Contents - Previous - Next

This is the old United Nations University website. Visit the new site at

16.Organized settlement on the Amazon frontier: The Caquetá Project in Colombia

The project
Project characteristics
Target population
Development or stabilizing strategy
The environmental issue in Colombia
Material accomplishments of Phase II
Project investment and cost
Socio-political events in the project area
Stability of the production model
Environmental effects
Environmental costs
Frontier stabilization alternatives
Frontier management technology

Sergio Duran

Colombia's agricultural frontier, like that of most developing countries, has been expanding mainly at the expense of clearing its tropical forests, including the rain forests of the Andean slopes and intermontane valleys.

Due to increasing social unrest related to land scarcity in heavily populated rural areas and as an alternative to the implementation of an agrarian reform programme, which met with heavy resistance from the landowning class, in the mid-1960s the government sought to relieve such pressures by supporting organized settlement schemes. Among the areas selected were the Amazon and Orinoco river basins, which at the peak of the agrarian reform controversy (1968) were practically uninhabited or, at most, scarcely populated by migrant peasant farmers arriving from the inter-Andean valleys.

The most important settlement schemes, located in the state of Caquetá (Amazon tributary) and the region of Arauca (Orinoco basin), are known and distinguished as the Caquetá Project and the Arauca Project. The former covers an area of about 1,800,000 ha and the latter about 832,000 ha. Both projects were conceived by the same government agency, INCORA (National Institute for Agrarian Reform), responsible for implementing agrarian reform, and were based on the general justification of land distribution and promotion of rural development for groups of poor peasant farmers displaced by the modernization of agriculture in the more developed areas of the country.

INCORA, in spite of organized resistance by landowners, had achieved by the mid1960s a certain degree of institutional capacity to implement rural development projects (including land tenure reform) and had gained the respect of the multilateral finance institutions (IBRD, IDB, AID). When political support (i.e. budget allocation) in Congress began to falter, the agency had a large project implementation capacity which, however, could be directed only towards projects in areas where they were not a threat to influential landowning groups.

It was thus that not only INCORA but also both the World Bank and the InterAmerican Development Bank became involved in the promotion and support of colonization projects in the marginal soils of the Amazon and Orinoco basins (for in other geographical areas, land reform projects had no access to Congress approved counterpart funds). The purpose of this paper is to present preliminary findings of a research project (funded by the United Nations University, Tokyo) whose objective is to identify and appraise the effects of organized settlement schemes on the Amazon frontier and to relate valuable experiences which may help in understanding the costs implied in indiscriminate forest clearing and change in land use.

Due to the fact that the Caquetá and Arauca projects were identified and implemented by the same agency (INCORA), socio-economic objectives and development strategies were based on the same model, and because, in the view of the researcher, the overall effects, environmental cost, and misconceptions were similar, this paper will deal specifically with the IBRD funded Caquetá Colonization Project.

The project

The Caquetá Project was implemented in phases. Phases I and II overlap geographically, covering an area of 1.8 million ha. The first phase was begun in 1969 and the second in 1975. Given the fact that at the beginning of Phase I the area had already been partially subjected to spontaneous settlement by peasant farmers who had migrated from the adjacent inter-Andean valleys between 1958 and 1965, the Phase I project can be characterized as "an effort to stabilize settlers who might otherwise become itinerant slash and burn farmers." Thus Phase I was justified both socially and economically on the basis of contributing to stabilize a low income population by providing it with a mix of capital, technology, transport and social infrastructure, designed to generate and consolidate a production process based on the establishment of extensive livestock production farms.

Since environmental considerations were of little importance at the time (the environmental protection agency, INDERENA-National Institute for Renewable Natural Resources-was created in 1968) and because the fragile nature of the area's soils was not well known, Phase I and both its economic and environmental results cannot be taken as a model project for the evaluation purposes of this paper. PhaseII, on the other hand, merely a geographical continuation and repetition of the mistakes of Phase I, was prepared at a time when preliminary economic results from the first groups of beneficiaries of Phase I were coming out and when the environmental effects of the land use changes induced by the production model selected were already beginning to take their toll.

