6n places almost no attention on other factors

that greatly influence whether recommended practices can be or will be adopted, such as market

conditions and the lack of credit.

An interesting feature of the MBR is that it reverses the usual design of a biosphere

reserve. In the latter, a core area of maximum protection typically is surrounded by concentric

rings of zones allocated to increasingly intensive human uses (Batisse 1986). The MBR, in

contrast, contains at its center the MUZ which supports half a million ha of tropical forest, but as




'This program, which began in 1997 in Peten, provides economic incentives to landowners with title to
preserve existing forest or to reforest on their properties. Thus far, little land has been involved in the
program. In 1997, 21 projects covering a total of 1150 ha, were approved. As of July 1998, 6 projects
had been approved, but additional applications were still under review (Fabio Perez Garcia, pers. comm.,
28 July 1998).









64

well, two communities of several hundred people and a thriving forest product extraction industry

that yields up to US$7 million per year in export earnings (Nations 1992).

Within both the MUZ and the nuclear zones of the MBR various factors seriously threaten

the integrity of the reserve and its function in conserving biodiversity. These include:

1) The existence of several giant ranches, for instance of 450 ha or more, located within nuclear

zones, such as Sierra del Lacandon National Park. Supposedly the owners of these ranches, who

have cleared huge tracts of forest in some cases, have land titles that predate the establishment of

the MBR:

2) The active petroleum industry in Laguna del Tigre biotopo and national park, which in 1998 had

14 wells in production (Grunberg and Ramos 1998). This area produced 97% of Guatemala's

national production of 9.3 million barrels in 1998 (Rosenberg 1999).

3) The presence of tens of thousands of people living in core areas of the reserve and in the MUZ,

most of whom arrived just in the last 10 years. The National Parks and biotopos had a population

of 19,737 in 1998. the vast majority of whom reside in Sierra del Lacandon National Park and in

the Laguna del Tigre area. In the latter case the petroleum company activities and road building

have served to attract many settlers who live quite well through farming and oil industry

employment. The MUZ reportedly contained 19,007 inhabitants in 1998 (Grunberg and Ramos

1998).

4) The lack of resources and/or political will to protect the boundaries of the reserve.



Physical Geography

Overview

Petdn is the largest administrative district or "department" in Guatemala, covering about

36,000 km2 in the northern part of the country. It occupies the southernmost portion of the









65

Yucatan peninsula, and is bounded on the north by the Mexican states of Tabasco, Campeche, and

Quintano Roo, on the south by the Guatemalan departments of Alta Verapaz and Izabal, on the

east by Belize, and on the west by the Usumacinta River, which separates Pet6n from the lowlands

of Chiapas, Mexico (Figure 1-1). It is located firmly within the tropics, between about 16

degrees and 1745' north latitude, and between 890 10' and 91 *30' west longitude.

At the geographic center of Peten is the capital of the department, Flores, and the

connected cities of Santa Elena and San Benito, which together comprise the largest urban area in

Pet6n. Flores is located on a small island in Lake Peten Itza. the largest lake in Peten with an area

of over 108 km2 (AHT/APESA 1992: 39). The island is the former site of Tayasal, the last Mayan

stronghold in the region, conquered by the Spanish in 1697.

Lake Peten Itza is one of an east-west chain of lakes that developed within a depression

that coincides with a fault fracture located at about 17 north. The lakes, which have no surface

outlet, drain an area about 100 km long, east to west, and 30 km wide. To the north of this lake

region are forested rolling ridges that eventually decrease in elevation and become more sparsely

vegetated as they extend north into the drier scrub and bush country of the Mexican portion of the

Yucatan peninsula (Schwartz 1990: 15).

To the south of Lake Peten Itza is an area of savannahs by which some other, older

population centers La Libertad, San Francisco, and Santa Ana were founded by Mexican

immigrants in the 1800s. Residents long have utilized these grasslands as a grazing area for their

cattle. South of the savannahs are forested ridges that eventually extend into the mountains of Alta

Verapaz. Three sizable towns. Dolores, Poptun, and San Luis, have developed among these

forested hills in southeast Peten.

Pet6n can be considered a lowland tropical rainforest region, but it is far from flat in most

areas. Generally it consists of rolling hills and some steep ridges that range in elevation from 100m









66

to 300m. Higher, more rugged terrain with elevations as high as 1000m is found in the Maya

Mountains region near the Belize border, northeast of Poptun. A smaller mountain range, the

Sierra del Lacandon, is found in western Peten near the Usumacinta River.



Geology, Hydrology, and Climate

Geologically, Peten is a sedimentary basin comprised of rocks deposited during the

cretaceous and tertiary periods. These cover almost the entire department with the exception of the

small, mountainous area in southeast Peten in which the Maya Mountains of Belize extend into

Guatemala. These older mountains are connected to the Antillean orogenic belt (AHT/APESA

1992; Schwartz 1990: 15).

The lithology of the region is dominated by limestone, in which folds and ridges with an

east-west strike have developed. The chain of lakes in central Peten is situated within one such

fold, but one in which a fracture developed. Given the prevalence of limestone, a karstic landscape

of sinkholes. springs, caverns, and underground streams prevails in many areas. Little is known

about the karst in the southern Yucatan Peninsula, but it has created an area of relatively thin soils

and complex hydrology and hydrogeology, in which water is scarce in many areas. These

characteristics make even more impressive the cultural and technical achievements of the ancient

Maya civilization in this region (Siemens 1978). A more detailed review of geologic and

physiographic information can be found in AHT/APESA (1992).

Generally speaking, northern Peten is drier and has more complex hydrological conditions

than southern Peten. The Ixcan and Azul rivers drain northeast Peten, eventually flowing into the

Hondo River in Belize. which empties into the Caribbean at Chetumal Bay. The Holmul River

also drains northeastern and eastern Peten. All of these rivers become very low in the dry season

(Schwartz 1990: 16).










67

The Mopan River flows out of the Maya Mountains and drains east central Peten before

crossing into Belize. Together with its two main tributaries it was used for many years during the

first half of the 20th century to float mahogany logs into Belize. This watershed also contains some

relatively good agricultural land, much of which has been acquired by military officers (Schwartz

1995).

The Pasi6n river is the main river in southern Petdn, although many other sizable streams,

such as the Subin and Machaquila, also are present. The Pasion forms near the Maya Mountains

in southeast Peten and flows westward across southern Peten before draining into the Usumacinta.

A small city, Sayaxche, is located on the banks of the Pasion River. The Usumacinta acquires that

name at the confluence of the Pasi6n and Salinas Rivers. It flows northward into Mexico and

eventually drains into the Gulf of Mexico. It is the largest river in Mesoamerica in terms of both

length and discharge (AHT/APESA 1992). A large tributary of the Usumacinta is the San Pedro

River, which drains a sizable area in northwest Peten.

A significant difference can be found in the flow patterns of rivers that have catchments in

karstic terrain and those that do not. Much of the precipitation in Karst terrain goes straight to the

groundwater but reappears downstream as springs and seepage, which serves to maintain a

relatively high minimum discharge. The karst-drained rivers have more constant and placid flow

regimes because only a small proportion of discharge, even in the rainy season, is likely to stem

from direct surface runoff. Changes in water levels are thus limited and gradual and would have

been manageable for those among the ancient Maya who developed intensive, raised bed farming

systems in floodplain areas (Siemens 1978).

The Peten landscape also is characterized by many seasonally flooded areas, referred to as

bajos, and permanent wetlands, or humedales. These cover about 7% of the territory, mainly in

the alluvial plains of the San Pedro and Pasion Rivers and their tributaries.









68

Pet6n's hot, humid climate is typical of lowland areas in these latitudes. It has a long rainy

season, referred to as invierno or winter, and a shorter dry season that begins with the coming of

the cooler temperatures, in December or January, and generally extends until May or June.

However, there is substantial intra-regional and year to year variation in the dates on which the

rainy or dry seasons begin. Also, apart from the main dry season a short dry spell, usually several

weeks long, tends to occur at some point during the first third of the rainy season. This break in

the weather is know locally as La Canicula. On the basis of the Thomrnthwaite climatic

classifications system, most of Peten features a BrA'a' or BrB'b climate (AHT/APESA 1992:12).

Mean monthly temperature, at least in lowland areas, ranges from 22 C in January, the

coolest month, to 29C in May. In the 1980s the most extreme temperatures recorded ranged from

3C to 42.5 C. The area's proximity to the Caribbean accounts for some influence from the

northeast and southeast trade winds, generally of low velocity by the time they reach Peten, and

from tropical storms and cyclonic weather. Most rainfall in the region is of cyclonic origin.

Precipitation is the most variable factor on a year-to-year basis and intra-regionally, even over

small distances. There is a shortage of weather stations in Peten and thus data are relatively

sparse, but mean annual precipitation during the 1980s at five stations were as follows: 1,530 mm

in Flores: 1,177 in Poptiln; 1.402 mm in San Pedro Mactin; 1,794 mm in El Porvenir, just south

of Tikal National Park; and 3.529 mm at Mi Illusion, located in the southernmost and wettest area

of Peten. Relative humidity is very high throughout most of the year, commonly reaching 80-95%

over the course of the day.

Evapotranspiration calculations for the 1980s decade indicate that a water deficit

commonly develops in March and April, and sometimes extending into May. The months with

least precipitation are February, March, and April (AHT/APESA 1992).











Soils, Vegetation and Wildlife

The available data on the soils of Peten are well summarized in Volume I of AHT/APESA

(1992). Unfortunately, these data are quite weak, having been compiled for the most part in a

nationwide study conducted in the 1950s (Simmons, Tarano, and Pinto 1959). The study describes

some 26 "soil series" in Peten, but these are so general that they really amount to associations. As

well, the mapping work is characterized by much imprecision and numerous errors, for reasons

explained by AHT/APESA (1992). In large part these problems stem from the severe access

limitations that prevailed in the region in the 1950s, when hardly any roads had yet been

constructed. Unfortunately, more detailed soils work since has been conducted only in a few

locations.

The soil series described in the Simmons, Tarano and Pinto (1959) study generally

correspond to the following FAO classifications: Gleyisols, Cambisols, Vertisols, Fluvisols, and

Rendzinas. With the exception of swampy areas and excessively rocky terrain, Peten contains

large areas that are suited to agricultural activity; these amount to 31% (Latinoconsult 1974), 40%

(Sanders 1977) or 54% (Manger-Cats 1966) of the departmental territory, depending on whose

estimates one accepts. These soils generally are quite fertile but drainage problems commonly

constrain agricultural potential.

Two main groups of soils can be distinguished from a land capability perspective

(AHT/APESA 1992). First are the relatively well drained soils, rendzinas for the most part, which

are quite stony in most areas, ruling out mechanized agriculture. However, they have two features

that make them attractive to maize producers (milperos), good drainage and a high capability for

regeneration of secondary forest, which limits weed invasions. In steep areas they may be quite

erosive and, in general, their water holding capacity is limited. They thus can become quite

dessicated during the dry season, a feature which helps account for the prevalence of brush and











forest fires in much of Peten. Nevertheless, these are fertile soils on which sustainable production

can be maintained through non-mechanized practices such as agroforestry, green manure usage,

and perennial cropping (AHT/APESA 1992).

The second and more fertile group of soils are found on plains and in alluvial depressions.

In most cases their plasticity and stickiness make mechanization difficult or impossible. The high

clay content severely impedes drainage and expensive drainage works would be needed in many

areas to meet maximum potential. These soils also are more prone to weed invasion, which helps

account for the reliance on a swidden system. Most agriculture on these soils is limited to the

better drained areas, for both cropping and grazing (AHT/APESA 1992).

Many of the wetlands in Peten might offer considerable agricultural potential. This has

not been studied, at least not in the modem period, but such use of wetland areas likely would be

controversial from an ecological perspective.

The most thorough research on vegetation in Peten was conducted in the 1930s and 1940s

by Lundell (1937) and Standley and Steyermark (1946). The resulting information has since been

supplemented by various investigators, including Aguilar Giron (1966) and Holdridge (1971).

Lundell (1937) identified three photographic regions based in the northern Peten, north of Lake

Peten Itza, the southern Peten. and the central savannah region. The northern region corresponds

more or less with Holdridge's Humid Subtropical Forest Zone while the southern region consists,

under the Holdridge classification, of very humid subtropical forest. Lundell (1937) reported a

total of 1,400 botanical species but concluded that the actual number in all three regions combined

might be as high as 3,000. A useful summary of the main species and associations found in each

of the three regions, and in particular landscape units, such as karstic hills, is presented in

AHT/APESA (1992). In general, the northern region is dominated by semideciduous trees while









71

tropical evergreens predominate in the south (Schwartz 1990: 19). The two are similar but the

southern region is more humid and has less chicle or chicozapote trees (Manilkara zapota).

The central savannah area is generally flat and is covered by grasses of low nutritive value

and by trees of low height and density. The vegetation here is believed to be a product of edaphic

factors as well as human impact through fire and agriculture in ancient times and grazing in the

modem period. Another, smaller savannah region can be found in the southeast part of Peten, near

Poptun. Here the dominant tree species is caribbean pine (Pinus caribaea), a product largely of

the acid soils and periodic fires. In the central part of the Maya Mountains, patches of pine trees

also can be found on ridges, as in the adjacent "pine ridge" region of Belize (AHT/APESA 1992).

Peten contains a very impressive array of wildlife, including, among mammals, large cats

such as jaguars (Pantera onca) and pumas (Felis concolor), primates including the howler monkey

(Allouatta pigra) and spider monkey (At eles geoffroyi), kinkajous (Potosflavus), tapirs (Tapirus

bairdii), peccaries (Tayassu spp.). agoutis (Agouti paca), deer. numerous bats, and others. Many

of the animals mentioned are prized for hunting; in conjunction with habitat loss this has led to

significant population declines, according to wildlife specialists working in Peten (Erick Baur, pers.

comm.. 3 September 1999).

In regards to avifauna. 303 of the 675 species that reside in Guatemala occur in Peten,

including species of parrot and macaw. Some 155 species ofherpetofauna, including crocodiles

and many dangerous snakes, can be found in the region (AHT/APESA 1992). The region also

features a huge variety of insects, many of which may be harmful to humans as biters, stingers, or

as carriers of disease, including onchocersiasis (river blindness), leishmaniasis, trypanosomiasis,

dengue fever, and malaria, the most common insect-borne disease in the department (Schwartz

1990:21).









72

Human Geography

Demographic, Sociocultural, and Economic Characteristics

Given the size and remoteness of Peten, its dispersed settlement patterns, the limited

infrastructure, and the resource constraints of governmental institutions, it is almost impossible to

determine the exact population of the department. The 1981 national census arrived at a figure of

131,927 for Peten and projections of 240,357 for 1990. The United Nations, using the same

census data as a base arrived at a similar projection for 1990 of 247,000. However, a detailed

socioeconomic survey generated a higher estimate for 1990 of 311,314 people (AHT/APESA

1992: 64)

The department's population growth for the period 1964 to 1990 was estimated at 9.5%,

much higher than the national average of 2.9% for the same period (AHT/APESA 1992: 65).

Using the 1990 estimate of311,000 as a base, and assuming the growth rate of 9.5% has remained

steady throughout the 1990s, the population of Pet6n in 1999 should be 731,277. At this level,

population density in the department stands at 20.3 persons/km2, still the least densely populated

department in the country.

The 1990 socioeconomic survey revealed that the median age is 20.6 years. Some 50.4%

of the population is under 15 years of age, higher than in 1950 (37.8%), before the massive

colonization of Peten began (AHT/APESA 1992: 67).

Another change that has occurred in recent decades is that the population has become

much more rural, proportionally speaking. This is a reflection of the fact that most in-migrants to

Pet6n have come in search of land on which to farm. Between 1964 and 1990, the proportion of the

total population residing in rural areas increased from 53.6% to 75.3%. Between 1964 and 1990,

the rural population grew at an annual rate of 10.8% while the rate for the urban population stood

at 7% (AHT/APESA 1992).









73

The distribution of population within Peten remains a reflection of the migration patterns

that have prevailed over the last few decades. Due to the completion in 1970 of the highway

connecting Peten to the highlands, via southeast Peten, it was the latter area that was settled first,

in the 1970s and the first half of the 1980s. The relatively good soils in the area also helped attract

colonists and they continue to support reasonably dense rural populations. Many during this

period also went to Sayaxche, on the Pasion River in southwest Peten via the old route to Peten

from Coban in Alta Verapaz. A seasonal dirt road has existed between Sebol on the Pasion River

and Coban since 1942, but the route has been used since the last century by Kekchi Indians from

Alta Verapaz. Almost 61% of the 1990 population thus was found in the three municipios (akin to

counties) of southeast Peten San Luis, Poptun, and Dolores that were the first destination of

most in-migrants, and in Sayaxche. in southwest Peten (Figure 3-2). The remaining 8 municipios,

mostly in northern Peten, are home to the remaining 39.3% (AHT/APESA 1992).

However, colonization patterns have shifted increasingly toward the north. The

construction of roads by oil and logging companies has led to spontaneous colonization with little

or no involvement of FYDEP or INTA. and by the late 1980s the main arteries for in-migrants

were from Libertad to Naranjo (Ruta Naranjo), and from San Andres to Carmelita, located in the

MUZ of the MBR. Population growth along these two routes has now stabilized to a great extent,

judging from land cover change, as detected through satellite imagery (Sader 1997). Since the

beginning of the 1990s the most active colonization frontiers and areas of deforestation have been

along:















































Figure 3-2 Municipalities of Peten









75

1) the border with Tabasco, Mexico, within Laguna del Tigre National Park and Biotopo;

2) the road into the oil exploration area within Laguna del Tigre National Park;

3) the San Pedro River; and

4) the road to Melchor de Mencos on the border with Belize (Sader 1997).4

The migration to northern Peten has been undertaken not only by newcomers to the

department, but also by people who have been in southern and central Peten for some time. The

main source areas for internal migration within Peten have been the municipios of Dolores and San

Luis in southeast Peten. The main causes for this have been the need for new land on which to

cultivate due to land degradation and the eviction by ranchers of squatters or renters. Many have

also decided to move to urban centers, mostly in central Peten, in search of better services and

opportunities (AHT/APESA 1992: 85).

Until the Spanish conquest in 1697, the population of the department was comprised

mostly of Maya-Itza, the only organized indigenous group based in Peten. Their population at the

time has been estimated at between 25,000 and 40,000 (AHT/APESA 1992) but other Mayan

people reportedly were scattered around the area in smaller numbers (FLACSO/WWF 1997).

With the conquest came a significant population decline. A census in 1714 found only 3,027

inhabitants, both indigenous and ladino. Many natives died during the conquest and from disease

(AHT/APESA 1992). but it is possible that many dispersed into the jungle and thus were left

uncounted.

In the years that followed the conquest and throughout the colonial and independent

periods, other indigenous groups made their way into Peten, including Tipuanos, Muzul,

Yucatecos. and Cehach. In most cases these in-migrations followed violent events in other areas,


4The area north of the San Pedro River lies within the MBR, as does the land on both sides of the road to
Melchor de Mencos.









76

such as the caste wars in the Yucatan region of Mexico. In the 19th century some blacks fleeing

slavery in Belize came to Peten and settled in San Benito, now part of the main urban zone of Peten

(Flores/Santa Elena).

In the 20' century two waves of immigration have occurred. The first, which began at the

beginning of the century or just before, was a response to labor requirements in the logging and

chicle industries run by foreign firms that had concessions in the area. This first wave involved

various Mexican groups as well as Kekchi Maya from Alta Verapaz. The second and much larger

wave has occurred mostly since the 1960s, after the establishment of FYDEP.

Considerable mixing and inter-marrying has taken place with the result that the Spanish

spoken in Peten, at least by people who have been in the region for several generations, contains

many Maya, Kekchi, and Mexican words and expressions. Other cultural influences, such as in

diet, festivals and dance, also reflect the fusion of cultural influences among the early settlers

(AHT/APESA 1992: 76-77).

The descendants of these early settlers and of the native Maya-Itza are those who today are

considered in the literature and more generally as the true "Petdneros," members of the "Forest

Society" eloquently described by Schwartz (1990), who possess extensive knowledge of how to live

in and use the resources of the forest in sustainable ways. Ironically, today they live for the most

part in urban areas, while the "southerners" (surefios) who have come to Pet6n since the 1960s

from southern Guatemala have settled primarily in rural areas.

It should also be noted that at the end of the 19' century Kekchi Maya began moving into

the San Luis area. This was in response to the agrarian policies of the government ofJusto Rufino

Barrios, who expropriated Kekchi lands in Alta Verapaz and passed them on to ladinos and

foreigners, mostly Germans, to develop coffee plantations. Many Kekchi also made their way to

the Sayaxche area along the Pasion River in southwest Pet6n at this time (AHT/APESA 1992: 77).









77

Most of the people who have settled in Peten since the 1960s are ladinos from southern

Guatemala. In contrast to the "Petdneros" these more recent arrivals have little experience living

in a humid, lowland tropical environment. Some 48% of all in-migrants to Peten have come from

the dry oriented (eastern) region of the country. Another 12%, mostly ladinos but also Quiches,

have come from the south coast, itself a frontier region in the late 19'h century. About 20% of in-

migrants, mostly Kekchis, have come from Alta Verapaz (18%) and Izabal (2%), another largely

lowland region that extends inland from the Caribbean coast. Finally, 15% of Peten colonists, both

ladino and Maya, have come from the central and northwestern highlands (AHT/APESA 1992:

76).

