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Case-Study: Batán Regional Office of the ADI

The ADI is the focus of much controversy and conflict. It has been accused of serving landed interests as a ready and well-paying buyer for unwanted farm lands (Salazar 1962; Hill 1964) on the one hand and, on the other, has been accused of fomenting forest destruction by legalizing a process of land clearance, pasture establishment, and land speculation by itinerant labourers (Costa Rica 1982). There is some truth in the accusations, since landowners insist on being well paid for expropriated land, and the agency is under political pressure from organized peasant groups to acquire more land. These accusations and pressures have been answered by policy changes in the ADI, and while they are not always directly related to deforestation and land use, they exercise a pervasive influence on agency decision-making and constitute part of the problem encountered in designing environmentally appropriate colonization strategies.

For administrative purposes, ADF management of colonization is decentralized in 20 regional centres managing some 300 individual colonization areas. These colonies comprise 40,326 farm families on an extension of 793,940 ha, approximately 15 per cent of the territorial extent of the country. Each regional office administers a set of colonies with varying conditions. One example of the complexity of the administrative problem can be seen by comparing the lists of colonies held by the main office and the regional office for Batán; both recognize the existence of 21 colonies, but there is a difference of approximately 15,000 ha in the estimates of area administered, and only a 50 per cent overlap in the colony names. Apparently, colonies are created, legalized, or administratively divided frequently, and this dynamism and the problems of communication are reflected in the differences between the two lists (the regional office technicians made a xerox of the author's copy of the central office list of colonies).

Table 5 presents an overall view of land use in Limón Province. Most of the land is protected, and a large part of the area in farms is incorporated into ADF programmes. It should be noted that Limón has experienced a great deal of economic growth in the past 10 years, so the 1973 census data are likely to be quite different from the current figures (the 1984 census was carried out in June 1984 and is still in the process of analysis). In any case, it is clear that AD! colonies form a significant portion of the farms and farming population of the province.

In his analysis of colonization in Latin America, Nelson (1977) discusses Batán Colony, but his brief summary hardly does justice to the situation. He concluded that the colony was a failure because he observed (1) problems of co-operative organization, (2) squatters within the colony, (3) a lack of interest on the part of settlers in agricultural activities, and (4) lower than expected yields. Viewed at the present time, his observations oversimplify a complex situation and misrepresent the problems of colonization in the region.

Table 5. Land use in Limón Province, Costa Rica

Type of administration Area Total Inhabs.
National parks      
Tortuguero 18,946  
Cahuita 1,068  
Chirripó 43,700  
Braulio Carrillo 31,401  
La Amistad 190,403  
Reserva Biologica    
Hitoy 9,044  
Forest reserves    
Zona Protectora Barbilla 12,830  
Matina 400  
Volcánica Central 72,895  
Indian reservations    
Tayni Estrella 13,616
Talamanca 62,129
Chirripó 82,105
Telire 9,187
Sibuju Norte 2,195
Cocles 5,538
Chase 190
Barbilla Dantes 2,450
Total 558,097

Agrarian reform: Number of beneficiaries and farm area (excludes Indian reservations)

  92,234   3,153
Total agricultural sector for Limón
  Ha in forest Ha. in farms Farms
59,033 285,316 9,316

Sources: Morales Díaz 1984; Costa Rica 1987, and table 4.

Table 6. Batán regional office: Colonies administered

No. Colony Locale Area Benefi
Parcels Formation
1.0 Colonia Batán Batán-Matina 10,572 750 799 1964
1.1 Parcelación Dirigida Batán-Matina 2,796 309 329 1964
1.2 Parcelación Asimilada Batán-Matina 6,985 450 479 1964
1.3 Sector Cooperativo Batán-Matina 791 120 - 1984
2.0 San Jose (don Storren) Estrada-Matina 30 28 29 1980
3.0 Maravilla Venecia-Matina 313 29 31 1978
4.0 La Flor (Coopeocho) Larga Distancia 324 21 22 1979
5.0 Peligrosa San Miguel 380 33 34 1977
6.0 Fuscaldo Sahara-Matina 217 16 16 1979
7.0 Wachope Sta. Rosa-Limón 1,000 38 45 1978
8.0 Las Nubes La Estrella-Limón 550 37 37 1975
9.0 Desarrollo Forestal Pacuarito-Siquirres 6,157 85 77 1977
10.0 Florida Siquirres 2,992 250 250 1978
11.0 Argentina (Made) Pocora-Guacimo 1,343 113 113 -
12.0 Tierra Grande Pocora-Guacimo 3,298 140 132 1980
13.0 Delicias Parsmina-Guacimo 314 49 49 1984
14.0 Dorayi Carmen-Siquirres 450 50 50 1980
15.0 Pais S.A. Sixaola-Talamanca 4,190 - - 1979
15.1 Margarita Margarita Sixaola 1,700 130 127 1979
15.2 Otros Sectores Varios Sixaola 2,410 170 - 1984
16.0 Julio César Calabria Cahuita-Talamanca 3,003 200 - 1984