For these reasons, I will draw most of my observations and preliminary conclusions from the experiences of the recently concluded Phase II of the Caquetá Project.

Project characteristics

Phase II was designed to consolidate the colonization process under way in an area of about 200,000 ha (of the 1.8 million ha) by migrant farmers who had established claims on cleared land and were requesting legal titles from INCORA.

The principal aims of the project were:

(i) provision of long term loans to farmers who had cleared a minimum of 10 ha of forest and had obtained their legal titles for the purchase of a herd of cattle (up to 80% of loan) and related items such as fencing wire and herbicides (up to 20% of loan)
(ii) consolidation of a feeder road network started in Phase I
(iii) forest management research and erosion control in pre-selected sites (iv) health and education infrastructure and services

To implement the above, funds from both the World Bank and the central government were disbursed as shown in table 1.

Target population

Based on previous experience, INCORA characterized the project's direct beneficiaries as settlers who had at least five years of residence in the area, had cleared a minimum of 10 ha, had a legal title to the land or were in the process of obtaining one, and had started a small livestock herd. In other words, the target population consisted mainly of settled pioneers who, with the help of subsidized credit, technical assistance, and access to markets, would be able to consolidate their holdings and contribute to the physical stabilization of the agricultural frontier.

Development or stabilizing strategy

Pioneers who have come to the region in search of their own piece of land do not represent a single homogeneous social class. However, most migrant farmers share one characteristic-their place of origin. The Caquetá region is separated from the more developed Magdalena River valley by the eastern formation of the Andes.

TABLE 1. Caquetá rural settlement project (Phase II), invested funds by category (US$ '000)

Activity   Percentage of total No. of beneficiaries(families)
Long term credit 10,874 27.0 2,326
Roads 16,753 41.4 12,000
Construction of schools 555   700
Equipment 1   (direct)
Teaching materials 56    
Subtotal 612 1.5  
Hospitals 202   12,000
Rural clinics 200   (indirect)
Malaria eradication 1,928    
Sanitary engr. 1,324    
Subtotal 3,654 9.0  
Research and tech. assist.     1,110 (48%)
Adaptive research 171    
Extension 748    
Forestry research and reset. 162    
Subtotal 1,081 2.67  
Project administation 7,389 18.3  
Total 40,382 100.00  

The valley's agriculture was transformed by the construction of several large irrigation districts in 1960, a factor which triggered the change of land use to highly mechanized and more profitable crops such as rice and cotton. Landless workers and small landowners attracted by the hope of possesing virgin land without size restrictions began to migrate to the Caquetá region where, for small sums of money one could purchase, if available, improvements or claims set up earlier by preceding pioneer farmers who, through the use of slash-and-burn, had cleared large tracts of land. Depending on the availability of economic resources, a newcomer could purchase a tract of cleared land of variable size and, by using either family or hired labour, expand his territorial claim. The process of land clearing in Caquetá is recent enough so that the third stage of the colonization process (i.e. the consolidation of large properties by purchasing improvements or pastures from small- and/or medium-holders) has only begun to appear in the last two to three years.

Thus, the prevalent method of consolidating a territorial claim follows a welldefined pattern which may be depicted as follows: A settler, with the help of his family, clears about 2 to 3 ha for subsistence crops (maize, beans, cassava, plantains), which are planted at the beginning of the rainy season. When the crop is half-way through its vegetative period, the farmer plants grass in the form of either seed or vegetative material. Once the crop is harvested, pasture covers the surface and is fenced in. In the first few years, while the farmer has enough savings from the sale of part of his crop and sometimes from selling his labour, he rents out his pasture to a wealthier farmer. Eventually (after about 5 years) a farmer who has persevered has enough savings to start his own herd and has already established natural pastures in about 30-40 per cent of the claimed tract.

The development strategy envisioned by a joint team of FAO-IBRD experts (called in to design the project) sought, in the first place, to speed up the land clearing and pasture establishment process, to shorten the settler's capital accumulation time period and thus stabilize and contribute to the consolidation of a regional cattle raising and fattening industry operated by small- and medium-size settlers.