The vast majority of people have come to Pet6n in search of land. Some 84% reported this

as the main motivation behind their moving to the region and 94% of in-migrants claimed to be

farmers. And although reasonably close ties are maintained with their communities of origin, visits

to these areas are of short duration (AHT/APESA 1990: 81-82), indicating that the focus of their

income generation efforts is their new home in Peten.

In the buffer zone region in which I studied, most people are ladinos who came from the

oriented and south coast regions. However, there are scattered indigenous communities and, along

the shores of Lake Peten-Itza, for instance at San Jose and San Andres, there are some old Petdnero

communities, including the only concentration of speakers of Maya-Itza in the region.

Ethnically, the department now breaks down as follows: 51% of the population are ladinos

living in rural areas, who came mostly from the oriented. Indigenous groups in the rural areas,

mostly Kekchi, make up 24% of the total population. Ladino urban dwellers, generally

descendants of those who arrived in the first immigration wave that began at the end of the 19th

century, comprise 15-18% of the total population. This group includes most of the professionals,

public sector employees, and business people in Pet6n, but also those who work in forest extraction









78

industries. Finally, there are indigenous people in urban areas, who amount to less than 1% of the

overall population. These consist mostly of the Itza-Maya, who live in the central region and a

mixed group of Kekchi and Maya Mopan, who have settled primarily in San Luis and Dolores in

southeast Peten (AHT/APESA 1992: 83).

People of working age, those ten years and older, comprise 65% of the department's

population, but those who are economically active amount to 47.2%. The latter proportion is

higher among men, however 76.7% versus 15% for women (AHT/APESA 1992: 67). Almost

99% of the labor force is employed, but only 36% of this force has full-time employment. Most,

61.4%, are underemployed in that they have less than 40 hours of work per week or receive less

than minimum wage. Forty-nine percent of the economically active population is illiterate or has

had no formal education whatsoever. Almost 55% has had only some primary education while just

10.8% completed some grade in secondary school (AHT/APESA 1992: 67).

The labor force is divided into the following sectors: 59.4% in agriculture; 14.2% in

community, personal and social services; 14.1% in commerce; and 7.8% in manufacturing and

construction combined. Data on the principal occupation of residents, as declared by the latter, are

closely matched to the above figures. Over 60% claim farming as their primary occupation. Other

primary occupations include artisanal and manual work (12%), vending (10.1%); service work

(5.3%) and professional and technical work (3.7%) (AHT/APESA 1992: 69).



Agricultural Systems

The following brief overview of farming systems relates primarily to activities, practices

and conditions in the particular areas of the MBR buffer zone in which I studied. The reader is

referred to other studies for details on the systems found in other specific locations in Pet6n (e.g.

Arevalo 1997; Secaida 1992; Fisher 1974; Carter 1969; Urrutia 1967; Cowgill 1962) and to









79

AHT/APESA (1992), for a more general view on agriculture in the region. Both the AHT/APESA

(1992) study and my own research indicate that there is considerable intra-regional variation in

agricultural practices and strategies within Peten, probably more than is commonly assumed.

Some of these distinctions are due to ethnic differences, for example, between ladinos and Kekchis,

and to differences between "Peteneros," that is long time residents with considerable local

knowledge and experience, and "southerners" (surefios) who have migrated to Pet6n during this

more recent wave that began with the establishment of FYDEP in 1959. Of course, variation in

soil, market, and other conditions also account for many of the differences that can be observed, as

discussed in Chapters 6 and 7.

Shifting "slash and bum" cultivation, or swidden, has for centuries been the dominant

agricultural system throughout Peten. Under this system a small patch is cleared from primary or

secondary forest, and subsequently burned and cropped for several cycles before being abandoned

due to weed invasion and fertility decline. The site is left fallow for a number of years while other

patches are cleared and cultivated elsewhere. Re-growth of the forest vegetation during this period

leads to a restoration of the soil's fertility, and hence the site is eventually re-used by the farmer as

a cropping area.

Within the buffer zone of the MBR, where the study was conducted, a rotational forest- or

bush-fallow system continues to be most widespread. But with population growth, land

degradation, the creation of the MBR and hence, mounting land shortages, some alternative

farming practices and economic strategies, such as off-farm employment, have emerged. The

alternative agricultural practices include, in particular, plowing for soil preparation and the use of

green manures to improve fallows and control weeds. Green manure systems appear to be growing

in popularity in the buffer zone, but they have been in widespread use in southeast Peten for

several decades (Carter 1969; AHT/APESA 1992). Both practices are important from a long term












food security perspective in that they serve to intensify production and reduce land degradation.

They thus offer the potential of feeding more people per unit area, and reduce pressure to clear

more forest for agricultural production. Other practices aimed at intensification, that is, higher

production of desired outputs per unit area per unit time, include intercropping, planting of

perennials, use of herbicide, and, to a minor degree, cash cropping and the use of chemical

fertilizer.

Maize is the staff of life in Peten, and in all of Guatemala. It is used to make tortillas,

which are eaten with virtually every meal. Maize is produced by almost every household I

surveyed (98.4%), including those that generate all, or almost all, of their income through off-farm

employment. It is the principal food crop in the MBR buffer zone, but also the most important

cash crop. The reasons for this appear to be a) it has the most secure market of any crop in Peten,

despite major price fluctuations, b) it can be stored relatively easily in the event of weak prices or

if there are problems transporting it to town for marketing from field storage facilities (trojas); and

c) it can always be eaten if, for whatever reason, it cannot be sold. Food security objectives thus

account for its primary role within Peten households.

Maize (Zea mays) generally is grown as a sole crop, but in some cases is intercropped with

squashes such as pepitoria (Cucurbita sp.) or ayote (Cucurbita moschata), or beans (Phaseolus

vulgaris). The latter is the second most commonly grown crop (68.6% of farmers surveyed),

although in northern Peten it is currently grown almost exclusively for home consumption. In most

cases, beans are grown as a sole crop. Due to its perishability, only a portion of the squash crop is

consumed within the household, but in some areas the seeds produced are commonly sold to

middlemen truckers (camioneros) who transport them to Guatemala City. Most households also

produce some fruit, such as banana (Musa sapientum), plantain (Musa paradisiaca), citrus

(Citrus spp.) mango (Mangifera indica), and avocado (Persea americana), often within









81

homegardens, or on a few trees at the field plots. Some households also cultivate tubers, most

commonly cassava (Manihot esculenta) and sweet potato (Ipomoea batatas), but sometimes also

macal or taro (Xanthasoma sp.) and yam (Dioscoria alata). Appendix 1 contains a list of

virtually all crops encountered among the farmers surveyed.

The vast majority of farmers grow criollo varieties of maize. Very few farmers purchase

improved seed because the cost as well as the associated fertilizer requirements make it either

unaffordable or too risky in light of the poor prices received for maize throughout most of the year.

Another factor is that improved varieties are more perishable under the climatic and storage

conditions that prevail in Petdn. From a food and income security perspective, improved varieties

carry much more risk. It appears that for most households in the buffer zone, the criollo maize

seed consists of a mixture of different open-pollinated varieties, rather than the product of a pure

variety that has been cultivated separately. Even degenerated improved seed, the offspring of seed

purchased some years beforehand, commonly is mixed in.

This situation is markedly different from that which is found in the older Petenero

communities, such as in the central lake region, where distinct varieties clearly exist, such as

negrito, bejuco, Petenero real, and arriquin. However, in relatively recently established

communities located near the older Petenero communities, such as in the Ruta Tikal study area, it

appears that seed from pure criollo varieties may be more commonly used. This may be a result of

culture contact, and the transfer of local knowledge and technology from the more established

Peteneros to the relatively recent immigrants.

The cultivation of other, high value cash crops is rare in the buffer zone, but less so in the

Ruta Bethel study area where soil and market conditions are comparatively good. Truckers who

collect produce in this area for transport to the capital are more willing to purchase crops other

than maize and beans, such as sesame, peanut, and even watermelon. Annattao or achiote (Bixa









82

orellana) reportedly was a very popular cash crop in this area in the early 1990s, but significant

price declines have led farmers in the area to neglect or destroy their stands of these trees. In the

Ruta Naranjo area, marketing also is done through truckers (camioneros) who carry produce to the

capital, but it appears that very little is purchased other than maize. The remaining study area,

Ruta Tikal, is located closest to the main market area of Petdn, Flores/Santa Elena, but farmers

must get produce to this market on their own, either by public bus, or by paying a local pick-up

truck owner for transport (fletes). The large trucks from the capital reportedly do not come to this

area, and very few farmers grow cash crops. Among many farmers, particularly in Ruta Bethel

and Ruta Naranjo, concern about crop theft proves to be an important disincentive to raising cash

crops.

Although cattle ranching is commonly cited as a major cause of deforestation in this and

other tropical regions, it appears that very few farmers in Petdn actually have cattle. Only 22 of

the 118 households I surveyed own any cows and 15 of these have less than ten head. Five of the

22 have 10-25 head, while just two households have between 60-70 cows each. Clearly it is a

desire among many or most farmers surveyed to own cattle, simply because at present it is the most

profitable and secure commodity that can be raised in the region. Prices and market conditions for

virtually all other commodities are extremely unstable. Furthermore, cows serve an important

function as a storehouse of wealth. However, given the costs involved in establishing and fencing

pastures, purchasing animals, and ensuring adequate water supplies year-round, few farmers will

manage to become serious ranchers.

The agricultural calender revolves primarily around the maize crop. Two crops of maize

are possible, generally speaking, although in some communities farmers plant little or nothing in

the second, drier season. The first season is known as la primera or elfuego (the flame) because it

is initiated with the burning of forest or bush. It generally extends from the beginning of the rainy









83

season, e.g. May or June, to September or October. The second season generally occurs between

November and February or March, to take advantage of the end of the rainy season. On some soils

that effectively retain moisture there exists a third growing season, for producing "maiz San Jose,"

which generally commences in the middle of March. Very few farmers report planting for a third

season.

Production tends to be lower in the second and third seasons, except where the green

manure system is in use for second season maize (see below). However, prices fetched for maize

at the end of these seasons may be considerably higher than in the first, due to the overall

constraints in supply.

Site selection for cropping is a function of various factors, mainly the quality and age of

the vegetation growing on the site, topography, and soil type. In the case of the latter, a farmer's

recent experience cultivating on a site will give him an indication of whether the site still hasfuerza

or force to produce. Other factors considered by the farmer include the distance from his home and

how much land and fallow land he has to work with. For example, a farmer with a great deal of

land relative to the number of people in his family will be less reluctant to leave a site fallow and

cultivate elsewhere on the property rather than struggle with weeds. In general higher production

can be obtained on lands slashed and burned from older secondary forest or primary forest.5

Among more established Peten communities with better local knowledge, a wide variety of

plants are recognized as indicators of good swidden land (Reina 1967; Carter 1969). This is much

less common in the communities I studied but among some farmers a few species, such as ramon

(Brosimium alicastrum), corozal palm (Corbygnia cohune), and guano (Sabal morrisiana) are

understood to be reflective of good conditions for cultivation. With respect to topography, better


51n the case of sites cleared from primary forest, highest production usually does not occur in the first
year, but rather in the second, once the site has become more clear of slash and debris.









84

drained sites are preferred for the first growing season whereas in the second, drier season, even

small valley bottom sites may be deemed appropriate.

The Ruta Tikal area features what appears to be remnants of the T'olche system. The

latter is a traditional land management strategy among swidden communities in the YucatAn

Peninsula (Remmers and Kroeijer 1992), of which Peten is a part, in which strips of forest are

maintained between swidden plots, even where these are quite densely laid out. The resulting

landscape consists of a checkerboard collection of swidden plots and plots in varying ages of

fallow, but separated by strips of mature or primary forest that serve various agroecological

functions, and offer a shady environment in which to walk or ride. In the YucatAn, these strips

traditionally were 10-20 m wide. but they have declined in size, and have almost disappeared

(Remmers and Kroeijer 1992). It is quite possible that the existence of this system in Ruta Tikal,

or what is left of it, can be attributed to the contact made a few decades ago between early settlers

in this area and the traditional swidden farmers in nearby San Jose and San Andrds.

Land preparation requirements depend on site conditions and whether it is the first or

second growing season. The first planting season is preceded by burning, except where plows are

used, such as in much of the Ruta Bethel study area. If primary forest is present on the site cutting

begins as early as possible in the dry season to ensure that the vegetation has time to dry out before

burning time, just at the start of the rainy season. The understory shrubs generally are cut first

with a machete, followed by the larger trees, which usually rely on the paid services of a

motosierrista (chain saw owner/operator), rather than the use of axes. If lower secondary forest or

bush is to be burned, slashing can begin later in the dry season. In all cases it is recommended that

a fire break (ronda) be cleared around the planned cultivation site but this is not always done and

thus fires are a growing problem in Peten. In the case of the second growing season, no burning is









85

carried out. Either the first crop's residue and any present weeds are cut with a machete or, if the

site is brush covered, a slash/mulch system is used, without burning.

The timing and quality of the burn at the start of the first season is very important to

subsequent production. Ideally, the bum should occur before the rains and before optimal planting

time, but not too early relative to planting, so as to avoid the loss through wind and rain of ash and

the nutrients contained therein. A good burn is needed to eliminate weeds and pests. And if a

fannrmer has time he may even pile up brush below the larger felled trees to help ensure an intense

burn. Burning generally occurs at the end of April or early May, and planting of corn begins

shortly thereafter, with the first significant rains. If squash is planted, this is done right after

burning.

Many Mayan cosmological factors seemingly influence the agricultural cycle, even among

ladino farmers that speak no Mayan language. The phases of the moon, in particular, affect the

timing of certain activities. Several farmers said they prefer to burn after a full moon.

Planting is done with a planting stick and densities vary considerably depending on the

quality of the soil and site conditions, and on the type of seed in use. Planting distances commonly

reach 1 to 1.5 metres and 3 to 5 seeds are dropped in each hole. Before planting, many farmers

mix their seed with insecticides, such as Volaton (a.i. phoxim) or Folidol (a.i. methyl parathion), to

ward off insect and bird attack.

If planting on a site cleared from primary forest, generally there is no need to weed at all,

at least not in the first season or two: the farmer just has to clear any branches that cast shade on

the growing maize plants. In secondary forest, one weeding generally is carried out about a month

after planting. Farmers generally are unconcerned with any weeds subsequently growing below the

level of the top of the maize plant. On some sites, however, for instance those that have been

cleared from younger fallow, weed problems may require the farmer to weed a second time, about









86

one month after the first weeding. During the second season one or two weedings are required,

except if a green manure system is in use, as discussed below. All weeding is done with a machete

and/or with a herbicide such as Hedonal (a.i. dichlorprop) and Gramoxone (a.i. paraquat). Hoes

are very rarely used. Weeding with herbicide allows for a 0.7 ha field (1 mz) to be weeded in a

single person-day, whereas with a machete this task requires 4 to 6 person-days.

Crop losses result from inclement weather, either drought or torrential rains, from pest

attack, and from crop theft. Severe drought and fires in 1998, while I was in the field, resulted in

considerable losses for many farmers. In addition, by late July 1998 about 165,000 ha of primary

and secondary forest had been damaged by fire, according to staff of the national forestry institute

- INAB (Fabio Perez Garcia, pers. comm., 28 July 1998). Nations (1999b) claims that almost

double this amount was scourged by fire, but it is not clear whether he refers to the broader Maya

tropical forest region, i.e. including sections in Belize and Mexico, or just to the forests in Petdn.

Pests include a boring worm, gusano cojollero (Laphygmafrugiperda) and diseases

related to attacks by Puccinia graminea and Helminthosporium spp. (AHT/APESA 1992: 236).

Considerable damage also can be caused by mammals, especially in the second season when less

wild foods are available. These include pizote (Nasua narica), mapache (Procyon lotor),

peccaries (Dicotyles spp.), and rodents. One rodent, the taltuza (Orthogeomus sp.) is a particular

problem for root crops and the roots of other crops. During the first season some damage from

parrots (Amazona spp. and Pionus spp.) is common. Farmers report that in fact, the damage from

the parrot itself is minimal, but the holes they create in the husk provides access to the ear for

insects, such as the gorgojo (Sitophilus spp.), which do much more damage to the grain. The main

disease for the bean crop is caused by Mustia hilachosa, particularly in the wetter first season.

At the end of the first maize season, say, by the second half of September, farmers fold

(dobla) the maize stocks to prepare for harvesting. This is carried out for several reasons: to









87

protect the ears from entry of rainwater, hasten drying, and protect the ears from bird attack.

Subsequent harvesting thus can be done more gradually. La dobla also reduces shade, so that a

second crop can be planted between the rows, as is done by some farmers.

The ears are then harvested by hand, usually between the end of October and early

January. At the end of the second season, maize is not folded, because the rainy season has ended

by this time and bird attack is minimal. The maize is then stored in crude shelters in the field

(trojas) or at the farmer's home. Granulated pesticides commonly are sprinkled among the maize

cobs to protect against insect attack.

As noted earlier, some farmers rely on a more intensive cultivation system that

incorporates the use ofMucuna spp., a nitrogen-fixing legume, as a green manure. This system

most commonly involves the development of an abonera, a plot on which mucuna, also known as

velvet bean orfrijol abono, is planted and tended until it becomes well established. Once a dense

mat of mucuna is well established, it is used as a maize production plot during the second, drier

cropping season. The velvet bean is first slashed with a machete, and then, without prior burning,

the maize is planted in holes poked through the mucuna slash and into the soil with the help of a

planting stick. Once the maize is harvested, the site is left fallow and with the coming of the rainy

season (e.g. May to November), the mucuna re-establishes itself to continue to restore nutrients

(particularly nitrogen), build up organic matter, conserve soil moisture, and control weeds on the

plot (Buckles et al. 1998: Lal 1994; Smyth et al. 1991). The site can then be used once again for

maize production at the next year's second cropping season. During the first season, farmers

generally rely on a regular slash and burn plot cut from forest or bush.

With the incorporation of the abonera or mucuna plot into the farming system, only one,

rather than two, crops per year is grown on a swidden plot and thus less nutrients are drawn from

the soil. The swidden site thus can be used longer and the need to clear more forest is reduced.












Furthermore, the production rates obtained on a well established abonera are very impressive, e.g.

up to double the normal range of values obtained during la segunda, the second cropping season,

and at a time when prices fetched for corn are considerably higher than during the first season's

harvest.

An abonera also can be established for use during the first maize growing season, la

primera, or elfuego, when the farmer otherwise would rely on a swidden plot. This entails a

system in which the farmer relies on just two established aboneras rather than a larger number of

swidden plots. Pressure to clear forest is further reduced and hence, this is the system that is seen

as ideal by organizations promoting sustainable farming systems in Peten.

However, discussions with farmers who rely on velvet bean reveal that use of an abonera

during the first growing season is problematic. The main reason for this is that with higher

rainfall, the mucuna grows prolifically, and it becomes a struggle to ensure that it remains below

the level of the growing maize plants. Therefore, virtually all farmers surveyed who use velvet

bean rely on their abonera(s) only during the second cropping season.

The establishment of a good abonera requires a fair amount of labor time, or cash, if labor

is to be hired. If seed is available free, such as through one of the extension organizations, or can

be purchased, planting is relatively easy. It requires about 5.7 days/ha (4 days/mz) during the

rainy season. But weeding is later required, a task which reportedly demands about 8.6 person-

days/ha (6 person-days/mz) each time. And depending on the condition of the site, several

weedings may be needed to ensure the mucuna becomes well-established. Furthermore, the most

important weeding time falls just before, or at the beginning of, the next year's rainy season. This

corresponds with a very busy time in the swidden agricultural calender, when farmers are engaged

in land preparation or planting, for la primera, the first and most important growing season.









89

A number of farmers, particularly in Ruta Bethel, hire the services of a tractor owner to

plow their fields with a disk harrow at the start of the first planting season. Table 3-1 compares

the annual land preparation costs and typical production rates of slash and bum plots and

mechanized (i.e. plowed) plots. Paid labor is assumed in the case of the slash and bum plots, at a

rate of Q25 per person-day (i.e. approximately US$4), but in contrast to the mechanized option,

households can use their own labor to prepare the land. For cash-poor households, this is an

attractive feature of slash and burn. It is assumed that 6 person-days of labor is involved per mz to

cover both slashing and subsequent burning. In the case of the mechanized plot, the cost shown on

the table covers two passes with the tractor plow.


Table 3-1 Comparative Land Preparation Costs in Ruta Bethel (1998): Mechanized vs. Slash and
Bumr_________
Slash & Bum Plowed Land
(Low secondary forest)
Land Preparation Q150/mz Q275/mz
______________ ($34.29/ha) ($62.86/ha)
Typical Production per 5500 lbs/mz 8000 lbs/mz
year (2 growing cycles) (3571 kg/ha) (5195 kg/ha)

Cost per kg produced $0.0096/kg $0.012/kg


Other production costs, such as for planting, weeding and harvesting, will depend on

specific site conditions in the case of both types of systems. But assuming the plots involved are at

comparable fertility levels, these costs will be similar for both systems. Overall, we see that

production costs with plowing are only slightly higher, but if family labor is used for slash and

bum, plowing proves to be considerably more costly from a pecuniary standpoint.