Source: Castro, R. 1984. (No title). Batán regional office document.

The colony of Batán was created from an abandoned banana plantation. It is one (or four, depending on whether the administrative list of the main office or the regional office is used) of 21 colonies administered by the Batán ADI office. While it is the largest of the colonies, it represents only part of the colonized area of the region. The four divisions recognized by the regional office in 1984 are the original colony of 10,500 ha; an additional 2,700 ha of parcels established by the ADI; another 7,000 ha of parcels assimilated into the colony; and 800 ha of banana cooperatives (see table 6).

Steps have been taken to incorporate new squatters into the colony, evidenced by the near doubling for the size of the colony over a period of approximately 10 years. The addition of new farmers to the colony (there are now 1,500, as opposed to 600 proposed at the time of Nelson's study) seems to indicate that the problems of low crop yields have not limited growth. A national support programme for rice production has been very well received by farmers of the region, who are now producing their full quota of rice. The banana co-operatives have been so successful that an ADI official estimated the members' individual incomes to have been in excess of us$20,000 for some years, and manual labour is now carried out by contracted, non-member labourers. ADI officials see their main problems as the excessive demand for land by peasants, the agency's financial limitations, which restrict their level of activity, and the creation of a new elite in the area composed of members of the banana co-operatives.

With hindsight, it is clear that Nelson drew erroneous conclusions and made inaccurate predictions regarding the colony. But it is likely that the discrepancies between Nelson's predictions and the actual state of Batán Colony are a result of changing conditions and policy corrections made as the colony developed.

The Neguev and La Argentina Colonies

The Neguev and La Argentina (also called Made) colonies were established in forest areas and comprise 5,340 and 1,30() ha respectively. Both colonies are at approximately 100 m above sea level, with the majority of La Argentina above this altitude, and the majority of Neguev below it. These colonies are administered by the Pocora regional office of the ADI, which, in 1984, was incorporated into the Batán office.

Neguev Colony has a favourable financial situation due to the initiation of an AID funded programme to reinforce land titling and colonization. Neguev Colony has a staff of five technicians and a fleet of new jeeps to administer the 5,340 ha of the project, while the Batán regional office has a staff of six, one jeep (which must be push-started), and one motorcycle to administer a much larger area. Neguev, then, does not suffer as acutely the financial limitations which affect Batán.

La Argentina and Neguev share similar environmental problems and a similar history. The greater part of the land in both colonies is unsuitable for most kinds of agriculture. The soils are acid clay, which are generally thought to be suitable only for pasture. Small sections, especially alluvial soil areas, have better agricultural potential, but these lands do not constitute more than 20 per cent of the total land area. Both colonies were formed on the basis of land invasions by organized peasant groups and were forced on the ADI without allowing for a complete background analysis.

A number of farmers were interviewed in each of the colonies for their views on the problems of establishing their farms. Several generalizations can be made with regard to the farmers interviewed. First, many are recent immigrants from areas with different ecological conditions, such as the much drier Puriscal area, or from Turrialba, a higher area with fewer months of rainfall and better soils. The initial ADI report on the population found 115 farmers on the land, and only 56 from nearby areas (ITCO 1980). These farmers do not have special insights into the problems of managing their new lands, and generally admitted to being at a loss as to how best to use them. Sowing of pasture was the one universal solution- to their problems, since most affirmed that soils were too poor to support any other crops. Nevertheless, farmers did not seem to have a realistic view of their income possibilities from animal production. Since the majority of the farms are smaller than 20 ha, the only alternative for deriving a viable income from animal production would be through dairy production. Farmers interviewed had made no special provisions to orient their work toward dairying.