Such a strategy materialized by setting up a subsidized credit in-kind programme whereby eligible settlers would receive a small herd of 15 cows and 1 bull (about 7080% of the loan) and the remainder (20-30%) in cash, for fencing, pasture establishment, and home improvements. By providing these loans on a 12 year term (amortization starting in year 5), it was hoped that the settler would clear land and set up a more rational production scheme (i.e. clear by burning less forest land and be in an economically more comfortable position to establish pastures and derive income from his cattle sooner). Concomitant to this process, a scheme was envisioned for reaching scattered and hitherto isolated groups of settlers by improving and building new feeder roads and thus accelerating their integration into the already dynamic local commercial centre Florencia, from where the meat consumers of the country's large cities could be supplied.

These economic strategies were complemented with a not very generous (9% of total investment) health infrastructure and services programme, and with an even less ambitious education programme (1.5% of total investment), as well as with a loosely defined forestry research and reserve protection component (1.4% of total investment).

It should be added that a sum equivalent to 2.47 per cent of the total investment was set aside for adaptive research and extension (agronomic and veterinary). The purpose of this subproject was to contribute to the development and transfer to the settlers of locally adapted pastures and cattle management techniques.

The environmental issue in Colombia

The expansion of Colombia's agricultural frontier has been characterized by the requirements of a country whose economy and foreign earnings have been and still are based on coffee production. Thus the first important land clearing dates back to the mid-nineteenth century; these initial efforts were concentrated in the volcanic ash soils of the Andes mountain slopes. The colonization (land clearing) of Colombia's flat lands has occurred only recently (1900-1910).

Given the cultivation technology utilized in the coffee farms, in which native tree species were alternated with plantains to provide permanent shade for the coffee plants, the colonization of these slopes did not require thorough forest clearing and thus its environmental impact was hardly visible.

Concomitantly the population concentrated around the coffee belt, and until 1950 at least 60 per cent of the national territory (eastern plains, Orinoco and Amazon basins, coastal valleys) was practically uninhabited and, consequently, Colombia possessed a sizeable forest reserve. This state of apparent environmental wealth was to be placed in jeopardy due not only to the rapid demographic growth and its ensuing land tenure conflicts but also to the prevailing notion whereby land acquisition through forest clearing was associated with the patriotic and economic accomplishments of the coffee pioneers of the nineteenth century.

It was not until as recently as the end of the 1960s that both settlers and government agencies began to accept the possible catastrophic effects of indiscriminate and reckless forest clearing, especially in the more fragile and erosion-prone soils of the Amazon Basin and of the eastern slopes of the Andes range.

Thus there is nothing unusual about the prevailing attitude of government authorities and the local community regarding the environmental consequences of the type of colonization going on in the Caquetá region in the middle of the 1960s, an attitude enhanced by INCORA through its colonization programme.

It was the belief at the time (as recorded in the documentation prepared to obtain financing from the World Bank for Phase I of the Caquetá rural settlement project) that "the soils of the project area adapted well to natural and improved pastures for livestock raising." Moreover, it was asserted that the soils of areas cleared by pioneers using the traditional slash-and-burn technique could best be protected by the establishment of pastures, although it was accepted that the soils' primary "vocation" was to sustain the original tropical forest. Nevertheless, the area (in 1967) was one of the main sources of one or two highly sought species of commercial timber, and very little mention was made either in the project documents or in the Bank's appraisal (1973) with regard to the cost in opportunity of indiscriminate timber clearing. Less or nothing was said regarding the costs to society of promoting through government investment the elimination of the hitherto unappraised environmental capital represented by the forests, fauna, and flora of the Amazon.

It was not until Phase I had been completed that the first visual impact of uncontrolled deforestation was registered and that some of the local government officials began to voice their concern. This, however, was not enough to mitigate optimism both within INCORA and the World Bank regarding the socio-economic success of this type of colonization project.