Land Tenure Issues and Categories

Land tenure is viewed as an important and complex issue in Peten, and one that has

received increasing attention from international organizations. The literature on land degradation

and deforestation in Peten and elsewhere in Central America places a great deal of emphasis on

land tenure insecurity as a critical factor leading to destructive land use (Southgate and

Basterrechea 1992; Southgate and Pearce 1988; Utting 1991; Grunberg and Ramos 1998; World

Bank 1995b; and AHT/APESA 1992). The World Bank (1995b: 48), for example, maintains that

insecure smallholder land tenure in Peten has discouraged investment in soil conservation and crop

diversification, and a large number of local officials share this general view.

However. I suspect that the link between land tenure insecurity and deforestation in Peten

is less significant than is commonly assumed. Of course, a clear distinction can be drawn between

the way short-term plots and long-term plots are used, but among long-term plots, tenure

differences appear to have limited influence on land management, at least when compared to other

factors. This issue is discussed further in Chapter 8.

A useful breakdown and description of tenure categories are presented by AHT/APESA

(1992) but my own research suggests that a few additional categories can be added to their list if

we wish to consider tenure arrangements from the farmer's perspective. The categories described

by AHT/APESA (1992) include the following:

1) Protected areas. This includes the core zones and the multiple use zone of the MBR,

and the protected areas in southern Peten.

2) Private properties. These consist of parcels adjudicated before FYDEP's creation in

1959. None of the farmers I interviewed possessed one of these. The average size of these parcels

is reported to be 1000 ha.




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AGRICULTURAL INTENSIFICATION AND RESOURCE CONSERVATION
IN THE BUFFER ZONE OF THE MAYA BIOSPHERE RESERVE, PETÉN, GUATEMALA
By
AVRUM JOSEPH SHRLAR
A DISSERTATION PRESENTED TO THE GRADUATE SCHOOL OF THE UNIVERSITY
OF FLORIDA IN PARTIAL FULFILLMENT OF THE REQUIREMENTS FOR THE DEGREE
OF DOCTOR OF PHILOSOPHY
UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA
*
1999

To my father, Samuel Hertz Shriar. ..
Still the most clever, interesting, and soulful man I have ever known

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
I am deeply indebted to the many farmers in Guatemala who shared their time, knowledge,
opinions, and patience with me. I learned a great deal from them as we hiked, hiked, and rode
through the Petén landscape in my quest to understand the trials and tribulations of farming in a
neglected, dangerous, and harsh frontier region. 1 hope to repay this debt by working toward
effective policies and programs that will allow for Peteneras ’ basic needs to be met on a sustained
basis, in an environment that will remain healthy and beautiful.
The field research for this dissertation was funded through a grant from the U.S. National
Science Foundation. Without this support, only a much less detailed study would have been
possible.
I gratefully acknowledge the excellent guidance, support, and encouragement I received
from my dissertation committee members at the University of Florida (UF) throughout my course
work and research: Nigel J H. Smith (Chair), Abraham C. Goldman, Peter E. Hildebrand. P.K.R.
Nair. Marianne Schmink. and Marilyn (Mickie) Swisher. Dr. Ken Portier of the UF Department of
Statistics deserves special mention for his assistance in relation to the statistical analysis for this
work. I also w ould like to thank Norman B. Schwartz of the University of Delaware, who openly
shared with me his tremendous insights into the sociocultural and environmental reality of Petén
and who proved to be a fine mentor, both during and after the field work.
Many people currently or formerly working with organizations active in Petén contributed
to the research by providing logistical help or useful information. These include, in particular:
Francisco Barquín. Esau Guerra. Antonio Fion, Salvador Bolaños. Teresa Robles, Armando
iii

Ozaeta. Carlos Collado, Cipriano Beletzuy, Misael Vasquez, Antonio Pineda, and many others at
Centro Maya; Venicio Montero and Byron Milian of CARE; John Beavers at The Nature
Conservancy (TNC); Victor Hugo Ramos of CONAP; and Chindo Garcia with The Peregerine
Fund. Clearly there are others who made useful contributions and I apologize for any oversights
and omissions to this list.
I also want to thank Roan McNab, Erick Baur, and David Rinck for their assistance and
friendship, and for acting as reliable drinking buddies when I was back in Flores after lengthy
periods in el campo. Special thanks are due to my girlfriend, Angela Caudle, whose
accompaniment during much of the field work in Petén made it a more enjoyable experience than it
otherwise would have been. Our feline friend. Frank Lopez Guzmán, from Palestina, Libertad,
also deserves special mention for his role as a first class rat catcher in Petén. and for being an
ongoing major source of pleasure and comic relief in Gainesville.
I am grateful to my siblings, Judy. David, and Ruth for their encouragement, humor and
advice, and for the faith in me they have shown over the years. Finally, I would like to thank my
parents, Samuel and Elsie Shriar. who initially inspired me to work toward a better world and who
selflessly have encouraged me to persevere with completing this dissertation, despite my father's
ongoing, tragic and sorrowful struggle with Lou Gehrig's disease.
IV

TABLE OF CONTENTS
page
ACKNOWLEDGMENTS iii
ABSTRACT ix
CHAPTERS
1 INTRODUCTION 1
2 THE THEORETICAL FRAMEWORK: LAND DEGRADATION,
DEFORESTATION, AND AGRICULTURAL
INTENSIFICATION 8
Introduction 8
Land Degradation 9
Defining the Problem and its Relevance 9
Traditional Causal Explanations and Official Responses 11
An Alternative Approach to Addressing Issues of Land Degradation
and Land Cover Change 15
Colonization and Deforestation 19
Direct Causes of Deforestation and the Importance of Scale in
Assessing Impact 22
Indirect Causes of Deforestation 24
Underlying Factors 29
Perspectives on Agricultural Intensification and Change 32
Regional Scale Factors : 33
Farm/Household Scale Factors 39
Summary 48
3 THE REGIONAL GEOGRAPHIC SETTING 51
Introduction 51
Historical and Political Background 51
Physical Geography 64
Overview 64
Geology’, Hydrology and Climate 66
Soils, Vegetation and Wildlife 69
Human Geography 72
v

Demographic, Sociocultural, and Economic Characteristics 72
Agricultural Systems 78
Land Tenure Issues and Categories 90
Summary 95
4 RESEARCH DESIGN AND STUDY AREAS 97
Study Objective and Approach 97
Hypotheses 99
Study Phases and Methodology 102
Study Area Descriptions 108
Study Area 1: Ruta Bethel 110
Study Area 2: Ruta Naranjo 112
Study Area 3: Ruta Tikal 115
5 FARM HOUSEHOLD CHARACTERISTICS AND STRATEGIES 121
Introduction 121
General Household Characteristics 122
Property and Land Tenure 127
Household Cropping Strategies 134
Household Agricultural Technologies 138
Other Land Covers and Characteristics 149
Other Household Resources and Features 157
Summary 170
6 PATHWAYS TO AGRICULTURAL INTENSIFICATION 173
Introduction 173
Regression Analysis 175
Ruta Bethel Study Area 179
Ruta Naranjo Study Area 184
Ruta Tikal Study Area 189
All Study Areas Combined 194
Analyses of Variance 200
Cash Cropping 205
Intercropping 210
Plowing 212
Mucuna 214
Pesticide Use 221
Fertilizer Use 225
Perennial Cropping 228
Homegardens 231
Influences on Agricultural Strategy: A Synthesis 234
Production of High Value Crops 234
Intercropping 236
Perennial Crops 238
vi

Homegardens 241
Plowing 241
Mucuna 242
Fertilizer Use 245
Pesticide Use 247
Summary 250
7 EVALUATING OVERALL FARM INTENSITY 251
Introduction 251
The Agricultural Intensity Index 252
Agricultural Intensity Index Regression Analyses 254
Ruta Bethel 255
Ruta Naranjo 255
Ruta Tikal 257
All Study Areas Combined 258
Agricultural Intensity Index ANOVA 259
Ruta Bethel 260
Ruta Naranjo 262
Ruta Tikal 263
All Study Areas Combined 266
S\nthesizing the Results Based on the Agricultural Intensity Index 266
Ruta Bethel 268
Ruta Naranjo 268
Ruta Tikal 269
All Study Areas Combined 271
Summary : Comparing the Degree of Intensity Among the Three Study Areas . 272
8 THE DYNAMICS OF AGRICULTURAL INTENSIFICATION IN THE
BUFFER ZONE OF THE MAYA BIOSPHERE RESERVE:
CONCLUSIONS AND IMPLICATIONS 275
Introduction 275
Intensification Strategies and Motivations 278
Intensification through Plowing 278
The Use of Mucuna as a Green Manure 280
Cultivation of Cash Crops 283
Intercropping 284
Perennial Crops and Homegardens 285
Fertilizer Use 286
Pesticide Use 286
Regional Level Influences on Intensification: Demand Themes and
Technology Themes 287
Intraregional Variation in the Dynamics of Intensification 290
Ruta Bethel 290
Ruta Naranjo 293
vii

Ruta Tikal 296
Implications 299
Farm Level Influences on Intensification 300
Land Quantity and Quality' 301
Labor Supply 302
Off-Farm Income 302
Land Tenure Credit 303
Wealth and Poverty 306
Farmer Experience and Knowledge 306
Other Considerations and Implications 308
APPENDIX: COMMON PETÉN CROPS 321
REFERENCES 323
BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH 344
vm

Abstract of Dissertation Presented to the Graduate School of the University of Florida in
Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy
AGRICULTURAL INTENSIFICATION AND RESOURCE CONSERVATION
IN THE BUFFER ZONE OF THE MAYA BIOSPHERE RESERVE, PETÉN, GUATEMALA
By
Avrum Joseph Shriar
December 1999
Chairman: Nigel J.H. Smith
Department: Geography
The Petén region of northern Guatemala has been the focus of massive in-migration in
recent decades. This has led to substantial deforestation because land use, as in most frontier
regions, is extensive. To reduce pressure on remaining areas of forest and ensure that regional
food security requirements are met in upcoming decades, efforts are needed to improve economic
conditions in Petén and intensify agriculture in areas already cleared of forest.
This study examines the factors influencing whether Petén farmers adopt more intensive
agricultural practices and strategies. Research methods included discussions with farmers,
community leaders, and institutional representatives; participant observation; and a detailed survey
of 118 farmers in three study areas within the buffer zone of the Maya Biosphere Reserve.
Analysis of the data relied on multiple regression, analysis of variance (ANOVA), and the
development of an agricultural intensity index to help measure the overall intensity of each
household's farming system and facilitate inter-household comparison.
The study points to various factors that influence the need for, the benefits from, and the
IX

possibility of adopting more intensive practices. At the farm household scale these include, but are
not limited to: property size, the amount of remaining forest and fallow land on the property, tenure
type, plot distance, soil quality, household wealth and labor supply, and off-farm income. At the
community or area scale, the following factors proved to be influential: land quality and micro¬
climate, market conditions, physiologic density, land distribution, off-farm employment
opportunities, settler origins, and the length of time since the area was colonized.
Extension agencies in Petén should pay closer attention to these factors in planning and
executing their programs. In addition, conservation and development institutions in the region
should address several fundamental needs that if met, would assist or induce farmers to manage
their land more intensively and sustainably, and thereby exert less pressure on remaining forest.
These needs include the development of markets, farmer organizations, and low cost credit
programs. However, forest conservation in Petén ultimately will succeed only as an integral part
of a functioning and more equitable regional economic system, one which provides income
opportunities that allow basic human needs to be met.
x

CHAPTER 1
INTRODUCTION
The Petén region of northern Guatemala (Figure 1-1) contains one of the largest remaining
areas of tropical rainforest in Mesoamerica. However, as in other lowland frontiers of Latin
America, Peten has been the focus of massive in-migration in recent decades. In less than 35 years
its population, of which about 75% is rural, has increased by at least 2,500 percent, from 25,000
in 1965 to perhaps more than 730,000 in 1999.1 One result has been rapid deforestation because
land use, as in most frontier regions, is extensive (Boserup 1965, 1981; Netting 1993; Southgate
and Pearce 1988). As recently as 1970, 70 to 80 percent of the administrative region or
“department"' of Petén was densely forested (Schwartz 1990), but satellite imagery reveals that
only half the area now remains under forest (Sever 1999). The main proximate causes have been
agricultural colonization and shifting cultivation by small farmers, mostly ladinos and Kekchi
Maya from the highlands, and the establishment of cattle ranches by large, often absentee,
landowners.
Deforestation has generated tremendous concern among both foreign and Guatemalan
conservationists. This led to the establishment in 1991 of the 16,000 km2 Maya Biosphere Reserve
(MBR) in northern Petén, which was designed to conserve a sizeable area of forest in the region
and protect a large number of Mayan archaeological sites, such as Tikal. The MBR is flanked by
Belize on its eastern boundary, and by Mexico on its northern and western boundaries. Along its
‘This figure is an extrapolation, based on the 1990 estimate of 311.000 and the assumption that the
estimated growth rate of 9.5% per annum that prevailed in the 1980s (AHT/APESA 1992: 65) has
remained constant in the 1990s. See Chapter 3 for details.
1

2
Figure 1-1 - Guatemala and the Petén Region

3
southern edge is a 5000 km2 buffer zone in which population growth and deforestation have been
rapid. Clearing also has occurred within the reserve itself, particularly on the west side (Sader
1999).
The establishment of reserves is an important element of biodiversity conservation in the
tropics. However, such areas can be protected over the long term only through the improvement of
livelihoods and the intensification of agriculture in surrounding areas that are already cleared. The
development of more intensive yet sustainable alternatives to shifting cultivation and cattle
ranching is a critical requirement for conserving remaining forest (Brady 1996; Sanchez 1994;
Serrao and Toledo 1990; Myers 1989; Sanchez et al 1982; Smith 1990; Srivastava, Smith and
Fomo 1996; Tivy 1990), in conjunction with other structural measures that address the
socioeconomic roots of deforestation (Nations and Komer 1983; Schwartz 1995; Utting 1991).
However, relatively little attention has been devoted to the land use situation in areas
outside of the MBR and other, smaller reserves in Petén. As in most frontier regions (Maos 1984;
Collms 1986; Jones 1990), the colonization of Petén has been poorly managed, with the result that
land use has been inefficient from a spatial perspective and impacts on the forests and habitats of
the region have been severe.
Virtually all conservationists concede that the massive in-migration has its roots largely in
the skewed distribution of land and wealth in southern Guatemala, the area from which people are
moving to Petén However, there is little recognition that much can be done within the region to
foster development patterns and land use systems that will meet basic human needs while reducing
pressure on remaining areas of forest. Among conservationists very little emphasis seemingly is
placed on the facts: 1) that the vast majority of people in Petén live entirely or in part through

4
agriculture;2 and 2) that it is possible to influence agricultural patterns and practices, and more
broadly, the relationship between communities and the land, to reduce pressure on remaining areas
of forest. In general the issue of agricultural land use has been, and continues to be, neglected
among conservationists. As an example, a recent collection of articles about the MBR (Nations
1999a) published by Conservation International and entitled “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a
Tropical Forest: Guatemala’s Maya Biosphere Reserve,” contains not one article that focuses in
any significant way on agriculture or on how it can be made more compatible with long-term
conservation and development objectives. Most of the research and activity in Petén conducted
under the guise of conservation consists of biological and ecological studies, planning and
management of protected areas, and using cutting edge GIS and remote sensing technology to
monitor deforestation. These efforts are important but they do nothing to address the underlying
forces that will continue to generate rapid destruction of habitat and life support systems.
A critical part, if not the most critical part, of the solution to the problem is to address the
needs for a) sustainable forms of agricultural intensification in areas outside of the reserves; and b)
patterns of socioeconomic development that will foster such intensification and, more broadly,
create a regional economic system that will allow for basic human needs to be met. It is worth
bearing in mind that notwithstanding the massive in-migration that has occurred in recent decades,
population densities in Petén remain very low, just a fraction of the densities that prevailed in the
region for centuries, at the height of the classic Maya civilization, over 1100 years ago.3 Hence,
the potential clearly exists for developing more land efficient and productive agricultural systems
2Over 60% of Peténeros claim agriculture as their primary occupation (AHT-APESA 1992), but many
other people farm to meet subsistence requirements.
3If we assume that the population of the region (36,000 km2) currently stands at about 700,000, this
amounts to less than 20 people per km2. Population densities in the Central Maya Lowlands at the height
of the Classic Maya civilization have been estimated at 117 to 151 people per km2 (Whitmore et al. 1990),
but other estimates are much higher (Rice 1991; Turner 1990).

5
that can support large numbers of people, and probably at a higher level of material well-being
than exists at present. The need for such systems is compounded by the fact that the population
growth in Peten is unlikely to moderate in the near future, given its roots in the severe poverty and
inequality that prevails in southern Guatemala (World Bank 1995a).4
This dissertation explores the socioeconomic and agronomic conditions under which
farmers adopt more intensive alternatives to maize-based shifting cultivation. It addresses
concerns of both theoretical and practical importance. Many debates and issues pertaining to land
use change, and more specifically to agricultural intensification and technology' adoption, are far
from resolved. For example, a recent plan for research on global land use and land cover change
presented by the International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme (IGBP) and The Human
Dimensions of Global Environmental Change Programme (HDP) highlights the need for a better
understanding of the relationship between land use and land cover change by linking these
phenomena to human actions - actions that “are the product of individual and group behaviours
within specific socioeconomic and environmental settings” (Turner et al. 1995: 20). The report
notes that unproved modeling of land cover change will depend on additional basic research on
underlying factors that determine land use. The “driving forces (exogenous variables) of land use
as they operate through the land manager” is listed as one of four key topics in need of improved
understanding (Turner et al. 1995: 8).
In addressing this topic I conducted field research within three study areas in the buffer
zone of the Maya Biosphere Reserve to identify factors influencing agricultural strategy' at two
scales - the farm household and the sub-region. The research involved a combination of rapid rural
appraisal, participant observation, discussions with numerous farmers and community members,
4It is estimated that in the country overall, 75% of the population lives below' the poverty line while 58%
live below the extreme poverty' line (World Bank 1995a).

6
interviews with government agency and NGO personnel, and a detailed survey of 118 farmers in
the three study areas. The survey data have been analyzed and compared primarily through
multiple regression analysis, analysis of variance, and the development of an agricultural intensity
index to facilitate inter-household comparison.
The study identifies important influences on particular agricultural practices and
strategies, and suggests that existing constraints on more sustainable and intensive land use in
Petén are intimately related to the lack of support for agriculture and to regional economic neglect.
The literature on colonization reveals quite clearly that well-planned and managed settlement
schemes, while invariably involving some deforestation, can limit the impact on the natural
resources of an area, and lead to improved living conditions on a more sustained basis (Manshard
and Morgan 1988: Uhlig 1988). Some thoughtful analysis has been carried out on what needs to
be done to unprove the agricultural and general economy of Petén (see Volume III of AHT/APESA
1992). but only to very few of the suggestions that emerged from these studies has there been a
response. Instead, the primary focus has been on more narrow and traditional conservation
initiatives that deal wnth the reserve itself, with finding sustainable economic alternatives, such as
ecotourism and woodworking, for a handful of small communities, and with monitoring the
destruction through remote sensing. These activities are important and should be encouraged, but
the main focus must shift to the underlying factors and circumstances that influence the behavior of
the hundreds of thousands of people in Petén who live primarily through agriculture. This, of
course, is a formidable challenge, but it is the one that must be faced if lasting benefits are to be
achieved from a human development and conservation standpoint.
The remainder of this dissertation is organized as follows: Chapter 2 examines the
theoretical framework in which the study is situated. In particular, it explores relevant concepts
described in the literature on three subject areas: land degradation, deforestation, and agricultural

7
intensification. Chapter 3 turns to the regional geographic setting, with an examination of Petén’s
historical and political framework, and its physical and human geography. Included in the latter is
general information on farming systems and land tenure, particularly in the buffer zone areas in
which the research was conducted. Chapter 4 describes the research design and methodology, as
well as the three study areas and communities therein. The hypotheses that guided the research
also are covered here. Chapter 5 presents descriptive statistics and information based on the
survey data about farm household characteristics, including resource endowment and land use
practices. Chapter 6 analyzes the factors influencing agricultural strategy. It presents the results
of regression analyses and analyses of variance (ANOVA) that were used to identify the factors
that seemingly account for the use. or lack thereof, among farmers of particular intensification
strategies, such as plowing, use of green manure, intercropping, and so forth. Chapter 7 examines
the factors that influence the overall intensify' of the area's farming systems, again using regression
analysis and ANOVA. Overall farming system intensify was measured using an agricultural
intensify index I developed. The index assigns a total “intensity score” to a household based on the
array of strategies on which they rely, and at what scale. It thus helps compare households not
regarding their use of particular intensification strategies but rather, in terms of their overall
complex of activities. Finally. Chapter 8 presents the conclusions and implications that emerge
from the research. The conclusions relate primarily to the conditions that foster agricultural
intensification and sustainable rural development, as revealed through the differences among the
areas and households studied. Some of the main general implications for Petén pertain to the need
for 1) research on solutions, rather than on the problems and their symptoms; and 2) initiatives that
will foster a broad pattern of rural socioeconomic and institutional development, one that helps
people earn a decent living and meet basic human needs.

CHAPTER 2
THE THEORETICAL FRAMEWORK: LAND DEGRADATION,
DEFORESTATION, AND AGRICULTURAL INTENSIFICATION
Introduction
This study examines the factors that account for how land is used or abused by human
groups and individuals. The primary focus is on agricultural change and intensification in a
frontier region that to many observers faces significant problems of land degradation and
deforestation. My goal for this chapter is therefore to review some salient issues and
characteristics of land degradation, deforestation, and agricultural intensification, and thereby lay
down the theoretical framework within which this research is situated. This review also helps
rationalize the approach and research design that I adopted for this study.
My review of the literature and my own field experience in various regions have shown
that any investigation of the factors that explain particular forms of land use will greatly benefit
from an explicit analysis of the scale or scales at which these factors manifest themselves. Such an
analysis is especially helpful for identify ing suitable policy and program interventions that seek to
alter human actions for conservation or development objectives. The consideration of scale
therefore represents an important theme in each of the sections that follow'.
8

9
Land Degradation
Defining the Problem and its Relevance
Any definition of land degradation must incorporate two key aspects: 1) that it results from
human activity, rather than natural forces in and of themselves; and 2) that it leads to a decline in
biological productivity or usefulness to humans. Johnson and Lewis (1995: 2) refer to land
degradation as a “substantial decrease in either or both of an area's biological productivity or
usefulness due to human interference." Blaikie and Brookfield (1987: 6) refer to land degradation
as “a reduction in the capability of land to satisfy a particular use.” This reference to a “particular
use” highlights the subjective nature of the concept of land degradation, an aspect of considerable
complication that is discussed further below.
Declines in usefulness or productivity’ of land can result from a variety’ of factors that
reduce organic matter and nutrients, or otherwise alter the chemistry and structure of soil. These
include soil erosion (El Swaity et al. 1983; Stadel 1991) and soil “mining” (Turner et al 1993) due
to inappropriate cropping patterns, and salinization and waterlogging, commonly associated with
irrigation projects (Pimentel 1993). Thus, all of these changes in land quality commonly are seen
as the identify ing characteristics of land degradation.
However, degradation can be reversible in the short term, and thus of limited consequence,
or it can be non-reversible. Cultivation on most arable land will lead to a fertility decline as
nutrients are exported from the system through the harvest, or through leaching and erosion. But
this can be addressed through "short-term rehabilitation ecology” (Johnson and Lewis 1995), for
example, by leaving the land fallow, as in swidden systems, or by applying fertilizer or other soil
amendments to restore the land's capability’. However, for many resource poor farmers in the
Third World the options for such restoration may be limited.

10
Most of the literature on land and other forms of environmental degradation centers on bio¬
physical and climatic factors. In general, the subject has been neglected by social scientists,
notwithstanding some early classic treatments (Malcolm 1938; Glover 1946; Hvams 1952; and
Jacks and Whyte 1939). But as emphasized by Blaikie and Brookfield (1987) and implied in the
above definitions, land degradation is first and foremost a social problem, one that ultimately is
perceived by human users and caused by human activity. Natural science is of course very
relevant with regard to the physical reasons for land degradation, but why it is not managed and
prevented by human users lies squarely in the realm of social science. This is increasingly
recognized and there is a “resurgent awareness of the pertinence of socioeconomic and political
processes” in relation to environmental degradation (Little et al. 1987: 1). Geographers have been
focusing on the issue for many decades, but among anthropologists and economists, for example, it
is a relatively new' concern.
Hence, the theoretical base on which to rely in studying land degradation is poorly
developed. This is due to the limited attention it has received among social scientists, at least until
recently, and the continued lack of cooperation in the work of natural and social scientists
regarding the behavior of land managers. There often are opposing views on the significance of
land degradation and a common failure to see the social roots of the problem (Blaikie and
Brookfield 1987; Little et al. 1987). Another source of the "fundamental theoretical confusion”
surrounding land degradation is the failure to see it “within a wide historical and geographical
framework" (Blaikie and Brookfield 1987). The lack of solid longitudinal data in all but a handful
of world regions likely is a factor in this regard. Serious misinterpretations of land degradation
issues commonly result from a lack of data over a long enough time frame that covers a range of
climatic states (Johnson and Lewis 1995: 11).

11
Much of the confusion surrounding land degradation also emerges from the fact that it is a
subjective and perceptual concept. There is no clear consensus on how land degradation can be
identified and operationalized. It must be defined with reference to a particular land use type. For
example, the clearing of forest, although problematic to a biologist, may not be seen as degradation
to an agriculturalist or to a rancher that wishes to increase the size of his herd. Of course,
biophysical changes such as erosion, salinization, and acidification can be described in objective
terms, but these identifying characteristics must then be evaluated in social terms, with regard to
socially relevant impacts, such as on crop yield or game populations. The economic effects of such
impacts also must be calculated, but different resource users will be affected in different ways and
to varying degrees. Some parties may benefit from the resulting changes and some will be in a
better position than others to adjust their livelihood strategies, for instance, by having other
alternatives to which they can turn. It is increasingly recognized that the “the determination of an
environment at risk should be the product or outcome of analysis, and not an a priori assumption”
(Little etal. 1987).
Traditional Causal Explanations and Official Responses
An even greater source of confusion and complexity relates to the causes of land
degradation. In examining the literature on this topic it becomes clear that there is no uni-causal
model of explanation Many hypotheses have been put forward, but they prove to be invalid in far
too many cases. The problem of land degradation and its causes is too complex and too variable.
No single explanatory theory is acceptable, although some useful foundations of a theoretical
framework or approach have been laid down in various recent works, such as Blaikie (1985),
Blaikie and Brookfield (1987). Moran (1984), Schmink and Wood (1987), Johnson and Lewis
(1995), and Little et al. (1987).

12
Some of the traditional and more common explanations of the causes of land degradation
include: 1) population pressure on resources (PPR); 2) ignorance and inappropriate behavior of
land users or managers; and 3) environmental “fragility” or sensitivity to degradation. Each of
these explanations and their inadequacies is discussed below in the remainder of this section. In the
following section an alternative approach to analyzing and interpreting land degradation and land
cover change is described.
Several influential theories relate to the issue of population pressure. The first of these,
referred to as neo-Malthusian theory, sees population growth in entirely negative terms and as the
key threat to the global environment and its carrying capacity. But although population growth
likely is a matter of concern, there are a lot of misconceptions and erroneous assumptions based on
inadequately measured and understood trends. For example. Eckholm (1976: 18) writes that
“Whatever the root causes of suicidal land treatment and rapid population growth. . .in nearly every
instance the rise in human numbers is the immediate catalyst of deteriorating food-production
systems.” Ehrlich and Ehrlich (1970: 201) posit that “an area must be considered
overpopulated, if the activities of the population are leading to a steady deterioration of the
environment.”
There are several problems with these analyses. First, they do nothing to account for the
array of other factors that influence whether or not land degradation results from human activity.
There are many examples of populations with very high densities that have effectively managed
their resource base in a sustainable manner for thousands of years (Blaikie and Brookfield 1987).
There also are cases in which rising population densities have corresponded with considerable
improvement in environmental conditions (Tiffen and Mortimer 1992; Turner et al. 1993; Tiffen,
Mortimer and Gichuki 1994).

13
Second, they offer little explanation for the high levels of degradation and deforestation, as
discussed below, that commonly occur under ven,' low population densities, for example in frontier
regions, or in some cases where population is declining (Zimmerer 1993; Garcia-Barrios and
Garcia-Barrios 1990).
Third, by using the term or concept of “overpopulation” the implication is that there is
some critical threshold of earning capacity beyond which land degradation will occur. But human
“earn ing capacity” or the number of people that can be supported in a given zone, can change
considerably with each socioeconomic evolution, technology change, or crop introduction (Blaikie
and Brookfield 1987). In some cases such “intentional changes” (Johnson and Lewis 1995) may in
fact contribute to land degradation, for example, salinization in the case of poorly designed
irrigation systems, but in other cases they have been followed by population growth and
sustainable patterns of land use (Tiffen and Mortimer 1992; Goldman 1992; Tiffen. Mortimer and
Gichuki 1994). Hence, carry ing capacity' is a dynamic concept and PPR is only a conditional
hypothesis with regard to land degradation.
Another theme commonly encountered in the literature (e g. Ives et al. 1992; Stadel 1981)
is the notion that some environments are more susceptible to erosion and other forms of land
degradation, by virtue of climatic, topographic and edaphic characteristics. While this undoubtedly
is true, it still does not explain why the necessary measures to avoid degradation are taken in some
“fragile” environments and not in others. Many highly susceptible environments in Africa have
been occupied and farmed under high population densities for a very long time (Kates, Hyden and
Turner 1993: 18). Similarly, Petén is widely regarded as a fragile region but it formed a core area
of the Classic Maya civilization and supported very dense populations.
Another common explanation of land degradation, popular among government officials,
aid agencies, and those conservation organizations that have a poor understanding of peasant

14
fanning, relates to the supposed ignorance, stupidity', irrationality, and conservatism of fanners and
other rural resource users (Little et al. 1987). But as discussed by Blaikie and Brookfield (1987),
this argument is simplistic because it inherently assumes:
• that the objectives of peasants are or should be same as those of government or other
conservation organizations;
• that peasants have a sufficient degree of choice in how they manage their land. In reality, of
course, their choices may be quite limited due to shortages of labor, cash, capital, knowledge, and
so forth. This situation may force them to neglect longer-term concerns in favor of short-term
survival considerations (e.g. Ashby 1985; Collins 1987; Blaikie 1985; Zimmerer 1993);
• that there is no rationale in peasant conservatism; in fact, their actions are oriented primarily or
largely toward meeting food security and basic survival needs and thus nsk-taking is something
they cannot afford, at least in relation to most of their activities.
Many international organizations, government agencies and some development
organizations continue to view land degradation as a result of population growth or the ignorance
and "traditional practices" of local people in agricultural and herding regions. These perspectives
have led to broad programs aimed at population control, and in some countries, particularly after
1900. to the establishment of government agencies with the power to enact and enforce legislation
aimed at soil and water conservation Many projects aimed at soil and water conservation also
have been implemented by governments, international agencies, and NGOs, generally with limited
success.
The perceptions and priorities of these organizations and the project planners so often have
been at odds with those of the local land users. Current et al. (1995) discuss the mixed record of
agroforestry projects in Central America, mostly aimed at soil conservation, because of conflicting
interests of local people and project proponents. In many cases, traditional resource management

15
systems have been severely misunderstood. For example, in the colonial period burning was
prohibited in some countries of Africa and the result was a major build-up of insect populations
(Blaikie and Brookfield 1987).
In addition, insufficient attention has been paid to the resource constraints on farmers, and
hence, to their ability or interest in implementing the recommended or required conservation
measures. Their involvement in the design of projects usually has been absent. Expensive, time
consuming projects aimed at terrace construction have been implemented, only to result in the
terraces being washed away, due to lack of maintenance (Blaikie and Brookfield 1987) In
general, assessments of land degradation often have not been seen in a broad enough context to
enable a rational understanding of its significance or lack thereof. The factors influencing local
land use strategies often have been poorly understood, and thus policies, legislation, programs, and
projects have been inappropriate. A useful review of these problems in the African context is
provided by Farley (1996).
An Alternative Approach to Addressing Issues of Land Degradation and Land Cover Change
From a technical point of view many forms of land degradation can be prevented through
the use of soil conservation systems such as terracing and contour planting, and agroforestrv
(Johnson and Lewis 1995: 292). And although the task of maintaining land capability can vary
considerably due to differences in resilience and sensitivity, “human management of the land
without leading to degradation is not only possible in a great majority of environments, but has
been frequently accomplished in human history” (Blaikie and Brookfield 1987).
These facts lead to some important questions. Johnson and Lewis (1995) ask: why does
land degradation continue unabated and why is it seemingly accelerating in many places? Blaikie
and Brookfield (1987) question why land management failures have occurred and whether the

16
problem has been perceived by those responsible at the time and place. However, the study of land
degradation is made complicated and difficult because of 1) the complex interaction between
development and environmental change; 2) the effect of scale perceptions, both temporal and
spatial, on assessments of the significance of environmental change; and 3) the many data problems
related to availability and to uncertainty regarding what is appropriate to measure. The link
between physical changes and productivity changes is not always clear, as is true of the cause-
effect aspect in general.
In light of these factors it is clear that no single theory of land degradation is appropriate.
Rather, a broader, more flexible approach to analyzing and addressing issues of land degradation
and land cover change must pay greater attention to the following considerations and requirements.
First, given that there exist competing social definitions of land degradation, plural perceptions of
the issue must be considered and accepted. Numerous writers emphasize the need to consider the
perspective of various stakeholders and classes concerning the causes and effects of environmental
change (e g. Messerschmidt 1987; Little et al. 1987; Blaikie and Brookfield 1987).
Second, analysis should begin at the point where uncertainty is lowest, i.e. at the level of
and from the perception of the land manager. Data on the relationship betw een the land manager
and the land are fraught with least uncertainty (Blaikie and Brookfield 1987). Once a solid
understanding of the land manager's actions and perceptions is obtained, factors at various scales
that may be influencing their decisions, and constraining what they can or cannot do, can be
identified.
Third, a case study approach is needed to improve our understanding of the causes and
implications of land degradation, and of how to deal with it where necessary. Many areas of the
Third World suffer from a set of related symptoms that combine the results of land degradation,
political and economic marginalization, stagnant production, outmigration, and poverty. However.

17
each region may be quite distinct in terms of history, outside influences, colonization, the degree of
tradition that prevails, and other factors (Blaikie and Brookfield 1987).
Finally, the issue of scale, and the need for its explicit recognition, proves to be
particularly important in relation to land degradation. Scale implications must be explicitly
addressed to place land degradation in spatial and temporal context and to better understand the
plurality of perceptions on the matter There are several reasons for this:
1) Various scales such as the field, the farm, the watershed, the region, and the nation, tend
to be linked to distinct decision making processes and parties, for example, the farmer, the
watershed management authority, the state government, or the national government. Thus, the
decision makers involved, and the social and environmental data on which they rely, should be
recognized.
2) Scale has important implications for the accounting of costs and benefits. For example,
if a farmer is concerned primarily with the highest quality lands on his farm, such as the more
humid valley bottom areas, he may be willing to sacrifice other parts of the farm, for instance by
permitting or encouraging soil erosion from upland sites to benefit the bottomland areas where
production is concentrated. Johnson and Lewis (1995) describe numerous cases of “creative
destruction" in which some degradation is tolerated or encouraged to yield a net benefit to the
overall system. These can involve a wide range of scales, from a field or farm, to a nation, for
example if lands on the frontier are overexploited, and hence, sacrificed, to generate resources
needed for broader national objectives. Thus the “unit of account” must be specified to
appropriately consider costs and benefits.
3) Scale perceptions have a strong influence on analysis and explanations of land
degradation and land cover change. For instance, at larger scales such as that of the watershed,
land degradation tends to be viewed as a technical problem that can be explamed from a natural

18
science perspective. At an even larger scale, political economic factors may dominate the
explanation, for example a history of exploitation and marginalization of farmers within a given
region But at the level of the farm, the farmer may see the issue as one of “creative destruction” in
which nutrients or other matter are taken from one area to another one, or as strategic management,
in which priority is placed on short-term subsistence needs. Longer term restorative concerns are
placed on the back burner, at least until circumstances change.
4) Temporal scale also must be considered, because time lags may exist in the emergence
of negative consequences of particular actions. In addition, a current land degradation problem
may have its roots in centuries of agricultural practice, or in recent resource system changes or
pressures. The whole history of land use ideally should be considered in explaining a present
situation (Blaikie and Brookfield 1987: 68).
A broad historical and geographical framework helps one recognize that almost all natural
landscapes are under continuous modification and have been for thousands of years. Part of the
landscape may become degraded in the process, but this is not necessarily or automatically a cause
for concern. By adopting a broad temporal and spatial perspective, the causes and implications of
land degradation can be better understood.
The common element in most cases of long term, significant land degradation is “pressure
of production on resources” (Pavelis 1983), but this can arise in many ways and for many different
reasons The approach outlined above, based largely on the ideas of Blaikie and Brookfield
(1987), can help identify the key causes of such pressure and point to appropriate ways of dealing
with it.

19
Colonization and Deforestation
The details and dimensions of deforestation in Petén are discussed in Chapter 3. But given
the importance of the issue in the regional context and its link to the rationale for the present study,
the topic warrants some discussion from a theoretical perspective in this chapter. This section
examines the deforestation phenomenon using key elements of the alternative approach just
described for analyzing land degradation and land cover change. The primary focus is on
analyzing the causes of deforestation, the varying scales at which these exist, and on some of the
prevailing debates in the literature regarding particular factors and the degree to which they result
in forest clearing. The mam emphasis is on deforestation linked to agricultural activity and
colonization. It becomes clear that deforestation related to agricultural activity is largely, if not
primarily, a function of agricultural intensity. The latter is the subject of the final section of this
chapter and the mam focus of the overall study described in subsequent chapters.
Much descriptive and quantitative work has been carried out on deforestation. However,
solid analysis is relatively rare and. as with land degradation, theory on deforestation is poorly
developed despite the considerable attention it has received as a global problem. This opinion is
shared by several other authors, for example, Utting (1991). Rummer (1991), Stonich and Dewalt
(1996), and Schmink (1994: 258). who refers to “the simplicity of many analyses and
prescriptions" related to deforestation. When causes are addressed, the distinction between
proximate and mdirect causes sometimes is not made, and thus it is not uncommon to see, for
example, chainsaw usage and international debt being described in the same sentence as if they
were comparable phenomena. In a similar vein, indirect causes often are reviewed without any
explicit recognition of the distmct scales at which they operate. Finally, it is clear that relatively
little work has been done to understand the causes of forest clearing at the level, and from the
perspective, of the land user, i .e. at the micro scale of the farm household.

20
A large number of processes and phenomena can be, and have been, identified as
“indirect” causes of deforestation. While some forest clearing obviously occurs directly through
activities such as logging and agricultural expansion, the indirect causes, as the term generally is
used, help explain the degree to which these activities emerge in a particular region, and the extent
to which they affect forest cover.
I feel it is useful to go beyond the normal two category distinction of direct (or proximate)
and indirect causes. Thus, although I have not seen it done elsewhere in the literature, in this
discussion 1 will classify the causes of deforestation into three broad categories: 1) direct or
proximate causes; 2) indirect causes; and 3) underlying factors.
As stated, activities or phenomena such as logging, agricultural clearing, and mining, are
relatively direct or proximate causes, in that forest generally is directly displaced through their
occurrence in an area These then fall into the first category of direct causes. But among causes
that are less direct than this, a further distinction can be made, based on the “degree of directness”
they involve as a cause of forest clearing. For example, agricultural colonization in a frontier
region can be seen as a more direct cause of deforestation than, say, a shortage of non-agricultural
income opportunities or a highly skewed distribution of land in the country as a whole. If present,
either or both of the latter conditions might propel a process of agricultural colonization which, in
turn, would lead to forest clearing at the farm level (the direct or proximate cause).
Before listing the factors or causes that fall under each of the three categories, we should
recognize the importance of scale for classifying deforestation causes. Three scales of analysis can
be usefully distinguished, without getting too complicated. First, there is the scale of causes that
manifest themselves at the immediate level of the resource user, whether a farmer, a miner, a
logger, a property' developer, or what have you. Let us consider, for example, a farmer who clears
forest on his property because he has acquired additional resources that enable him to manage a

21
larger area under cultivation. In this example the act of clearing the forest is a direct, user-scale
cause of deforestation, while the acquisition of resources by the farmer is an indirect cause, but
also one that operates at the user scale. Second, there are indirect causes that manifest themselves
beyond the level of the resource user, at a community or regional scale. For example, a lack of
alternative employment opportunities in a region may compel households to farm on marginal land
that in the interest of sustainability should remain under forest cover. Finally, there are indirect
causes of deforestation consisting of phenomena at a national or international scale. A high level
of national debt, for example, may compel a government to reduce subsidies for fertilizer, thereby
causing fertilizer pnce mcreases for farmers. This in turn might affect the relative costs and
benefits of different farming strategies, with implications for forest cover. Therefore, the three
scales are: 1) user scale (that of the household or other resource-user); 2) community or regional
scale; and 3) national and international scale.
A more explicit illustration of the framework just described is presented in Table 2-1, with
particular reference to deforestation linked to the activities of farm households. It lists the causes
of tropical deforestation in seemingly appropriate categories of directness and scale. In some cases
a particular indirect or underlying cause may fall into several scale categories simultaneously, but
for the purposes of this analysis I have sought to list each cause under the scale category into
which it most commonly falls.
The following sub-sections discuss these direct and indirect causes, and underlying factors
in greater detail. In relation to each discussion I try to identify the scale or scales at which these
causes and factors manifest themselves and highlight the issues on which there appears to be
debate or disagreement. In terms of the indirect and underlying causes of deforestation that operate
at the narrow level of the land user. that, is at the farm level, many of these are intimately tied to

22
the issue of agricultural intensification. In some cases, then, they are discussed more fully in the
next section of this chapter, which addresses that topic.
Table 2-1 - Causes of Tropical Deforestation and the Scales at Which They Operate
Resource User Scale
Community/Regional
Scale
National/International Scale
Direct
Causes
-logging
-fuelwood
collection
-agricultural expansion
Indirect
Factors
-agricultural strategy
-farm-gate prices
-available technology
-household land
availability and tenure
-other resource
endowment
-access to frontier regions
(e.g. road construction)
-market conditions and
infrastructure
-land tenure insecurity
-population growth
-frontier colonization
policies/programs
Underlying
Factors
-poverty
-farmer experience and
education
-household needs and
wants
-economic inequality
-marginalization
-unemployment
-agricultural
underdevelopment
-land hunger and
concentration
-agriculture and land policy
-neglect of the
peasant/smallholder economy
-international trade and
economic policy
-national economic policy'
-national debt
Direct Causes of Deforestation and the Importance of Scale in Assessing Impact
The proximate or direct causes of forest clearing are relatively few in number, simply
because there are only so many activities or purposes for which forest vegetation must be cleared.
These include: 1) logging; 2) fuelwood collection; 3) agricultural expansion (including ranching);
4) urban expansion; and 5) other activities requiring forest displacement, such as mining and oil
drilling.
Through most of these activities the degree to which natural trees and other forest
vegetation are displaced may vary. Logging and fuelwood collection, for example, may involve
only selective harvesting, or may be oriented toward more complete removal of biomass.