However, in order to appease criticism from the natural resources institute, INDERENA, and other government agencies, both INCORA and the Bank, which were already preparing Phase II, did voice some concern over the possible environmental impact of accelerating the removal of "the forest cover and replacing it with pastures," and thus Phase II specifically included funds for research in the development of environmentally oriented livestock management techniques. The two agencies also conceived the establishment of a forest reserve covering an area of 20,000 ha within the project area, to be monitored, managed, and policed by INDERENA in order to develop natural resource management techniques.

By isolating the environmental component from the research and development activities, the Bank and government experts confirmed the general conceptual trend in dealing with development projects whereby natural resource management and conservation are treated as if a world apart from production.

In the specific experiences of Caquetá Phase II, this separation contributed to spreading the notion among the settlers that INCORA was the friendly agency and INDERENA the settlers' enemy. It is unfortunate, too, that the sums set aside to finance the activities of INDERENA amounted to only US$552,000.00, or 1.48 per cent of the total estimated project funding.

The contrast between the amount of funds allocated to identify future natural resource management techniques and those allocated for road construction (32%) are a good indication of the degree of environmental awareness at the time (1974) and, at the same time, the reliance on an unproven production model in which replacement of forest cover with pastures supposedly secured ecologic balance. This contrast also contributes to our understanding of the manner in which Phase II was evaluated by both INCORA and the Bank.

It is hardly surprising that there is already a Phase III project under preparation, while, simultaneously, a small group of destitute pioneers supported by guerrillas are demanding that the government withdraw from the National Forest Reserve an area of about 1.5 million ha adjacent to Phase II and provide funds for production credit and road building along lines similar to the model used in Phase II.

Material accomplishments of Phase II

In the view of INCORA, the success of any project is measured in terms of percentage of original target population reached and attainment of initial financial and physical targets. There are other evaluation criteria, such as meeting credit amortization schedules and economic rate of return (within internationally accepted ranges).

Following this, the material accomplishments of the project are satisfactory, excepting the natural resources component, which proved troublesome.

The credit component fell short of its original target (2,850 families), with only 2,326 obtaining credit under the terms mentioned earlier. Because of recent guerrilla activity in the area, it has not been possible to obtain accurate data regarding project impact on the beneficiaries. However, a survey of about 10 per cent of the target families provided sufficient information to obtain an idea of the achievements made.

The average family benefiting from the project operates a holding of between 80 and 120 ha which, according to a 1982 land tenure survey, accounted for 56 per cent of the number of total holdings in the area (table 2).

TABLE 2. Distribution of farm size 1982

Hectares No. Percentage
0-50 55 21.73
50-100 108 42.68
100- 150 34 13.43
150-200 39 15.41
200-250 6 2.37
250-300 8 3.16
300-350 1 0.39
No response 2 0.79
Total 253 100.00

A direct result of the credit component was the influence it exerted on the settler's forest clearing activity. It is believed that without access to capital for livestock purchase, a settler is compelled to clear a higher percentage of forest area since his main income would come from the sale of cash crops. Given the rapid loss of soil fertility of this particular virgin land, the settler is forced to establish a high rotation pattern, which implies that a growing percentage of his tract becomes brush or secondary growth instead of pasture.

Settlers obtaining credit, however, received sufficient cash income to establish pastures in areas which previously remained as unproductive brush. The additional gain to the settler and the community was that an important area of tract (about 30%) could be left as a forest and natural resources reserve. This new pattern of land use is shown in table 3.

From table 3 one may observe that the area used for cash or subsistence crops decreases; this arises from the shift in the settler's source of income from the sale of crops to income from the sale of calves and cash from the loan. There is also a significant increase in natural and improved pastures relative to the increase m brush area and decrease in forest area. This shift means a more productive, economical use of brush land which, previous to the project, remained unused, while more virgin forest land was cleared for growing crops for subsistence and cash income.

There is an argument to be made for the environmental advantage of having more surface covered with pasture than cash crops as the lesser of two evils if the forest cover must inevitably come down. I will return to this subsequently.