23
Similarly, agricultural activity may have a greater or lesser displacement impact on trees,
depending on the agricultural system involved. For example, traditional, extensive shifting
cultivation has minimal impact on the immediate forest ecosystem over the long run, because it
generates only small disturbances to the soil and vegetation, from which the system can easily
regenerate (Warner 1991; Conklin 1957). A number of other agroforestry systems, such as those
aimed at coffee or cacao production, also maintain a substantial presence of natural or planted
trees (Nair 1993; Arnold and Devvees 1995). Even urban development can vary in the degree to
which it displaces natural forest, depending on the land use densities involved . Low density
suburban development can make it possible to retain patches of forest as part of the landscape.
These examples might lead to the conclusion that low intensity shifting cultivation and
suburban development are ideal land uses from the standpoint of forest conservation. In fact, such
a conclusion can be evaluated only through a more explicit consideration of the scale of analysis.
At the immediate local scale, a suburban area may present a pleasant, well-forested environment
that surely comprises better wildlife habitat than a high density urban environment. Similarly, at a
local level the forest environment is better conserved through extensive shifting cultivation or tree-
shaded coffee systems than through more intensive, multicropping systems.
However, if a larger scale of analysis is considered the desirability of such extensive land
use patterns may be called into question The reason for this is simply that on a per unit area
basis, fewer people can be supported or accommodated through extensive agriculture or suburban-
style development than through more intensive land uses. Therefore, to support a given number of
people, more space must be utilized, with graver overall consequences for the displacement of
forest or other natural areas In many if not most circumstances, particularly where population is
relatively high and grow ing, it will be preferable from a forest conservation standpoint to seek land
use efficiency through more intensive agriculture or higher density urban development. These will

24
concentrate human impacts in particular areas, and thereby make it possible to conserve forest, in
large reserves and/or in smaller patches.
Of course, in pursuing these more intensive land use patterns, a balance must be struck
among competing objectives. In relation to agriculture this would mean that intensification should
not be pursued at all cost. For example, organic and agroecological approaches to intensification,
through multicropping, agroforestry, green manures, and the like should be favored over
agrochemical approaches, given the risks they carry' (NRC 1993; Tivy 1990). A balanced
approach to land use will help foster a patchwork or mosaic landscape of diverse cover types and
habitats, while accommodating the needs and wants of society. Such a landscape, comprised of a
mix of land uses, has been viewed as optimal from the perspective of biodiversity conservation
(NRC 1993. Vandermeer 1996; Srivastava. Smith, and Fomo 1996; Forman 1990; Gulinck 1986).
Indirect Causes of Deforestation
This section addresses the indirect causes of deforestation and the main emphasis is on
those that operate at the community/regional scale and the national scale. These include population
growth, roads (frontier access), frontier colonization, market conditions and infrastructure, and
tenure insecurity . Other indirect factors that operate at the level of the land user, such as
agricultural strategy' and resource endowment, are reviewed in the section on agricultural
intensification.
Population growth is an oft-cited cause of deforestation (Sambrook, Pigozzi, and Thomas
1999; Zunck 1995; Bowonder 1985-86; Allen and Barnes 1985; Eckholm 1976), just as it is in
relation to land degradation. But again, many of these arguments are simplistic, in that they
commonly fail to recognize the array of other factors that will determine whether population
density or growth are in fact a concern in a given region. As argued very' convincingly by

25
Bilsborrow (1987), the pursuit of activities that involve tree clearing is just one option open to
people when faced with population pressure on resources (PPR). PPR is only partly related to
population growth. It may not be a problem if the society and economy involved are structured to
accommodate, if not benefit from, the growing numbers (Blaikie and Brookfield 1987; Tifien and
Mortimer 1992; Tiffen. Mortimer, and Gichuki 1994).
Numerous studies comparing regions and countries have found no relationship between
population density and the loss of forest cover (Harrison 1991; Burgess 1991; Kummer 1993).
With just 18 person per knr. Brazil's population density is less than one-tenth that of The
Philippines, with a density of 220 persons per knr. yet its deforestation rate is higher (Kummer
1993: 148). In the Philippines deforestation is currently occurring most rapidly in the areas with
the lowest population densities (Ibid: 136).
As pointed out by Barraclough and Ghimire (1990), simplistic population-related
explanations of deforestation distract attention from other factors that might be more effectively
addressed. But this may in fact be convenient for governments because it enables them to shift the
blame for deforestation and other forms of resource degradation on the peasantry. They can
appear helpless in the face of hordes they cannot control (Domer and Thiesenhusen 1992). thereby
limiting pressure to implement difficult political measures that might actually reduce deforestation,
such as land reform or fundamental changes in agricultural or trade policy.
In a context of limited or poorly distributed agricultural land, and limited income
opportunities outside of agriculture, population growth forces households and communities to
respond in other ways, sometimes simultaneously. As per Bilsborrow (1987), these may include:
1) “economic'’ responses, such as agricultural intensification; 2) “demographic-economic”
responses, such as rural out-migration, to urban areas, to other rural areas (such as frontiers), or
even other countries; or 3) "demographic” responses, such as celibacy and use of contraception

26
Another possible response to PPR, not explicitly considered in Billsborrow’s model, is rebellion or
the pursuit of drastic political change; for several decades in latter part of the 20th century this has
been pursued by the Guatemalan people.
The situation m Petén and the region's deforestation issues, stem from the second category
of responses and more specifically from frontier colonization. Colonization tends to be a rather
obvious, indirect cause of deforestation, because it generally involves activities, such as agriculture
and ranching, which invariably require the displacement of trees, to greater or lesser degrees. In
cases such as Guatemala's, where underlying ‘push factors’ such as land hunger, weak economies,
and high unemployment prevail in densely populated areas of a country or region, the option of
frontier colonization will prove to be very attractive to large numbers of people. This is
particularly true if migration is encouraged through the construction of access roads or formal
settlement schemes (Smith 1982; Schwartz 1990; Rudel 1983). Since about the 1940s dominant
political interests in Central America have looked upon frontier colonization as a convenient way of
reducing pressures for land reform (Jones 1990).
A large body of literature has emerged on frontier colonization, both spontaneous and
planned, and on the factors that condition land use practices and patterns in frontier areas (Jones
1990; Smith 1982; Schmink and Wood 1992; Pichón 1997; Schwartz 1990; Rudell993; Moran
1993; Ozorio de Almeida 1992 ). These factors relate to tenure insecurity, poor market conditions
and infrastructure, lack of technical assistance, and the abundance of land available to colonist
farmers, at least in the early phases of settlement. Most of these factors are discussed in further
detail in the section below on agricultural intensification and change. However, in the remainder of
this section I will cover some dimensions of the relationship between market conditions and
deforestation, and of the issue of insecure tenure in frontier regions.

27
In frontier regions market development is closely associated with road construction. The
latter has received considerable attention in the literature on colonization because of its link to
deforestation. Most writers and studies have suggested, often simplistically, that road building
causes deforestation (Stearman 1983; Wennergren and Whitaker 1976; Schneider 1994; Sader et
al. 1997). And certainly it appears quite clear from the evidence, and intuitive, that roads, such as
logging roads, which help open up an area to settlement, obviously lead to deforestation through
agricultural expansion and other human activities (Rudel 1989). However, the presence or
development of roads in areas that have been settled for some time and in which tenure is
reasonably secure (see below) may not lead to continued deforestation. Rummer (1993: 135)
found that over time road density declined in importance as a cause of forest clearing in the
Philippines. In part, this can be attributed simply to a reduction in the area of forest, but
nevertheless, the author maintains that in general the road-deforestation link is not as clear as is
commonly assumed.
Moran (1996) suggests, albeit without providing evidence, that the improvement of road
networks in areas already opened up may in fact have a positive impact on forest protection and on
land stewardship. This may well be the case because with better access to market and to inputs,
farmers may be in a better position to intensify and diversify production, and thereby conserve or
even enlarge the forested areas on their parcels Pichón (1996a: 364) points out that while road
networks that expand into forested areas will erode incentives for sustainable resource use, “an
improved network of farm-to-market roads is essential for almost any other rural development
effort to succeed" and can help “intensify the use of existing accessible land. . .” This in turn would
make it possible for farmers or communities to conserve forest on their land.
A change in market conditions, whether road-related or not. has been found to have an
effect on deforestation rates, largely because of its impact on agricultural intensity and the amount

28
of space a farmer requires to meet his needs and wants. In Uganda, significant declines in major
cash crops in the 1970s and 1980s reportedly coincided with agricultural expansion, at the expense
of much forest land, because farmers compensated for the loss in income by planting other crops
that yield less income per unit area (Hamilton 1984). Kummer (1993: 89) cites various studies
that show ed that the commercialization of agriculture in remote areas of The Phillippines generated
a transition from shifting cultivation to more intensive systems. Raintree and Warner (1986) also
describe cases in Southeast Asia and Africa where a switch has occurred from subsistence level
shifting cultivation to commercial orchard or smallholder production of fruits, cacao and other
products. Roche (1988) maintains that the solution to land degradation in the uplands of Java is
the spread of cash crops to these areas and better economic integration of the region into the
national economy As noted earlier, improved feeder roads may be an important component of
regional economic integration and market improvement.
Most, but not all. of the literature on colonization reveals that efforts to plan and manage
land settlement in a rational manner have met with limited success (Uhlig 1988; Manshard and
Morgan 1988). In general, there are relatively few examples of projects that support small farmers
in ways that help bring them out of poverty and reduce their pressure on forest. However, almost
all writers agree over the need for support services for settlers in frontier regions, such as
extension, credit, land titling and registration, and marketing (Jones 1990; Maos 1984; Collins
1986; Manshard and Morgan 1988; Rudel 1993).
However, the impact of improved agricultural market conditions on forests, or more
specifically, on the farmland-forest interface, depends on the crop types and technologies that are
stimulated through the change in market conditions If the crop or technology' in question is labor
intensive per unit area, its stimulation likely will be positive from the perspective of conservation
Coca production in the piedmont areas of the Andes, for example, and the use of green manure

29
systems, reportedly have helped limit deforestation at the farm or regional level. On the other
hand, technologies that are labor saving, and typically capital intensive, such as tractors, are likely
to promote forest clearing. They increase returns to labor per unit area and thus provide an
incentive to expand production. They also tend to expel labor, which could lead to frontier
migration (Angelsen and Kaimowitz 1999).
Tenure insecurity is commonly cited as a key indirect cause of deforestation (Southgate
and Pearce 1988: Southgate and Whitaker 1992). One reason for this, it is claimed, is that farmers
feel compelled to clearly demonstrate to others that they have claimed a particular site or parcel.
However, in Peten and probably most other frontier zones, such insecurity' is a temporary condition
because informal social controls develop among farmers and communities that limit access to
claimed property , including their forested sections. As Rudel (1993: 192) points out. “in many
ram-forest regions open access is a transient condition. It begms when road building crews open
up areas for exploitation, and it ends when claimants partition an area.” So long as members of the
elite do not develop too strong an interest in controlling land and resources in frontier areas, as they
did in southern Pará. Brazil, for example (Schmink and Wood 1992: 64. 341-42). smallholders will
feel reasonably secure agamst expropriation by speculators or wealthy landowners. They also will
feel less compelled to wastefully clear every inch of their parcels in a desperate attempt to
strengthen their claims.
Underlying Factors
A fundamental underlying cause of deforestation at the national scale is land concentration,
particularly in Latin America (Bilsborrow’ 1987. Southgate and Basterrechea 1992). This has
forced a growing number of fanners to seek land in marginal frontiers, such as Petén. If
meaningful land reform programs were implemented, frontier migration likely would not be as

30
prominent. But in most of Central America, the preferred strategy by government has been the
promotion of colonization, with vary ing degrees of support (Jones 1990).
The effects of land scarcity are compounded in contexts where smallholder agriculture and
rural development are poorly supported and where economic alternatives for rural households are
limited (Domer and Thiesenhusen 1992). Therefore, numerous authors call for more research on
ways to intensify and support agriculture through low mput approaches (NRC 1993; Sanchez
1994; Brady 1996; Harwood 1996; Hatfield and Karlen 1994; Johnson and Lewis 1995). In an
interesting comparative study of Costa Rica and Nicaragua, Vandermeer (1996) shows how
policies and programs aimed directly at supporting small farmers in Nicaragua during the 1980s
served to significantly reduce pressure on forested regions When this policy framework was
dramatically altered in 1990. it led to a substantial increase in pressure on the country 's forest
Unfortunately, in many countries of the Third World, particularly in Latin America,
agricultural and land policy has served to marginalize and displace peasants, rather than help them,
contributing further to their migration to frontier regions (Barraclough and Ghirmre 1990). Under
the dominant political economic system in Central America the main emphasis has been on
promoting large scale, commercial, export agriculture rather than the smallholder sector that is
oriented toward basic food and income security. The expansion of cattle ranching1 and plantation-
based export crop agriculture, and the allocation of the most favorable land to these activities, have
marginalized a large segment of the population that simply is unable to participate in these
activities. The resulting dislocation and social inequalities have exacerbated pressure on forested
areas (Williams 1986; Stonich and Dewalt 1996). An emphasis on export crops does not
‘The Cattle industry in Central America experienced a boom in the 1960s and 1970s, largely in response
to demand in foreign markets (Utting 1991; Partridge 1984). However, the industry now is oriented
toward meeting local demand, which has increased greatly in recent decades. In Guatemala, beef exports
amounted to just US$300,000 in 1997 (CEPAL 1998).

31
invariably displace small farmers and rural labor (Carter et al. 1996), but in most cases in Central
America, particularly where a large-scale plantation emphasis has predominated, these have been
the effects.
The displacement and marginalization of rural people can lead to severe socioeconomic
and environmental unpacts if few jobs are available outside of agriculture, in the urban and
industrial sectors. In general, we can conclude that the nature and extent of environmental and
social impact from economic change is a function of the political economic structure of the country
or region in question. If this structure marginalizes or displaces people and offers them few or no
economic alternatives, they will be forced to survive by reiving on forest frontiers or other marginal
lands. This is a basic argument of the political ecologists, who see inappropriate development
policies or political economic structures as a major cause of social inequities that in turn lead to
deforestation and other forms of resource abuse (Blaikie and Brookfield 1987; Blaikie 1988;
Storuch and Dewalt 1996; Vandermeer 1996; Schmink and Wood 1987; Redclift 1987; Zimmerer
1993).
Many political ecologists thus call for policies and programs that will foster a
socioeconomic system in which excessive pressure on forests will not arise in the first place.
Unfortunately, the development of such a system faces very' difficult challenges. To begm. as
noted by Kummer (1993: 139), “Governments in many countries do not represent the public;
rather, they represent elites.” Policies that would help the masses are not of high priority.
Furthermore, many of the structural, underlying socioeconomic forces that influence pressure on
forests and other natural resources have their roots in complex international phenomena. Examples
include international markets (Utting 1991), external debt (Stonich and Dewalt 1996), and more
broadly, structural adjustment (Reed 1992). In general, the globalization of industrial and
economic activity', and free trade, have rapidly placed many countries into a situation where they

32
must compete more intensely with each other to attract sources of employment and income (Vilas
1996). This generates pressure to limit the costs and restrictions imposed on industrial companies
or agribusiness, and in general, to reduce governmental “interference.” Governments thus have
become increasingly constrained in their abilities to regulate activities and prevent destructive
practices, and to maintain policies aimed at limiting economic marginalization and poverty (Blaikie
and Brookfield 1987; Garcia Bamos and Garcia Barrios 1990; Boron 1996; Vilas 1996; Cook and
Kirkpatrick 1997).
Perspectives on Agricultural Intensification and Change
Agricultural intensification is a form of technological change. According to Turner and
Brush (1987) such change can be viewed as intensification if it entails greater use of factor inputs
per unit area. However, other definitions of intensification emphasize outputs, rather than inputs,
as the defining variable. Netting (1993: 262) writes that intensification is “a process of increasing
the utilization or productivity of land currently under production, and it contrasts with expansion,
that is, the extension of land under cultivation.” Brookfield (1993: 28) describes it as, “in relation
to constant land, the substitution of labour, capital or technology for land, in any combination, so
as to obtain higher long-term production from the same area.” Thus we see that definitions of
intensification relate to increasing yield and productivity over time through increases in inputs of
one form or another.
The hypotheses presented in Chapter 4 address the factors and circumstances that
influence agricultural intensity in the buffer zone of the Maya Biosphere Reserve. This section
summarizes just some of the copious literature and theory relevant to this topic, particularly as it
pertains to the unique conditions found in frontier regions. Following from the approach described
earlier in the chapter, the discussion is divided into two sections based on scale. The first sub-

33
section looks at broader scale regional (or sub-regional) factors such as population density and
market influence. The second sub-section covers narrower features of the farm household that
influence agricultural change and intensity.2
Regional Scale Factors
Until Boserup (1965) wrote her classic work, it was widely assumed that subsistence-
oriented farmers automatically benefit from techniques that serve to intensify agriculture, i.e.
produce more per unit area over time. Even today, most resource development models assume that
farmers seek to maximize rents from a given unit of land (Southgate and Pearce 1988). As noted
by Netting (1993), conventional economic wisdom also posited that agricultural change is a
consequence of scientific and technological innovation, and that farmers improve their welfare by
“progressing" through an evolutionary sequence of reliance on simple hand tools, followed by
ammal traction, and eventually more mechanized systems involving ever greater energy
applications (cf. Rostow 1960).
Such a modernization-theory orientation (cf. Harrison 1988). and various conventional
economic assumptions implicit in these “technology themes” (Turner and Brush 1987), were
effectively challenged by Boserup (1965), who suggested that in the absence of land or other
resource scarcity, farmers do not necessarily intensify’, mainly because the requisite technologies
and practices involve more work. Boserup’s (1965) premise was that subsistence farmers place
primary emphasis on labor efficiency, and they choose an agricultural strategy, and a degree of
intensity, that meet their needs with the least amount of personal effort. Thus, intensification and
Regional scale and farm/household scale factors may be closely related. For example, in areas recently
colonized farm households have limited experience with local conditions. Similarly, in sub-regions close to
urban centers, off-farm income sources may be more common. And market access will vary both between and
within sub-regions, for example, based on distance between the farm and a road.

34
agricultural change occur principally out of need - the need to grow more food per unit area if
population pressure rises sufficiently and if other possible responses, such as colonizing virgin
lands, cannot be utilized.
Another assumption of the Boserupian perspective is that technological limits of a
particular farming system are not necessarily being reached at any given time. Rather, it is posited
that production levels will respond to changes in inputs of labor and technology. But again, this
will occur at a cost of lower marginal returns to labor. Thus, farmers seek to achieve a culturally
defined or determined output level at least effort and cost, and thus at the lowest possible level of
intensity.
The Boserupian notion that population growth is the independent variable driving
agricultural intensification has been controversial to some. Two main reasons for this are outlined
by Gngg (1980), both of which relate to assumptions associated with the technology themes
described above. The first reason is the widespread assumption that farmers are fully
commercialized, and that their decisions are oriented toward profit maximization. In reality , the
principal aim of most farmers of the Third World is to meet family consumption requirements
(Gngg 1980).
The second reason why population has been rejected as the main independent variable
generating intensification is the widespread Malthusian assumption that population growth is
possible only as a result of technological changes which serve to increase human earning capacity
In other words, population growth is seen as a function of agricultural change. However, there is
convincing evidence that this is an invalid assumption based on the historical record of rapid
population increases in Europe as well as the Third World. Rather, the most important cause,
independent of agricultural change, has been improvements in sanitation and medicine that served
to reduce death rates (Gngg 1980).

35
Evidence for a positive relationship between population density and agricultural intensity
emerged initially through field observation, by Boserup (1965) and subsequent writers (Clarke
1966; Netting 1969; Vermeer 1970), but also through earlier studies by Cook (1916), Palerm
(1955). and Brookfield (1962). More recent analyses have been more systematic, testing and
determining a statistically significant relationship between population density and agricultural
intensity (e g. Boserup 1981; Brown and Podelofsky 1976; Turner et al. 1977).
One of the outcomes of this line of research has been a better understanding of why
subsistence cultivators and other small farmers commonly reject the advice of well-meaning
extensionists. This is particularly true in frontier areas with little aggregate land scarcity. Shifting
or swidden cultivation has been the main form of agricultural land use in thinly populated tropical
lowlands for hundreds, if not thousands of years. It is widely recognized to be an economically
rational and ecologically viable system if fallow periods are long enough to ensure soil fertility
restoration over time (Blaikie and Brookfield 1987; FAO 1984; Raintree and Warner 1986).
Where there is an abundance of land, but a relative shortage of labor and capital, as in many
frontier regions, it is rational for a farmer to substitute land for labor and capital. Such a
substitution, and its rationale, can be explained by induced innovation theory (Binswanger and
Ruttan 1978; Binswanger 1986; Havami and Ruttan 1987) discussed further below. The dominant
land use strategy in a region will provide “maximum returns to the most scarce production factor,
whatever it might be” (Ramtree 1983: 179). In frontiers with limited labor supply, the result is a
land extensive, low technology strategy in which nature, rather than human and capital inputs, is
relied upon to restore the fertility' of the land through vegetative regrowth. Hence, unless the need
arises, it would appear unwise for a farmer in such an environment to break from relying on nature
to restore fertility.

36
This helps explain why farmers with knowledge of, and experience with, intensive
practices have been known to adopt an extensive agricultural strategy after migrating to sparsely
populated regions. This was observed among German and Italian colonists in southern Brazil
(Boserup 1965, 1981) and in many other frontier areas, including those in Sri Lanka. Vietnam and
Nigeria (Netting 1993). Even in Petén. the vast majority of colonists have experience with
extensive practices in the more densely populated regions of Guatemala from which they came
With the wider availability of modem, purchased inputs, and because of more pervasive
market forces, influences on small farmer strategy have become more complicated in recent
decades (Netting 1993). Market involvement can yield advantages to farmers if the cash that it
brings helps unprove their quality of life. The desire for cash thus may serve as an incentive to
intensify production (Goldman 1993). However, market integration also may foster a need to
intensify, if for example, a farming household becomes dependent on purchased inputs or supplies.
The ongoing rapid integration of peasant farmers into the market economy makes cash security a
more important concern, in part for the purchase of agricultural inputs (Peter Hildebrand, pers
comm.. April 1996).
In a study of six villages in Bangladesh. Ali and Turner (1989) found that market activity
explained 19% of the variance in agricultural intensity, while almost 27% was accounted for by
population density. In the highlands of western Guatemala Smith (1975) found, as per von Thunen
(1966) threory, that distance from a regional marketing center accounted for 40% of the variance
m production intensity.
However, rural populations tend to be denser nearer towns and cities, or along
transportation arteries that facilitate access to and from these market centers. Thus, as noted by
Netting (1993: 291), "Boserup's population density' and von Thunen’s market zonation tend to
coincide” insofar as the influences on agricultural intensity of population density and markets are

37
similar. Smith (1975: 33) writes that “both theories would adequately predict production
intensity .” With such a coincidence between the two factors it begs the question of whether market
influence, in and of itself, stimulates agricultural intensification. Goldman and Smith (1995) and
Netting (1993) provide evidence that it does, citing cases from India and Nigeria m the 20th
century. In the 16th century, both the south and north part of the province of Fujian (Fukien),
China had similar population densities and environmental conditions, and similar access to
improved seed varieties and other new technologies. But intensification occurred only in the south,
because proximity to coastal ports and inexpensive river transport made intensification and
diversification profitable to peasants (Rawski 1972).
Turner and Brush (1987) cite as “demand themes” those explanations of farming system
change that are rooted in farmer needs and objectives. These contrast with the technology themes
discussed earlier which see technological change as the driver (independent variable) of changes in
agriculture (the dependent variable). The demand themes traditionally could be divided into two
categories - consumption demand and commodity demand - and adherents of each have battled it
out in the literature over the degree to which agricultural change is a response to subsistence need
versus market signals However, since the late 1980s, a synthesis of these approaches seemingly
has been emerging and is being referred to as “modified consumption demand” (Turner and Brush
1987) or “induced intensification theory ” (Kates et al 1993; Turner and Ali 1996).
This more contemporary perspective recognizes that two types of production strategies,
namely subsistence/consumption oriented and commodity oriented, may prevail on a single farm.
The concept of the “dual farmer” has thus emerged (Collinson 1972; Ortiz 1973), together with a
realization that different influences on a farm or farmer may operate and be responded to
simultaneously - risk avoidance in the case of subsistence production, and risk-taking in the case of
commodity production Of course, among poorer farmers the risk-avoidance or security concerns

38
related to subsistence production may predominate. Collinson (1972. 33) writes that “the
frustration of government-directed, market-onented development efforts by the dominance of
nonmarket priorities has generated views of peasant irrationality and has brought disillusions with
small farm improvements as an instrument for development."
Some writers distinguish between the types of changes made at the farm level in response
to consumption needs vs. market objectives. Concurrently they seemingly accept that technological
change may be a driving force. This perhaps can be perceived as a budding synthesis of the
demand and technology themes. Simon (1981). for example, distinguishes between “population
push” types of changes that are adopted out of necessity , and “invention pull” innovations that
increase production with no or little labor increase. Brookfield (1984) draws a similar distinction.
He uses the term “innovation” for adoption of new technologies or cultivars that increase the
productivity of labor, but restricts the word “intensification” to changes that decrease labor
productivity and are made out of necessity.
In general, however, the literature does not provide compelling evidence that the two types
of production and demand can really be sharply distinguished in all cases. In many regions,
including Petén. most farmers sell what is not needed for family consumption. Food crops, rather
than “commodities” are the principal items sold. Therefore, it is questionable whether a
meaningful distinction can be drawn between the two types of production, and in the sources
(endogenous vs. exogenous) of technologies or mechanisms used for increasing yield.
Furthermore, the small amount of cash earned by most farmers in Petén and many other regions
probably should not be perceived as distinct from subsistence. It rarely is used for the purchase of
luxuries, but rather for very basic items necessary for survival. So is there really a distinction
between subsistence and commodity' production types and in the sources of the technologies that

39
influence them? Probably not everywhere. In any case, more work on this issue may be
warranted, at least for theoretical clarification purposes.
Farm/Household Scale Factors
By examining farm-to-farm differences in the availability of productive resources one can
better understand the variation of responses at the farm level to broader scale influences on an
entire community (or sub-region). As noted by Long (1992: 27), who stresses the importance of
detailed community level analysis in understanding social change, “different social forms develop
in the same or similar structural circumstances.”
While population density and market access, for example, are generally similar for an
entire community, household resources for production may reveal distinct inter-household variation
(Barlett 1982; Schelhas 1996). with implications for the need for. and benefits or disbenefits
achieved through, intensification. Small farmers can be perceived as “constrained utility
maximizers” (Bern 1980) who try to organize their activities to maximize overall utility , subject to
prevailing constraints in their access to a) productive resources of land, labor and capital; b)
technical knowledge; and c) market opportunities. Of course, a peasant family’s endowment of
productive resources will vary over time (Chayanov 1966).
As emphasized by induced innovation theory (Binswanger and Ruttan 1978; Hayami and
Ruttan 1987; Binswanger 1986), strategies and technologies employed by farmers will be
determined by the relative scarcities of the production factors they have at their disposal. For
farmers with little land but much labor, one can assume that land-saving technologies will be
preferred. On the other hand, among farmers with large properties and limited labor, reliance on
labor-saving technologies, such as tractors and herbicides, will be more likely. As noted by

Binswanger (1986), "the payoffs to different types of technical changes are dependent on the
relative scarcities of the factors which are saved by the technical change.”
Where land is abundant, as it tends to be in frontier regions, there will be little demand for
yield-increasing innov ations. This will become clear if an appropriate method is used for
measuring total factor productivity, i.e. one that recognizes land as a variable rather than fixed
input. According to Binswanger (1986) the best measure is total cost reduction per unit of output
because it implicitly considers the costs of various inputs and maximizes to the most costly input
variable.
Induced innovation theory is a useful analytical framework and has been helpful in
explaining contrasting agricultural development patterns in various countries and regions (Ruttan
1984; Binswanger and Ruttan 1978; Goldman 1993). It reveals that innovations are not adopted
similarly in all regions simply' because the same input savings are not as important everywhere
(Binswanger 1986). It also provides a framework for predicting the types of innovations likely to
be used in particular settings based on whether they are yield-increasing (e g. fertilizers. HYVs,
and pesticides), labor-saving (e g. tractors and herbicides), or quality-enhancing. Binswanger
(1986) notes that all of these innovations also contribute to increasing yield and thus to land use
intensification, but in some cases, e g. herbicide, this is not its primary function and its impact in
this regard is comparatively low. If the benefit of quality-enhancing innovations is “the extra value
of the crop” (Binsw anger 1986). this also constitute higher yield, of monetary output - as long as
production rates per unit output (by weight or volume) are not lowered through the quality
enhancement.
In any case, induced innovation theory has its limitations. First, there is an implicit
assumption that output levels associated with a particular technology can be easily estimated. In
many cases, particularly in frontier regions, comparing technologies on the basis of total factor

41
costs associated with a particular output level is fraught with tremendous uncertainty. Therefore,
the issues of risk, and varying abilities to afford risk, come into play (see below).
Of particular relevance to frontier regions is Goldman's (1993) point that the theory'
overemphasizes technology demand but neglects the issue of technology supply. This of course
can have an important bearing on whether use of a technology is even an option for farmers in an
area, and at what cost In general, induced innovation theory' is primarily focused on constraints
rather than opportunities. Opportunities provided by market conditions and environmental
conditions, for example, have received less attention (Goldman 1993), except perhaps in Pingali.
Bigot, and Binswanger (1987). as have the influence of off-farm opportunities.
These limitations stem from the fact that induced innovation theory relates primarily to
conditions at a national or even larger scale, and thus differences that emerge at lower scales go
unrecognized. This is true not only in regard to variation among regions, areas, and communities,
but also to inter-household differences. Thus although land in frontier regions generally is
abundant and property sizes are large, one can also find many farmers with little or no land of their
own. The amount of land relative to the number of consumers and producers m a household often
has a profound influence on agricultural strategy and the level of agricultural intensity (Chavanov
1966; Boserup 1965)
It also must be recognized that a complete absence of land scarcity is rare in frontier
regions, except perhaps at the earliest phases of settlement. Even Binswanger (1986) notes that
“long before the land frontier closes, inffamarginal land scarcities arise.” A decision to increase
production will have to compare expansion and thus, forest clearing, with other options through
which production can be increased (Larson 1991), such as those aimed at intensification.
However, the literature on frontiers generally fails to recognize that even though land is a variable
input (like labor or chemicals), other factors apart from immediate economic concerns have a

42
bearing on how much of it the fanner wishes to use. Very rarely is it explicitly mentioned that the
decision to clear forest may be weighed against the perceived benefits of keeping that forest intact.
Oddly enough, almost all the literature on deforestation related to agriculture seemingly assumes
that farmers have no incentive for, or interest in, conserving forest on their parcels. But as
discussed further in the concluding chapters, my research suggests that this is not the case, as does
the work of Schelhas (1996). Most farmers in Petén who have a minimum degree of land tenure
security want to conserve forest on their parcels, but they recognize that circumstances sometimes
compel them to compromise on this objective.
This likely is particularly true among farmers who live at a subsistence level, clearly the
majority' in Petén. and whose activities are aimed principally at household food security. Based on
modelling work done in relation to subsistence oriented producers, Kaimowitz and Angelsen (1998:
22) point out that "farmers expand the amount of land they farm until they can produce enough
food to meet their subsistence target If they become more productive or receive higher prices for
their produce they need less land to meet that target and hence clear less forest.”
Biophysical influences on land quality are commonly cited as significant constraints to
intensive agriculture in most areas of the humid tropics, with implications for the sustainability of
such activity (Ledec 1992: Weischet and Caviedes 1993). However, Boserup (1965; 1981) rejects
the notion that natural soil fertility or other environmental factors effectively limit human
occupation and utilization of a given region. Schelhas (1996) also maintains that environmental
factors have not been the principal constraint to intensive agriculture in the tropics; the evidence in
recent years suggests other factors as being more relevant determinants
To begin, there is archaeological evidence of high pre-Columbian population densities in
much of tropical America, including Petén, where large urban populations during the Classical
Maya period were supported by intensive agriculture in the surrounding area (Rice 1991). Second.

43
the role of government policies and frontier conditions in supporting extensive and often destructive
land use practices have been well documented for regions such as Amazonia (Browder 1988; Hecht
1985; Moran 1988), and the lowlands of Central America (Utting 1991), including Petén
(Schwartz 1990, 1995). Third, research on improved production systems for tropical soils has
demonstrated some promising results (Sanchez et al. 1982; Rao et al. 1993). Smith (1992)
describes an array of positive trends in Amazonia involving perennial-based cropping systems and
improved, more intensive pasture management.
Another factor to bear in mind is that the quality of an agricultural environment is as much
a product of its use as it is of “raw nature” (Kates et al. 1993). Terraces on steep slopes, raised
fields in wetland areas, irrigation systems in arid zones, all are examples in this regard. Thus a
more important question than the influence of the environment on agriculture may be why some
human groups have reshaped their environments while others have not (Blaikie and Brookfield
1987).
Nevertheless, soil and other environmental factors cannot be entirely disregarded. While
they rarely place severe limits on the ability to intensify they surely influence how intensification
can be pursued (Goldman 1993) and the degree of difficulty and effort involved. Various
investigators have shown that the relationship between agricultural intensity and population density
is strongest where land quality constraints are moderate (Brookfield 1972, 1984; Turner et al
1977).
In regards to household labor supply, the work of Chayanov (1966) is relevant. Chayanov
(1966) was one of the first to formulate theory on peasant behavior, based on his studies of farmers
in Russia between 1870 and 1920. His "theory' of peasant behaviour” centered largely on the
notion of a culturally determined standard of living. Production increases beyond this point yielded

44
lower marginal returns to labor and increasing “drudgery " and hence, were unlikely to be pursued.3
Production changes thus occurred out of need due to changes in the size of the production unit, i .e.
family size, and the ratio of producers to consumers within the household These factors influence
the required labor output per producer.
Chayanov's theory has been criticized for over-emphasizing the economic effects of
household demographics. Critics claim that class differences among farm families, and the social
and economic relations between farmers and landlords, have a stronger effect on intra-community
variations in household production. Nevertheless, an analysis of Chayanov’s hypotheses in various
societies, both stratified and un-stratified. including cases where labor is provided bv family
members only and is hired, reveals that household composition and labor supply considerably
influences family farm production (Chibnik 1984).
Another factor to consider in relation to agricultural intensity is off-farm employment. The
availability of employment in industry, tourism, urban services, or commercial agriculture, for
example, can help deflate pressure to intensify smallholder agriculture. On the other hand, the cash
generated through off-farm work may enable farmers to invest in intensification measures that will
increase farm income Schelhas (1996) reviews the reasons why farmers engage in off-farm
employment in the Atlantic Lowlands of Costa Rica; these include insufficient land or farm
development (e g. in the case of new' settlers), need for cash for farm investments, better returns
and other benefits through wage labor, and less risk.
If a farm household has little land or other productive resources, off-farm employment may
be necessary for survival But even where sufficient land and other requisite resources are
available to meet a family’s needs exclusively through farming it may be optimal to work off-farm
3Boserup (1965) was unfamiliar with Chayanov's work when she wrote her book but arrived at similar
conclusions regarding the labor costs associated with intensify ing production.

45
rather than invest time and energy to agricultural production. In general, the comparative
feasibility of optmg for off-farm employment as a form of economic diversification will depend on
the resources available to a farmer for improving his or her farming operation (Kates et al. 1993),
but also on market conditions, as these will greatly affect the feasibility of agriculture as an
economic alternative.
Another issue related to household resource endowment is the ability to afford the risks
associated with agricultural innovations and investments or other changes to improve livelihood
(Brookfield 1984). A pilot study I conducted in Coto Brus. Costa Rica (Shriar 1997) suggested
that farmers' likelihood of experimenting with alley cropping to increase yields in traditional
covered bean (frijol tapado) systems depended largely on their ability to afford the risks of altering
their prevailing strategy and land use allocations.
Tenure insecurity' commonly is cited as a key indirect cause of extensive land use and
deforestation (Southgate and Pearce 1988; Southgate and Whitaker 1992). The situations of open
access that characterize most frontier situations commonly lead to haphazard exploitation and poor
stewardship of the land (Bromley 1991; Southgate 1990).
Lack of secure title makes it almost impossible to get a loan for long-term investments in a
property , such as for soil conservation, productivity' improvements, or to acquire perennial crops
that could be used, say. for agroforestry schemes. Rather, it reportedly serves to encourage
extensive land use activities that require little operational capital, such as shifting cultivation and
cattle raising (Utting 1991). Iam not sure I agree that cattle ranching requires little operational
capital, at least from a farmer's perspective. In Petén, it is precisely the costs of installing fencing,
digging wells, and purchasing animals that prevents all but a small minority of farmers from
engaging in ranching.

46
In any event, the importance of closed access, legal tenure, and particularly its impact on
farmer strategy and motivation may be overstated. As Rudel (1995) points out, these “legal
centrist" arguments assume that only governments can limit access to forests. They overlook the
existence of informal social controls that serve this function. There is considerable evidence for the
existence of customary laws among indigenous peoples which, for example, influence the use and
management of common property resources, including forests (Berkes 1991).
But even among non-indigenous people there exist informal social mechanisms that restrict
access to particular areas or resources (McCay and Acheson 1987; Berkes 1991). These controls
also provide for the recognition of, and respect for, the private property rights of individual
community members, including their ability to sell the land using informal instruments (Cruz et al
1992; Reinhardt 1988). It is commonly claimed that in the absence of secure title farmers have
little incentive to manage their land in a sustainable manner because they have no guarantee that
they will reap the future benefits of any investments they make in their properties (Utting 1991;
Southgate and Pearce 1988; Southgate and Basterrechea 1992; Southgate. Sierra and Brown
1991). However, if informal recognition of property rights provides a farmer with a reasonable
degree of certainty that he will continue to maintain usufruct rights over his holding, there is no
reason to assume that his interest in managing the fertility and productivity of his land will be
lessened.
As discussed further in Chapter 3, such a situation clearly prevails in Petén. Land is sold
informally in the absence of legal title, using nothing more than a carta de venta, or bill of sale,
recognized as giving the farmer derechos, or the rights to use and enjoy the fruits of the land.
Furthermore, no discernible difference in land use strategies can be seen between those with, and
those without, formal title to a long-term holding (e g. a non-rental). In fact, even farmers with

47
agarradas (literally, “grabbed” plots) inside Sierra del Lacandon National Park actively seek to
maintain the fertility of their soils, for example through the use of green manure.
If Petén is any indication of the situation that prevails in other frontier regions, the risky
market and production conditions generate little interest for commercial credit, even among those
with secure title. Presumably the fear of facing a burdensome debt that cannot be easily paid off
accounts for this low level of interest. This matter is returned to in the concluding chapters
Poverty is another issue at the household scale that has an important bearing on land
management. It may encourage a preoccupation with meeting short-term objectives or needs and
thereby drive farmers to use unsustainable practices and neglect conservation measures (Domer
and Thiesenhusen 1992; Zimmerer 1993; Blaikie and Brookfield 1987; Ashby 1985; Collins
1987). In explaining land degradation and deforestation in Nepal. Blaikie (1988) places primary
emphasis on peasants' lack of resources which, for example, would enable them to substitute
kerosene for wood fuel and chemical fertilizers for composted forest products. They rely on the
latter to transfer fertility from the forest to the land, but with negative impacts on the forest
because of the extent to which this practice is being carried out.
In the context of the Ecuadorian Amazon. Pichón (1996b) calls for strategies to improve
the ability of smallholders to manage their resources, and suggests that pervasive poverty is a
factor that currently limits their management capability. He writes that "enhancing the quality of
life in the area of settlement can do much to encourage small farmers to intensify land use, seek
alternative sources of off-farm employment, and invest in the long-term conservation and
improvement of their holdings” (Pichón 1996a: 365-366). He maintains that governments can
promote the stabilization of agriculture, and thereby reduce deforestation in frontier regions
through assistance with crop marketing and other services, such as research, extension, and credit,
that improve human capital (Pichón 1996a).

48
The length of time farmers have been in a region will influence their knowledge of local
conditions With more knowledge and experience they may be more likely to intensify, simply
because they presumably know more “tricks” on how to do so in labor efficient ways. Farmers in
new or unfamiliar environments, or using unfamiliar practices, can rarely zero in rapidly on an
optimal strategy (Schultz 1975). “Intensification by means of microenvironmental specialization in
land use, stable fence lines, optimal field-farm location patterns, and regional trade connections
represent the results of experiments and investments over a period of years” (Netting 1993: 267).
In relation to the frontier regions of Amazonia and the Atlantic Lowlands of Costa Rica,
respectively, Smith (1992) and Schelhas (1996) describe various beneficial changes in land use
that have emerged primarily as a result of farmers’ accumulated experience and experimentation
over several decades
Governmental or non-govemmental agencies must recognize the importance of local
knowledge in regards to issues of land management and degradation. However, as noted by Blaikie
and Brookfield (1987: 245) “local knowledge clearly is not enough, otherwise there would be no
problem." Resources to assist farmers or to strengthen local organizations also may be needed,
although the nature of such assistance should be influenced by local knowledge and perspectives.
Summary
The earlier sections of this chapter addressed some key aspects and causes of land
degradation and deforestation These pointed to the need for an approach to the study of these
issues that relies on multi-scale analysis, and particularly one that begins with the perspective and
reality of the land user The discussion also highlighted the importance of sustainable agricultural
intensification as a means to reducing pressure on marginal lands and remaining areas of forest.