Initial area (ha)

Present area (ha)

Land use Total Individual Total Individual
Cash or subsistence        
crops 18,829 7.94 13,991 6.85
Natural pasture 18,398 7.76 30,745 15.07
Improved pasture 58,788 24.81 61,810 30.29
Subtotal pasture 77,186 32.57 92,555 45.36
Brush 30,620 12.92 29,195 14.31
Forest 88,350 37.29 65,299 32.00
Total 214,985 90.72 201,040 98.52

Source: Caquetá Phase II project evaluation, INCORA 1982

Two final comments on the achievements of the credit component are related first to the impact of technical assistance (i.e. agronomic and veterinary) and second to the managerial aspects of the production unit.

With regard to technical assistance, a recent survey of a random sample of beneficiaries reveals the following:

(i) 52 per cent of the settlers reported not having been visited by the extension officer in the last 1-2 years

(ii) The introduction of both improved and new varieties of pasture and adequate rotation techniques have contributed to increasing the carrying capacity of the area in pasture from 0.5 to 1.0 head per hectare in the initial years of the projects

(iii) The introduction of several livestock management techniques, induced by the credit component, such as vaccination and spraying for external parasites, together with mineral supplementation through salt feeding, have contributed to raising the average birth rate from 45 per cent to 65 per cent

(iv) Apart from the above-mentioned practices, other, equally important, management techniques such as record keeping (fertility, lactation, etc.) and rudimentary bookkeeping have not been acquired by the beneficiaries

(v) None of the settlers keeps records or registers important economic data of the new technology. This means that there is no awareness at this level of the nutrient extraction rate of the new pastures nor of the expected sustainability of both soil fertility and future pasture carrying capacity

(vi) Finally, the appearance of side benefits not originally envisioned, such as the settler's entrepreneurial talent to devise means of obtaining supplementary income from the sale of milk and other dairy products, indicates that alternative models to the original simple cow-calf production model could have been conceived in order to take into account the available family labour which, when concentrated on indiscriminate tree clearing, is poorly rewarded.

Project investment and cost

One may gather from the afore-mentioned project facts that in terms of the proportion of the sums allocated to each component, the project should finally be viewed more as a public works oriented project than, following its original intention, as a stabilization of rural settlers.

For example, investment in public roads and buildings (project administration) absorbed about 58 per cent of the total investment. In terms of cost per family, this meant that US$1,979.00 was required per family (direct and indirect), which is one of the highest costs per family by Colombian standards for rural development projects.

Conversely, investment in the social infrastructure (health and education) absorbed only 10.5 per cent of the total investment, at a unit cost of US$356.00 per family, which remains within the average unit cost for more developed rural areas in Colombia. The fact that one of the project objectives, the control and eradication of malaria, was not reached, as the disease still prevails (among 92% of surveyed families), underlines the need to redesign the social component of future rural settlement projects and assign to the health aspect a more realistic and stronger role.

The credit component accounted for 27 per cent of the total investment and required an allocation of US$4,677.00 per family. By Colombian rural credit standards, this figure is normal for medium-size livestock farmers, although, by international standards, it may seem relatively high, especially when we are referring to "poor migrant settlers." The fact that the Colombian peso was overvalued by about 35 per cent between 1978 and 1983 may account for conferring a distorted image. Nevertheless, because of the credit prerequisites imposed by the project, the major beneficiaries of the credit component were definitely not the poorer migrant settlers who originally cleared the land in the project area.

Socio-political events in the project area

Up until the beginning of Phase II (1973), the Caquetá area was regarded as being relatively free from the social conflicts prevailing in adjacent rural areas. Due to the fact that it was considered a frontier zone, had not achieved statehood, and had relatively low political leverage, it also lacked the social infrastructure and services available in other more populated rural areas for small farmers and rural workers.