49
The above section has covered a number of issues concerning the influences on the degree
of agricultural intensity that prevail on a given farm or within a region. These influences or factors
include population density , market access, land and other household resources, off-farm
employment, and farmer experience and knowledge. The discussion suggests that although various
theoretical models, such as Boserup's theory and induced innovation theory, are helpful in
analyzing agricultural intensification and strategy, they provide only a limited framework because
they neglect an array of factors that may be important in a given context. A more useful approach
in regards to intensification is to examine the factors at the household scale and the community or
regional scale that condition the need for intensification, the advantages or disadvantages involved,
for instance in improving returns to scarce production factors, and the ability' to afford the changes
required to intensify. The hypotheses described in Chapter 4 will be tested empirically to ascertain
the relative importance of these factors in the context of Petén.
Some may consider this a simplistic and overly general approach. However, as discussed
in Chapter 8. given the regional and household variation that exists, it proves to be highly effective
for identifying how these factors actually manifest themselves in a particular context.
Finally , it is worth emphasizing at this juncture that higher intensity agriculture or
agricultural growth in general do not necessarily correspond with improved food availability or
well-being for a population. The literature is replete with cases of stagnation, involution (Geertz
1966), and environmental degradation (Johnson and Lewis 1995). Even if farmers are able to
intensify production, as a result of market pull, appropriate technology change, and sufficient
resources, this may not lead to broad based development. In fact, if the result is intensification in
terms of monetary' output per unit area, this may increase land values and lead to greater land
concentration and thus landlessness. Therefore intensification likely will need to be accompanied

50
by other mechanisms or programs in cases where it is being used as a tool for meeting development
or conservation objectives.

CHAPTER 3
THE REGIONAL GEOGRAPHIC SETTING
Introduction
This chapter presents a brief description of the principal features of Petén’s historical,
physical, and human geography that are relevant to the present study. It gives the reader a basic
understanding of the setting in which the research was conducted, and the context in which the
region’s problems have developed and its solutions must be found. It begins with some historical
and political background, and then discusses salient aspects of the physical and human geography
of the region. Included in the latter is general information on farming systems and land tenure,
particularly within the areas of the buffer zone in which I studied.
Historical and Political Background
In 1697, a century and a half after conquering the rest of Guatemala, the Spanish finally
conquered Tayasal in central Petén, the last independent Maya stronghold in the region. From this
point, up to about 1970, the physical environment of Petén remained relatively unchanged
(Schwartz 1990). In fact, due to a decline in the native population, the area likely became more
forest-covered and pristine (Binford et al. 1987), in a pattern akin to that assumed for other regions
of the Americas (Smith 1999; Denevan 1992).
For the better part of the next three hundred years Petén remained distinctly undisturbed
due to its low population and the lack of natural resources of significant interest to outside interests
(Schwartz 1990). The main activities in the region over the course of this period were smallholder
51

52
agriculture (mostly shifting cultivation), livestock raising for markets in Yucatan, Mexico (cattle,
horses, mules), logging by British and American firms (beginning in the 1800s), and harvesting of
non-timber forest products. The latter included, and still includes, chicle from the the sap of the
chicozapote tree (Manilkara zapota), used as the base for natural chewing gum. And since the
1960s, xate (Chamaedorea spp ), a palm used in the floral industry, and pimienta gorda or
allspice (Pimienta dioica) also have become commercially important. The chicle was the first
product to integrate the region to world markets in any significant way, beginning in the 1890s, and
it formed the core of the region's economy until about 1970 (Schwartz 1990).
Petén’s status as a relatively undisturbed tropical rainforest zone began to change around
1970. Until this point, the department's population remained very low. As recently as 1964. it
amounted to just over 25,000, with about 45% living in twelve small towns and the remainder
residing in even smaller villages. But by 1990 there were an estimated 240,000 to 311,000 people
in the department (AHT/APESA 1992). Whereas in 1970, some 70 to 80 percent of the area
remained densely forested (Schwartz 1990), satellite imagery reveals that only half of Petén now
remains forested (Sever 1999). In the buffer zone of the Maya Biosphere Reserve, deforestation
rates in the early 1990s averaged 3% per year, while in areas south of the buffer zone, clearing
rates reached 4.8% per year between 1993 and 1997 (Sader 1999).1
Most of the population growth has been due to in-migration, initially encouraged through
government-sponsored road building, colonization, and land distribution programs that began in the
early 1960s. The latter were aimed at relieving socioeconomic, political, and land hunger problems
in other regions of Guatemala, particularly the highlands and the Pacific coastal region. Frontier
colonization also was seen by Guatemala's political and economic elite as a way of defusing
‘Presumably these rates do not apply to the protected areas of southern Peten, of which there are several.
Together, these cover almost 5.000 km2 (Reining 1999: 98).

53
pressure for meaningful land reform and economic justice, which were pursued, albeit briefly, by
the governments of Jacobo Arbenz and his predecessor Arévalo, until the Arbenz government was
removed through a CIA-sponsored coup in 1954 (Schlesinger 1982). Unfortunately, as discussed
below, the colonization of Petén has received minimal meaningful support from the government,
and thus it generally has proceeded in a rather chaotic and destructive manner. This has led to
very inefficient land use patterns, and severe impacts on the forests and other natural resources of
the region.
The majority of farmers who have migrated to Petén in recent decades report that the
quality of their lives and that of their families has improved since they came to the region.
However, because the underlying structural conditions within Guatemalan society remain intact, it
may be just a matter of tune before the severe problems found in other parts of the country are
transferred to Petén. which had been, at least until the 1970s, relatively peaceful and settled.
Schwartz (1990: 8) writes that "the second conquest of Petén threatens to replicate m the lowlands
many of the conditions found in the highlands, including extremes of wealth and poverty', land
hunger, environmental degradation, brutal repression, and endemic political violence.”
It remains to be seen whether this gloomy scenario will materialize, and to what degree.
For the time being, land hunger and poverty are less severe than in most areas of the country. Even
landless farmers find it much easier to eam a decent living in Petén than it was in their previous
homes. In northern Petén they still can rent land at a relatively low cost and employ low input,
shifting cultivation practices that require minimal if any cash. But without a doubt, the opening of
Petén has brought with it numerous potential dangers to the environmental and socioeconomic
integrity' of the area. In addition to attracting numerous campesinos, the improved access and other
incentives have attracted large scale cattle ranchers, guerrillas and military' personnel, foreign and
national loggmg companies, and foreign entrepreneurs eager to exploit other forest resources,

54
including oil (Rosenfeld 1999). Thanks to the 1996 Peace Accords, political violence throughout
the country has subsided, at least for now. The main problems currently confronting Peten are
poverty and underemployment, and the deforestation and land degradation to which they
contribute. Another concern is pollution associated with oil extraction and human settlements.
The land cover change and environmental degradation pose considerable risks for the area's
economic well-being in the coming decades.
As discussed in the previous chapter, problems of resource abuse and degradation, can be
explained by both direct and indirect factors. With regard to deforestation, the direct causes have
included: 1) the expansion of cattle ranching, which previously was confined mostly to the Pacific
coastal region: 2) commercial logging, often practiced illegally; 3) the in-migration of colonists,
mostly engaged in extensive shifting cultivation; and 4) wood-cutting for fuelwood at a scale
proportional to the in-migration (Schwartz 1990). According to Nations (1992), the relatively
large scale cattle ranchers in Petén represent, in conjunction with colonist farmers, the most serious
threat to the forests in the area, and to activities aimed at their sustainable use, such as collection of
non-timber forest products.
This dissertation focuses on the most significant direct cause of deforestation in the region
- agricultural activity. As discussed earlier, the extent of deforestation generated through
agriculture is primarily a function of the intensity of the farming systems in use. Hence, this
research seeks to identify the socioeconomic and agronomic factors that influence the intensity of
the systems in use by farmers in the Maya Biosphere Reserve (MBR) buffer zone. However, one
must also consider why so many people are moving to Petén in the first place. In other words,
what are the indirect and underlying causes of the mass migration to this region which, until a few
decades ago was almost empty of people? The answer to this question is rooted in several
phenomena that are serving to drive the overall process. These include: the “agro-export” focus of

55
the Guatemalan economy; the maldistribution of agricultural land; the expansion of cattle ranching;
and population growth.
Under Guatemala's political economic system, the main emphasis in the agricultural sector
has been on supporting large scale, commercial, export agriculture rather than small-scale peasant
farming oriented primarily toward domestic consumption. Beginning in the late 1800’s laws were
introduced to disintegrate communal land holdings. And throughout the 20th century government
sponsored or influenced programs and services in relation to subsidies, credits, agricultural
research and extension, and so forth have sought primarily to assist large-scale commercial
producers.
This emphasis clearly has yielded a variety of negative external costs on socioeconomic
and natural systems. In Guatemala and elsewhere in Central America one important effect has
been a grow ing concentration of land ownership. According to the 1979 agricultural census, the
most recent, 31% of all farms in Guatemala, those less than 0.7 ha in size, collectively occupy just
1% of the farmland. If the next farm size category (0.7-7 ha) is factored into the analysis, we find
that 88% of the country's farms are squeezed onto 16% of the total available farmland. At the
other extreme, the farm units over 45 ha in size, just 3% of all units, occupy 65% of all farmland in
Guatemala (Southgate and Basterrechea 1992). The mass of small producers in the country have
been increasingly displaced from better quality land and have had little access to goods and
services that support agricultural production (Uttmg 1991).
The last few decades also have featured tremendous growth in the cattle industry. In
Guatemala, as in many other countries, this boom was spurred by a growing supply of credit and
credit subsidies, and in general, by active encouragement from both the national government and
international agencies (Valenzuela de Pisano 1996; Utting 1991). As could be expected, the cattle
boom led to a tremendous increase in the area under pasture, and thus, to extensive deforestation.

56
Between the mid-1950's and the mid-1960's the area under pasture tripled in Central America, to
almost a fifth of total land area (Utting 1991). Almost 25% of the land in Central America overall
is currently under pasture, more than all other agricultural uses combined (Faber 1993: 139).
Cattle ranching also contributes indirectly to frontier colonization and deforestation by virtue of the
fact that it employs very few people, compared to other agricultural activities. A study conducted
in Honduras and Nicaragua found that the employment ratio per ha of pasture is 5 or 6 persons per
day per annum, but 202 person days for coffee and 73 person days for maize (Utting 1991). The
expansion of ranching in an area thus causes a degree of economic marginalization that compels
many rural workers to head for the frontier.
Another underlying cause of migration to Petén is population growth in the country as a
whole. Between 1980 and 1988. the growth rate averaged 2.9% per year, driven by unusually high
fertility levels (AHT/APESA 1992). The growth rate was estimated at 3% per year between 1990
and 1992 (INE 1995), and now stands at about 2.7% (CIA 1998). The population growth is
accommodated through emigration, mostly to the USA. which has been slow, migration to cities, or
through the colonization of frontier regions (Southgate and Basterrechea 1992). The population of
Petén department increased at a rate of 9.5% per year in the 1980s (AHT/APESA 1992).
Such demographic pressure commonly is cited as a cause of deforestation in tropical
countries, particularly w hen it exists in conjunction with poverty, unequal distribution of wealth
and land, and policies oriented toward large scale commercial agriculture, and toward frontier
development. Virtually all of these factors have been present in Guatemala (Valenzuela de Pisano
1996; FLASCO/WWF 1997) thus it would be easy to infer that the high population growth rates
have propelled people to clear land in frontier areas or to engage in forest harvesting activities. An
important question is which of these factors are most important. For instance, would much

57
colonization and agricultural clearing be occurring in Petén if the land in the traditionally settled,
highland areas of Guatemala were distributed more evenly?
Southgate and Basterrechea (1992) maintain that land reform in Guatemala would not be
sufficient as a means to address the country's environmental problems. They note that even if the
3,077,600 ha of potential crop land in the country were divided equally among all the households
surveyed in the 1979 agricultural census, each parcel would consist of less than 6 ha. They go on
to suggest that a family consigned to a holding this size in Petén would starve. But presumably the
holding sizes allocated to families in various parts of the country would vary depending on fertility,
markets, and other factors. Furthermore, although land reform may be insufficient in and of itself,
one can hardly deny that it would greatly reduce the suffering experienced by many, if not most, of
the country's people in their efforts to survive. In doing so it also would reduce the number of
people who feel compelled to migrate to frontier areas such as Peten.
In any case, a huge number of people have now made their way into the region and the
occupation of the land by small farmers gradually is moving northward from southern and central
Petén, into more pristine forest, and into the MBR But despite the very rapid growth that has
occurred, population densities remain very low, only a fraction of the rates that exist elsewhere in
Mesoamerica and that existed here in Petén at the height of the Classic Maya civilization, over a
thousand years ago. Why has this low level of population density generated such rapid and
extensive destruction of the region's majestic forests?
My research indicates that farmers in the region have generally had little incentive or
resources to increase productivity per unit area. As discussed in Chapter 2, various factors that
contribute to extensive land use are tenure insecurity, most common in the early phases of an
area’s colonization, poor market conditions and infrastructure, the lack of or high cost of credit,
which is related to the tenure issue, and limited technical support for farmers. Virtually all of these

58
factors have been present to a large degree in Petén, and the impact they have had on farmer
decision making has been profound. In large part this has been due to the relative neglect of the
agricultural sector in Petén. The unpact of agricultural colonization in the region thus has been
much more costly to the forest than it might otherwise have been.
A distinction can be drawn between planned and spontaneous colonization, but in reality
there tends to be a continuum in the degree of direction that is exerted over land development.
Spontaneous development eventually results in some government planning to manage the
development process and help provide basic services, while programs of planned colonization
invariably have their spontaneous adherents. Most colonization trends in Central America have
leaned toward the spontaneous end of the spectrum, but official encouragement has been present
through government sponsored or sanctioned road building projects and a policy environment in
which all land legislation has a usufruct orientation. The latter encourages colonists to clear
vegetation, fence their parcels, graze some cattle, and plant crops in order to demonstrate that the
land has been occupied and “improved/’ Some degree of security can thus be obtained, even in the
face of legal but inactive ownership (Jones 1990).
In Guatemala, the earliest colonization projects centered on existing farmlands in the
Pacific coastal region and even in northern lowland areas that were expropriated from German
owners during World War II. rather than on undisturbed rain forest zones. The major colonization
emphasis then turned to forested regions, including Petén and the Franja Transversal del Norte
(FTN), located between Petén in the north and the densely populated highlands to the south. In
1959, a national agency called FYDEP (Empresa Nacional de Fomento y Desarrollo del Petén -
National Enterprise for the Economic Development of Petén) was established to develop and
colonize Petén. At the time, Petén consisted almost entirely of government property; only about

59
two percent of the land was in private hands. Until it was dissolved in 1987, FYDEP had so much
power over development in Petén that critics called it a “state within a state” (Schwartz 1995).
FYDEP’s mandate was 1) to develop infrastructure to foster agriculture, industry, and
tourism; 2) to administer and develop the natural resources of Petén (other than oil) for national
and international markets; 3) sell land to colonists; 4) establish cooperatives along the Usumacinta
River, largely to discourage Mexican colonization in Petén or the flooding of Guatemalan territory
through the construction of power dams on the river by Mexican interests; and 5) promote cattle
ranching (Schwartz 1995). Certain areas were exempted from colonization, such as the private
farms that existed before FYDEP s establishment and the entire region north of 17° 10', which was
set aside as a forest reserve.
FYDEP succeeded in developing some basic infrastructure, such as roads, small bridges,
an airport, schools, and some health centers, and completed the first all weather dirt road between
central Petén and the highlands. But unfortunately, the agency was plagued by financial and other
constraints that prevented it from managing more thoroughly the colonization process in the region.
For example, very few titles were actually awarded to settlers and technical and marketing support
for farmers was virtually non-existent (World Bank 1995b). Most of FYDEP’s budget was spent
on wages and administrative overhead, and on road construction and maintenance. But by 1990
only 1800 km of third class dirt roads had been built. The agency also was criticized for
mismanagement, favoratism, incompeténce and venality. Schwartz (1995: 110) writes that “in
spite of many shortcomings. FYDEP accomplished more than is usually recognized. Nonetheless,
FYDEP s meager resources and the national context within which the state decided to settle the
north were not conducive to gradual, well-planned, and well-implemented colonization.”
In 1987. FYDEP was dismantled by the civilian Cerezo government because of its historic
link to previous military regimes and its reputation for corruption. Various existing federal

60
agencies, organized on sectoral lines, took over FYDEP's responsibilities in Peten.2 The most
important of these was INTA (.Instituto Nacional de Transformación Agraria), charged with land
tenure policy and administration under the same legislation that governed FYDEP. The latter’s
other functions were taken over by CONAP (Consejo Nacional de Areas Protegidas), DIGEBOS
(.Dirección General de Bosques) - now INAB (Instituto Nacional de Bosques), and the Ministry
of Public Works.
The transfer of responsibilities to INTA has been very problematic. With the ability to
raise much of its own funds through land sales, logging, taxes on forest products, and so forth
(Schwartz 1995: 109), FYDEP was comparatively well-financed and powerful, and the agency was
locally based. In contrast, INTA has had even less to work with and its decision making is
centralized in the capital. Over the four years leading up to 1995. only 700 land titles were
processed (World Bank 1995b: 11). Many feel that the transition to INTA control created a
climate of uncertainty and unconnectedness, and that “anarchy” in the administration of land tenure
emerged just when responsibility for this function passed into the hands of INTA, an organization
without the resources to manage such a large area (FLACSO/WWF 1997: 8).
In 1991, the government established the 16,000 km2 Maya Biosphere Reserve (MBR) in
northern Petén. one of the largest reserves or protected areas in Mesoamerica. This can be
interpreted as an effort, at least on paper, to place a limit on the extent of colonization or other
significant forest disturbance that would be tolerated in Petén. Some 7,670 km2 or 47.5% of the
MBR is comprised of nuclear or core zones that are managed as five national parks - Sierra del
Lacandon, Laguna del Tigre, El Mirador, Rio Azul, and Tikal - and three biological reserves
(biotopos) - Laguna del Tigre. Dos Lagunas, and El Zotz (Figure 3-1). Tikal National Park is the
2 A few federal agencies, such as BANDESA (now BANRURAL), the agricultural credit agency, already
had a minor presence in Petén during the period of FYDEP’s administration.

61
Buffer Zone
Lake
Pelért Itzá
Flores
La Libertad
Sayaxché
Poptún
Multiple Use Zone
The Maya Biosphere Reserve
] National Parks
1P - Sierra del Lacandon
2P - Laguna del Tigre
3P - Mirador
4P - Rio Azul
5P - Tikal
] Biotopes
1B - Laguna del Tigre
2B - San Miguel La Palotada
3B - Dos Lagunas
20 10 o
kilometers
Source: CONAP
Figure 3-1 - The Maya Biosphere Reserve

62
main draw for tourists visiting the region. According to the National Institute of Tourism,
130,000 tourists visited Tikal in 1996 (Flynn and Bonilla 1996).
The remaining 8,484 km2 (52.5%) consists of a multiple use zone (MUZ), meant to be an
extractive reserve in which the supposed objective is to preserve forest cover while allowing
activities to be carried out in a sustainable manner and with minimal environmental impact. Usage
rights in the MUZ are obtained through community and commercial concessions and permitted
activities include logging, collection of non-timber forest products, such as xate, chicle, and
allspice, petroleum exploitation, and tourism. The MUZ contains some very' old “forest society ”
communities (Schwartz 1990). such as Uaxactun and Carmelita, that have lived through
sustainable activities in the forest for over a century. Carmelita already has been granted a
concession by CONAP, and the final details of the concession for Uaxactun. which has already
been delineated on the ground, should be finalized by the end of 1999, according to an ecologist
who is active in the community (Roan McNab, pers. comm.. 8 September 1999).
To the south of the MBR is a 15 km wide strip of land (4,975 km2 in total) designated as
the buffer zone, which extends from the Mexican border to the Belizean border. The buffer zone
commonly is referred to as part of the reserve (e g. CONAP/USAID/Fondo Peregrino 1996) but in
reality there appears to be no legal control over land use in the buffer zone, and certainly no
controls that are different from that which prevails over lands to the south. My discussions with
staff at CONAP. INAB (the national forest institute), and other agencies indicate that there
remains significant uncertainty' over the legal and institutional framework that applies to the buffer
zone. For example, the Director of CONAP’s Department of Flora, Fauna, and Forest
Management (Rudy Sierra, pers. comm . 24 July 1998) declared that the national Forestry Law
(decree 101-96) is applicable in the buffer zone of the MBR. whereas CONAP’s legal advisor
(Ochoa, pers. comm.. 24 July 1998) claimed that the opposite is true. The regional director of

63
INAB (Fabio Perez Garcia, pers. comm., 28 July 1998) said the law applies in the buffer zone with
regard to the relatively new forestry incentives program3, but was uncertain as to whether other
provisions apply. In any event, he mentioned that as far as he knew, no regulations yet have been
developed to affect land use in the buffer zone.
However, communities in the buffer zone appear to be receiving somewhat greater
attention from extension and rural development agencies than those in other areas more distant
from the MBR. The buffer zone is meant to serve as a transition area to help reduce pressure on
the reserve, and thus various agencies, particularly CARE and Centro Maya are actively working
to stabilize agriculture and limit deforestation, mostly through agricultural extension and land
titling activities. However, the extension effort in the buffer zone appears to be having limited
fundamental impact. The buffer zone has an estimated population of over 48,000, according to
CONAP (Grunberg and Ramos 1998), but there are fewer than 30 active extension agents working
in the area, within CARE. Centro Maya, and Profruta Furthermore, the extensionists can be only
so effective given that the institutional presence in Petén places almost no attention on other factors
that greatly influence whether recommended practices can be or will be adopted, such as market
conditions and the lack of credit.
An interestmg feature of the MBR is that it reverses the usual design of a biosphere
reserve. In the latter, a core area of maximum protection typically is surrounded by concentric
rings of zones allocated to increasingly intensive human uses (Batisse 1986). The MBR. in
contrast, contains at its center the MUZ which supports half a million ha of tropical forest, but as
3This program, which began in 1997 in Petén, provides economic incentives to landowners with title to
preserve existing forest or to reforest on their properties. Thus far, little land has been involved in the
program. In 1997, 21 projects covering a total of 1150 ha. were approved. As of July 1998, 6 projects
had been approved, but additional applications were still under review (Fabio Perez Garcia, pers. comm.,
28 July 1998).

64
well, two communities of several hundred people and a thriving forest product extraction industry
that yields up to US$7 million per year in export earnings (Nations 1992).
Within both the MUZ and the nuclear zones of the MBR various factors seriously threaten
the integrity' of the reserve and its function in conserving biodiversity. These include:
1) The existence of several giant ranches, for instance of 450 ha or more, located within nuclear
zones, such as Sierra del Lacandon National Park. Supposedly the owners of these ranches, who
have cleared huge tracts of forest in some cases, have land titles that predate the establishment of
the MBR;
2) The active petroleum industry in Laguna del Tigre biotopo and national park, which in 1998 had
14 wells in production (Grunberg and Ramos 1998). This area produced 97% of Guatemala's
national production of 9.3 million barrels in 1998 (Rosenberg 1999).
3) The presence of tens of thousands of people living in core areas of the reserve and in the MUZ,
most of whom arrived just in the last 10 years. The National Parks and biotopos had a population
of 19,737 in 1998, the vast majority of whom reside in Sierra del Lacandon National Park and in
the Laguna del Tigre area. In the latter case the petroleum company activities and road building
have served to attract many settlers who live quite well through farming and oil industry
employment. The MUZ reportedly contained 19,007 inhabitants in 1998 (Grunberg and Ramos
1998).
4) The lack of resources and/or political will to protect the boundaries of the reserve.
Physical Geography
Overview
Petén is the largest administrative district or “department” in Guatemala, covering about
36,000 km2 in the northern part of the country. It occupies the southernmost portion of the

65
Yucatan peninsula, and is bounded on the north by the Mexican states of Tabasco, Campeche, and
Quintano Roo, on the south by the Guatemalan departments of Alta Verapaz and Izabal, on the
east by Belize, and on the west by the Usumacinta River, which separates Petén from the lowlands
of Chiapas. Mexico (Figure 1-1). It is located firmly within the tropics, between about 16°
degrees and 17°45' north latitude, and between 89° 10' and 91 °30' west longitude
At the geographic center of Petén is the capital of the department, Flores, and the
connected cities of Santa Elena and San Benito, which together comprise the largest urban area in
Petén. Flores is located on a small island in Lake Petén Itza. the largest lake in Petén with an area
of over 108 knr (AHT/APESA 1992. 39). The island is the former site of Tayasal. the last Mayan
stronghold in the region, conquered by the Spanish in 1697.
Lake Petén Itza is one of an east-west chain of lakes that developed within a depression
that coincides with a fault fracture located at about 17° north. The lakes, which have no surface
outlet, drain an area about 100 km long, east to west, and 30 km wide. To the north of this lake
region are forested rolling ridges that eventually decrease in elevation and become more sparsely
vegetated as they extend north into the drier scrub and bush country of the Mexican portion of the
Yucatan peninsula (Schwartz 1990: 15).
To the south of Lake Petén Itza is an area of savannahs by which some other, older
population centers - La Libertad. San Francisco, and Santa Ana - were founded by Mexican
immigrants in the 1800s. Residents long have utilized these grasslands as a grazing area for their
cattle. South of the savannahs are forested ridges that eventually extend into the mountains of Alta
Verapaz Three sizable towns. Dolores. Poptun. and San Luis, have developed among these
forested hills in southeast Petén.
Petén can be considered a lowland tropical rainforest region, but it is far from flat in most
areas. Generally it consists of rolling hills and some steep ridges that range in elevation from 100m

66
to 300m. Higher, more rugged terrain with elevations as high as 1000m is found in the Maya
Mountains region near the Belize border, northeast of Poptun. A smaller mountain range, the
Sierra del Lacandon. is found in western Petén near the Usumacinta River.
Geology, Hydrology, and Climate
Geologically. Petén is a sedimentary basin comprised of rocks deposited during the
cretaceous and tertiary periods. These cover almost the entire department with the exception of the
small, mountainous area in southeast Petén in which the Maya Mountains of Belize extend into
Guatemala. These older mountains are connected to the Antillean orogenic belt (AHT/APESA
1992; Schwartz 1990: 15).
The lithology of the region is dominated by limestone, in which folds and ridges with an
east-west strike have developed. The chain of lakes in central Petén is situated within one such
fold, but one in which a fracture developed. Given the prevalence of limestone, a karstic landscape
of sinkholes, springs, caverns, and underground streams prevails in many areas. Little is known
about the karst in the southern Yucatan Peninsula, but it has created an area of relatively thin soils
and complex hydrology and hydrogeology, in which water is scarce in many areas, These
characteristics make even more impressive the cultural and technical achievements of the ancient
Maya civilization in this region (Siemens 1978). A more detailed review of geologic and
physiographic information can be found in AHT/APESA (1992).
Generally speaking, northern Petén is drier and has more complex hydrological conditions
than southern Petén The Ixcán and Azul rivers drain northeast Petén. eventually flowing mto the
Hondo River in Belize, which empties into the Caribbean at Chetumal Bay. The Holmul River
also drains northeastern and eastern Petén. All of these rivers become very low in the dry season
(Schwartz 1990: 16).

67
The Mopan River flows out of the Maya Mountains and drains east central Petén before
crossing into Belize. Together with its two main tributanes it was used for many years during the
first half of the 20th century to float mahogany logs into Belize. This watershed also contains some
relatively good agricultural land, much of which has been acquired by military officers (Schwartz
1995).
The Pasión nver is the main river in southern Petén, although many other sizable streams,
such as the Subin and Machaquilá, also are present. The Pasión forms near the Maya Mountains
in southeast Petén and flows westward across southern Petén before draining into the Usumacmta.
A small city7, Sayaxche, is located on the banks of the Pasión River. The Usumacinta acquires that
name at the confluence of the Pasión and Salinas Rivers. It flows northward into Mexico and
eventually drams into the Gulf of Mexico. It is the largest river in Mesoamerica in terms of both
length and discharge (AHT/APESA 1992). A large tributary of the Usumacinta is the San Pedro
River, which drains a sizable area in northwest Petén.
A significant difference can be found in the flow patterns of rivers that have catchments in
karstic terrain and those that do not. Much of the precipitation in Karst terrain goes straight to the
groundwater but reappears downstream as springs and seepage, which serves to maintain a
relatively high minimum discharge. The karst-drained rivers have more constant and placid flow'
regimes because only a small proportion of discharge, even in the rainy season, is likely to stem
from direct surface runoff. Changes in water levels are thus limited and gradual and would have
been manageable for those among the ancient Maya who developed intensive, raised bed farming
systems in floodplain areas (Siemens 1978).
The Petén landscape also is characterized by many seasonally flooded areas, referred to as
bajos, and permanent wetlands, or humedales. These cover about 7% of the territory, mainly in
the alluvial plains of the San Pedro and Pasión Rivers and their tributaries.

68
Petén’s hot, humid climate is typical of lowland areas in these latitudes. It has a long rainy
season, referred to as invierno or winter, and a shorter dry season that begins with the coming of
the cooler temperatures, in December or January , and generally extends until May or June.
However, there is substantial intra-regional and year to year variation in the dates on which the
rainy or dry seasons begin. Also, apart from the main dry season a short dry spell, usually several
weeks long, tends to occur at some point during the first third of the rainy season. This break in
the weather is know locally as La Canicula. On the basis of the Thomthwaite climatic
classifications system, most of Petén features a BrA'a" or BrB'b climate (AHT/APESA 1992:12).
Mean monthly temperature, at least in lowland areas, ranges from 22° C in January , the
coolest month, to 29°C in May. In the 1980s the most extreme temperatures recorded ranged from
3 °C to 42.5 °C. The area’s proximity to the Caribbean accounts for some influence from the
northeast and southeast trade winds, generally of low velocity by the time they reach Petén, and
from tropical storms and cyclonic weather. Most rainfall in the region is of cyclonic origin.
Precipitation is the most variable factor on a year-to-year basis and intra-regionally, even over
small distances. There is a shortage of weather stations in Petén and thus data are relatively
sparse, but mean annual precipitation during the 1980s at five stations were as follows: 1,530 mm
in Flores; 1,177 in Poptún; 1.402 mm in San Pedro Mactún; 1,794 mm in El Porvenir, just south
of Tikal National Park; and 3.529 mm at Mi Illusion, located in the southernmost and wettest area
of Petén. Relative humidity is very high throughout most of the year, commonly reaching 80-95%
over the course of the day.
Evapotranspiration calculations for the 1980s decade indicate that a water deficit
commonly develops in March and April, and sometimes extending into May. The months with
least precipitation are February. March, and April (AHT/APESA 1992).

69
Soils, Vegetation and Wildlife
The available data on the soils of Peten are well summarized in Volume I of AHT/APESA
(1992). Unfortunately, these data are quite weak, having been compiled for the most part in a
nationwide study conducted in the 1950s (Simmons, Tarano. and Pinto 1959). The study describes
some 26 “soil series'’ in Petén. but these are so general that they really amount to associations. As
well, the mapping work is characterized by much imprecision and numerous errors, for reasons
explamed by AHT/APESA (1992). In large part these problems stem from the severe access
limitations that prevailed in the region in the 1950s. when hardly any roads had yet been
constructed. Unfortunately, more detailed soils work since has been conducted only in a few
locations.
The soil series described in the Simmons. Tarano and Pinto (1959) study generally
correspond to the following FAO classifications: Gleyisols, Cambisols, Vertisols, Fluvisols. and
Rendzinas. With the exception of sw ampy areas and excessively rocky terrain, Petén contains
large areas that are suited to agricultural activity; these amount to 31% (Latinoconsult 1974), 40%
(Sanders 1977) or 54% (Manger-Cats 1966) of the departmental territory, depending on whose
estimates one accepts. These soils generally are quite fertile but drainage problems commonly
constrain agricultural potential.
Two main groups of soils can be distinguished from a land capability perspective
(AHT/APESA 1992). First are the relatively well drained soils, rendzinas for the most part, which
are quite stony in most areas, ruling out mechanized agriculture. However, they have two features
that make them attractive to maize producers (milperos), good drainage and a high capability for
regeneration of secondary forest, which limits weed invasions. In steep areas they may be quite
erosive and, in general, their water holding capacity is limited. They thus can become quite
dessicated during the dry season, a feature which helps account for the prevalence of brush and

70
forest fires in much of Peten. Nevertheless, these are fertile soils on which sustainable production
can be maintained through non-mechanized practices such as agroforestry, green manure usage,
and perennial cropping (AHT/APESA 1992).
The second and more fertile group of soils are found on plains and in alluvial depressions.
In most cases their plasticity and stickiness make mechanization difficult or impossible. The high
clay content severely unpedes drainage and expensive drainage works would be needed in many
areas to meet maximum potential. These soils also are more prone to weed invasion, which helps
account for the reliance on a swidden system. Most agriculture on these soils is limited to the
better drained areas, for both cropping and grazing (AHT/APESA 1992).
Many of the wetlands in Petén might offer considerable agricultural potential. This has
not been studied, at least not in the modem period, but such use of wetland areas likely would be
controversial from an ecological perspective.
The most thorough research on vegetation in Peten was conducted in the 1930s and 1940s
by Lundell (1937) and Standley and Steyermark (1946). The resulting information has since been
supplemented by various investigators, including Aguilar Giron (1966) and Holdridge (1971).
Lundell (1937) identified three phytographic regions based in the northern Peten, north of Lake
Petén Itza, the southern Petén, and the central savannah region The northern region corresponds
more or less with Holdridge’s Humid Subtropical Forest Zone while the southern region consists,
under the Holdridge classification, of very humid subtropical forest. Lundell (1937) reported a
total of 1,400 botanical species but concluded that the actual number in all three regions combined
might be as high as 3,000. A useful summary of the main species and associations found in each
of the three regions, and in particular landscape units, such as karstic hills, is presented in
AHT/APESA (1992). In general, the northern region is dominated by semideciduous trees while

71
tropical evergreens predominate in the south (Schwartz 1990: 19). The two are similar but the
southern region is more humid and has less chicle or chicozapote trees (Martilleara zapota).
The central savannah area is generally flat and is covered by grasses of low nutritive value
and by trees of low height and density. The vegetation here is believed to be a product of edaphic
factors as well as human impact through fire and agriculture in ancient times and grazing in the
modem period. Another, smaller savannah region can be found in the southeast part of Petén, near
Poptun. Here the dominant tree species is Caribbean pine (Pinus caribaea), a product largely of
the acid soils and periodic fires. In the central part of the Maya Mountains, patches of pine trees
also can be found on ridges, as in the adjacent “pine ridge” region of Belize (AHT/APESA 1992).
Petén contains a very impressive array of wildlife, including, among mammals, large cats
such as jaguars (Pantera oned) and pumas (Felts concolor), primates including the howler monkey
(Allouatta pigra) and spider monkey (Ateles geoffroyi), kinkajous (Potos flavus), tapirs (Tapirus
batrdii), peccaries (Tayassu spp ). agoutis (Agouti paca), deer, numerous bats, and others. Many
of the animals mentioned are prized for hunting; in conjunction with habitat loss this has led to
significant population declines, according to wildlife specialists working in Petén (Erick Baur, pers.
comm., 3 September 1999).
In regards to avifauna. 303 of the 675 species that reside in Guatemala occur in Petén.
including species of parrot and macaw. Some 155 species of herpetofauna, including crocodiles
and many dangerous snakes, can be found in the region (AHT/APESA 1992). The region also
features a huge variety' of insects, many of which may be harmful to humans as biters, stingers, or
as carriers of disease, including onchocersiasis (river blindness), leishmaniasis, trypanosomiasis,
dengue fever, and malaria, the most common insect-borne disease in the department (Schwartz
1990:21).

72
Human Geography
Demographic, Sociocultural, and Economic Characteristics
Given the size and remoteness of Petén, its dispersed settlement patterns, the limited
infrastructure, and the resource constraints of governmental institutions, it is almost impossible to
determine the exact population of the department. The 1981 national census arrived at a figure of
131,927 for Petén and projections of 240,357 for 1990. The United Nations, using the same
census data as a base arrived at a similar projection for 1990 of 247,000. However, a detailed
socioeconomic survey generated a higher estimate for 1990 of 311,314 people (AHT/APESA
1992: 64)
The department’s population growth for the period 1964 to 1990 was estimated at 9.5%,
much higher than the national average of 2.9% for the same period (AHT/APESA 1992: 65).
Using the 1990 estimate of 311,000 as a base, and assuming the growth rate of 9.5% has remained
steady throughout the 1990s. the population of Petén in 1999 should be 731,277. At this level,
population density in the department stands at 20.3 persons/km2, still the least densely populated
department in the country .
The 1990 socioeconomic survey revealed that the median age is 20.6 years. Some 50.4%
of the population is under 15 years of age, higher than in 1950 (37.8%), before the massive
colonization of Petén began (AHT/APESA 1992: 67).
Another change that has occurred in recent decades is that the population has become
much more rural, proportionally speaking This is a reflection of the fact that most in-migrants to
Petén have come in search of land on which to farm. Between 1964 and 1990, the proportion of the
total population residing in rural areas increased from 53.6% to 75.3%. Between 1964 and 1990,
the rural population grew at an annual rate of 10.8% while the rate for the urban population stood
at 7% (AHT/APESA 1992).

73
The distribution of population within Petén remains a reflection of the migration patterns
that have prevailed over the last few decades. Due to the completion in 1970 of the highway
connecting Petén to the highlands, via southeast Petén, it was the latter area that was settled first,
in the 1970s and the first half of the 1980s. The relatively good soils in the area also helped attract
colonists and they continue to support reasonably dense rural populations. Many during this
period also went to Sayaxche. on the Pasión River in southwest Petén via the old route to Petén
from Coban in Alta Verapaz. A seasonal dirt road has existed between Sebol on the Pasión River
and Coban since 1942. but the route has been used since the last century' by Kekchi Indians from
Alta Verapaz. Almost 61% of the 1990 population thus was found in the three municipios (akin to
counties) of southeast Petén - San Luis, Poptun, and Dolores - that were the first destination of
most in-migrants, and in Sayaxche, in southwest Petén (Figure 3-2). The remaining 8 municipios,
mostly in northern Petén. are home to the remaining 39.3% (AHT/APESA 1992).
However, colonization patterns have shifted increasingly toward the north. The
construction of roads by oil and logging companies has led to spontaneous colonization with little
or no involvement of FYDEP or INTA. and by the late 1980s the main arteries for in-migrants
were from Libertad to Naranjo (Ruta Naranjo), and from San Andres to Carmelita, located in the
MUZ of the MBR. Population growth along these tw o routes has now stabilized to a great extent,
judging from land cover change, as detected through satellite imagery (Sader 1997). Since the
beginning of the 1990s the most active colonization frontiers and areas of deforestation have been
along:

74
Figure 3-2 - Municipalities of Petén

75
1) the border with Tabasco, Mexico, within Laguna del Tigre National Park and Biotopo;
2) the road into the oil exploration area within Laguna del Tigre National Park;
3) the San Pedro River; and
4) the road to Melchor de Meneos on the border with Belize (Sader 1997).4
The migration to northern Petén has been undertaken not only by newcomers to the
department, but also by people who have been in southern and central Petén for some time. The
mam source areas for internal migration within Petén have been the municipios of Dolores and San
Luis in southeast Petén. The mam causes for this have been the need for new land on which to
cultivate due to land degradation and the eviction by ranchers of squatters or renters. Many have
also decided to move to urban centers, mostly in central Petén, in search of better services and
opportunities (AHT/APESA 1992: 85).
Until the Spanish conquest in 1697, the population of the department was comprised
mostly of Maya-Itza. the only organized indigenous group based in Petén. Their population at the
time has been estimated at between 25,000 and 40.000 (AHT/APESA 1992) but other Mayan
people reportedly were scattered around the area in smaller numbers (FLACSO/WWF 1997).
With the conquest came a significant population decline. A census in 1714 found only 3.027
inhabitants, both indigenous and ladino. Many natives died during the conquest and from disease
(AHT/APESA 1992). but it is possible that many dispersed into the jungle and thus were left
uncounted.
In the years that followed the conquest and throughout the colonial and independent
periods, other indigenous groups made their way into Petén, including Tipuanos, Muzul,
Yucatecos, and Cehach. In most cases these in-migrations followed violent events in other areas.
4The area north of the San Pedro River lies within the MBR. as does the land on both sides of the road to
Melchor de Meneos.

76
such as the caste wars in the Yucatan region of Mexico. In the 19th century some blacks fleeing
slavery in Belize came to Petén and settled in San Benito, now part of the main urban zone of Peten
(Flores/Santa Elena).
In the 20th century two waves of immigration have occurred. The first, which began at the
beginning of the century or just before, was a response to labor requirements in the logging and
chicle industries run by foreign firms that had concessions in the area. This first wave involved
various Mexican groups as well as Kekchi Maya from Alta Verapaz. The second and much larger
wave has occurred mostly since the 1960s, after the establishment of FYDEP.
Considerable mixing and inter-marrying has taken place with the result that the Spanish
spoken m Petén, at least by people who have been in the region for several generations, contains
many Maya, Kekchi, and Mexican words and expressions. Other cultural influences, such as in
diet, festivals and dance, also reflect the fusion of cultural influences among the early settlers
(AHT/APESA 1992: 76-77).
The descendants of these early settlers and of the native Maya-Itza are those who today are
considered in the literature and more generally as the true “Peténeros." members of the “Forest
Society” eloquently described by Schwartz (1990), who possess extensive knowledge of how to live
in and use the resources of the forest in sustainable ways. Ironically, today they live for the most
part in urban areas, while the “southerners” (sureños) who have come to Petén since the 1960s
from southern Guatemala have settled primarily in rural areas.
It should also be noted that at the end of the 19th century Kekchi Maya began moving into
the San Luis area. This was in response to the agrarian policies of the government of Justo Rufino
Barrios, who expropriated Kekchi laiids in Alta Verapaz and passed them on to ladinos and
foreigners, mostly Germans, to develop coffee plantations. Many Kekchi also made their way to
the Savaxche area along the Pasión River in southwest Petén at this time (AHT/APESA 1992: 77).

77
Most of the people who have settled in Petén since the 1960s are ladinos from southern
Guatemala. In contrast to the “Peténeros” these more recent arrivals have little experience living
in a humid, lowland tropical environment. Some 48% of all in-migrants to Peten have come from
the dry oriente (eastern) region of the country. Another 12%, mostly ladinos but also Quiches,
have come from the south coast, itself a frontier region in the late 19th century. About 20% of in¬
migrants, mostly Kekchis, have come from Alta Verapaz (18%) and Izabal (2%), another largely
lowland region that extends inland from the Caribbean coast. Finally, 15% of Petén colonists, both
ladmo and Maya, have come from the central and northwestern highlands (AHT/APESA 1992:
76).
The vast majority of people have come to Petén in search of land. Some 84% reported this
as the main motivation behind their moving to the region and 94% of in-