However, from 1975 the area became one of the better known guerrilla activity centres of the country. More unfortunately, from the late 1970s it has gained importance as a producer of coca leaves and thus has been contaminated by the influx of both drug traffickers and new settlers in search of land for coca production. These two factors have contributed to the distortion of the social effects of the colonization projects, although both describe distant zones, deeper inside the Amazon forest. Nevertheless, the political activities of the guerrillas have sought to capitalize on social conflict arising in the villages and recently formed shanty towns in the capital of Florencia among thousands of poor, displaced settlers and their families fleeing either environmentally related droughts and floods or increasing armed confrontations between the army, the guerrillas, and drug bands.

Thus, attempting to evaluate Phase I and Phase II-or, more generally, the strategy of massive investments in rural settlement projects in the Amazon frontier -in terms of their socio-economic benefits, one is faced with more questions than answers. One may ask, for example, how it is that at the termination of the project one finds that, from a relatively peaceful community of settlers, the area has evolved into a socially explosive zone. Guerrilla activity, with the support of some of the poorer settlers, has greatly increased, malaria continues to run rampant, and unexpected migration to new population centres of families displaced by violence, is imposing hardships on the few existing, rudimentary health facilities. Although these events could not have been foreseen at the project design stage, a nagging question hangs in the background related to the selection of the economic strategy.

Given the experiences of other countries (where the IBRD and IDB are involved with colonization projects in Amazon Basin-type soils), and taking into account the specific income requirements and labour availability of migrant settlers, one wonders whether there were no other development strategies at hand, different from the simple and perhaps elitist production model utilized in Caquetá If the Amazon forest area is needed for settling landless workers and displaced peasants, are governments and society to stand helplessly by and watch the current indiscriminate destruction of natural resources in order to establish medium and large cattle or agricultural operations? Can other models with more socially encompassing benefits not be established? How can one make the abundant peasant family labour available productive in these particular areas?

One final question related to this project is in regards to the expected social benefits. From reading initial documentation, one gathers that by channelling funds in order to create opportunities for entrepreneurial settlers to open up frontier land, the expected outcome in terms of production and income generation would not only stabilize economic activities but also generate a mood of optimism and hope among the population. Instead, one finds despair, a stagnation in land value, proliferation of disease, crime, and other forms of social unrest and strife. Also, there is a growing awareness of the environmental damage caused by mass deforestation and its effects revealed in recent phenomena such as unprecedented droughts and floods and massive insect attacks on pastures.

This situation seems to outweigh the limited economic benefits received, directly and indirectly, by the target population and leaves one with doubts regarding the overall social welfare of the area's population.

One final point that warrants mention is related to who are the final beneficiaries in a project of this nature. There is some recent empirical evidence which seems to suggest that the original pioneer settlers in the area do not benefit in the way originally intended. Forest clearing for pasture on these soils is a process characterized by a large labour input which is finally validated when the settler establishes a legal claim and obtains titles to the land. Once this is achieved, the farm has the basic components to enter the land capitalist market and it is then that medium and large cattle farmers from other areas step in and purchase and integrate three or four titled farms and set up an economically feasible operation. The original settler perceives this as an opportunity to recover the true value of his family's labour, sells, and moves further out to begin the forest clearing process once more.

Thus, it is no accident that some of the settlers who are clearing forest in the areas adjacent to Phase II were, at one time, the settlers of Phase II and its intended beneficiaries.

If this trend proves to be of a generalized nature, it then confirms the suspicions about the real achievements of Phase II, that is the stabilization of the pioneer settlements and the Amazon frontier. It would also imply that the current production model (i.e. extensive cattle production) is not compatible with the needs of the migrant settlers of Caquetá and that its social implications will not contribute to the achievement of the government's rural social policy.

Stability of the production model

Government and Bank evaluation documents state that one of the benefits of the chosen model is "the increase in the livestock carrying capacity of the improved pasture." While this may be true of the first four to six years, it is not clear whether this will continue to be so in the future. Empirical evidence gathered in stabilized project areas indicates that most of the farms where land was totally cleared show a proliferation of bald spots (i.e. erosion of soil formerly covered with pasture). Also, livestock farmers located in the older colonized areas are beginning to suffer from a shortage of fence posts, and small streams and watering places are drying up.

The central question arising from these symptoms is, What will be the impact of breaking the natural nutrient replenishment chain on the area's soils? Will the nutrientextracting pastures require supplemental energy (i.e. fertilizer) to sustain the acquired carrying capacity? If so, will livestock production remain economically feasible?

Environmental effects

Although it seems that the project provided an alternative to deter forest clearing on a single farm basis, it is also clear that the aggregate area of forest cut, undoubtedly accelerated by the project, has had a greater environmental impact on the 1.8 million hectares, as evidenced by an unprecedented series of droughts and floods, the reduction by half of the navigation period of the area's main rivers, and the virtual disappearance, if not extinction, of some species of fauna.

These effects have had a negative economic impact on the region, especially on the poorer settlers, and, according to both community leaders and some government officials, "the area is showing some signs of desertification."

Environmental costs

INCORA and Bank evaluation documents coincide in concluding that "the loss of valuable timber by burning remains as one of the leading project costs" which, unfortunately, was not calculated at the time of the project's appraisal or evaluation, "for lack of reliable data and precise orientation for this type of analysis." The Bank recommends devising a methodology for appraising this cost in future projects of this nature.

After surveying the existing evidence of the greater costs to society-besides the "burnt timber," one cannot understand the prevailing view of government and World Bank experts who prefer separating or isolating production elements from the closely knit environmental chain. It is evident that from the beginning of the project the production component was separated from the conservation component. By being assigned separate funds and responsibilities for production and conservation research from the initiation of the project, both researchers and extension agents were prevented from developing management techniques and recommendations geared toward long-term self-sustaining production. This approach to the "stabilization of rural settlements" is definitely responsible for the presently distorted view of the Amazon frontier, where both the fragile nature of its soils and the indispensable nutrient replenishment chain are not properly appraised and thus their economic role in production schemes is not thoroughly recognized.

Frontier stabilization alternatives

The rural poor continue to be an issue in developing countries and therefore policies directed towards their improvement rate high on the priority scale. In the case of Colombia's rural poor, approximately 300,000-400,000 families located mostly on the non-coffee Andean slopes, there is still much to be done. Rural development projects, devised as strategies for the double purpose of increasing both food production and rural income have been implemented since 1975.

It is evident that beneficiaries of Caquetá Phase II are definitely not part of the rural poor and that, apart from the environmental considerations, investments per family in colonization schemes such as this are higher than elsewhere.

Preliminary comparisons between the economic rate of return of Phase II and that of rural development projects on the interior frontiers show the latter to have a slightly higher return.

However, the point to be made is that there must be a wider range of criteria for the pre-implementation appraisal.

In the case of the Caquetá projects, one could not find a clear sequence of appraisal steps, much less an encompassing methodology to evaluate all costs that the government and society would have to bear in order to implement the projects. Thus, the decision to carry out the projects was made without awareness of the full economic costs (environmental costs) implied in breaking the natural nutrientreplenishment chains, in losing valuable timber and other elements, and, most important, because these factors were ignored, steps were not taken to soften their impact (i.e. conservation management and research).

Frontier management technology

As awareness of the environmental impact begins to consolidate in the area today, pressure for implementing new settlements continues. However, both government officials and the community are re-evaluating the livestock production model. The area has since attained statehood, a local university was created a few years ago, and there is growing concern with the environmental issues and related natural phenomena. There is a growing demand for new local research and technology oriented towards encompassing the conservation issue and making production a part of it. Unfortunately, research in this field has been limited, and whatever technology is available has been developed for the more stable and fertile tropical forest soils of the Caribbean basin.

There is one accomplishment, though, and that is that the community has agreed to organize and manage those areas that, because of their special characteristics, are of a clear social interest; these areas are the natural lakes, watering holes and small streams, and the special hunting areas. INCORA is revising its rules so that these areas are not granted individual titles.

If this new approach to the management and conservation of natural resources is reinforced with the introduction of compatible agro-forestry production models, of which rubber production seems to be one of the more feasible, then perhaps the original objective of pioneer stabilization (economic and social) will be attained.

Contents - Previous - Next