Tree farming is not considered a viable land use alternative by the colonists. For a farmer, income from trees is usually a one-time affair, by which he sells the rights to trees on his land, and the lumber contractor takes charge of cutting. The returns to the farmer for this sort of extraction are low but acceptable because they require no input from the farmer. In La Argentina a small sawmill was established, but prices for processing logs were so high that farmers only considered using the mill's services for home construction, as an alternative to buying wood. It seems clear that the lack of organization of the lumber industry in the area is a major disincentive to further forestry activities. Farmers do not have exceptionally profitable experiences in wood processing, and, apparently as a result, it never occurs to them to enter the business again.

Both Neguev and La Argentina were private farms prior to their invasions. Both had significant forest areas, but in the case of Neguev, the owner had sown several hectares of laurel and laurel muneco in the central area of the farm. The plantations seemed to have suffered high mortality, and only patches remain. The remaining trees are at least five years old (the colony was established five years ago, and one farmer's wife declared there had been no planting in the interim) and have reached a height of nearly 10 metres. There was no evidence of any special efforts taken with regard to the plantations. Pastures had been planted among the trees, but the two local ADI employees interviewed were unaware of the plantations until they were pointed out to them.

It is significant that forestry activities were not contemplated in the ADI management plan for farms in the area. "Protection zones" were established in swampy and uncultivable areas, but no plans for reforestation were suggested.

Both Neguev and La Argentina had been major centres of peasant political activities. When La Argentina was first invaded, peasants organized in rejecting ADI support, and the farm was abandoned by the ADI, leaving it in the hands of the peasant group. One reason that the Pocora office of the ADI is now located in Batán is that it had been located on a farm adjacent to La Argentina and had to be abandoned due to the political opposition. The office facilities have now deteriorated to the point of being unserviceable. Apparently the more inaccessible parts of the farm had been used for weapons training by militant groups at one time, but after police action this activity ended. The most significant result of the political activity in La Argentina was that the recommendations of the socio-economic evaluations of potential settlers could never be implemented. Of the 115 families identified in the ADI Settler Selection Study, only 89 were recommended as settlers. The remaining 26 were excluded for a variety of reasons, including possession of other lands, previous land adjudications to the farmer by the ADI indications that the farm would not be a major source of income, or the "colonist" being a single, legal minor (possibly family to local farmers or other settlers in La Argentina). These recommendations were never carried out, and the farm was never formally adjudicated, so that in June of 1984 there was no legal title for any of the existing parcels, and presumably the original 115 colonists had disposed of the land as they pleased. Many land transactions had taken place since the original study on the basis of "letters of sale," but the ADI land adjudicator insisted that these papers had no legal merit. Survey teams for the ADI were in the process of making a new socioeconomic study and remeasuring parcels so titles could be formalized.

While the case of La Argentina is exceptional in the militance of its occupiers, in many senses it represents the norm in land colonization. A farm is invaded by peasants who have identified it as abandoned (or minimally managed); the organized peasant group succeeds in bringing political pressure to bear on the ADI SO they cannot carry out their preliminary evaluations or make decisions on the basis of information collected. The ADI "inherits" the purchase of the farm and has no option to refuse conditions suggested by the landowner or those imposed by the invading group.

The cases of La Argentina and Neguev illustrate the problems of land acquisition by the ADI Land of questionable value is acquired and distributed among peasants with no basis in technical criteria. The result is the establishment of colonies on poor farm land, with farms too small to offer reasonable incomes given the poor land quality. Even the farmers recognize the limitations of their land and have little hope of becoming selfsufficient, much less well-off. From their perspective the land is a good investment ADI officials estimate that the majority of the original families have changed since the first invasion of 1979, and the current occupants have paid for the land), since in all likelihood it will appreciate and generate some income in the meantime. Nevertheless, it is doubtful that these farms will contribute to a vigorous development of agriculture without the development of improved land utilization strategies.

Economic and Political Aspects of Tropical Land Colonization in Costa Rica

No discussion of land colonization in Costa Rica can be complete without at least mentioning the economic and political context of land invasions. These are delicate and explosive issues which have come to be incorporated into the deforestation process and which influence the process of land development and land use even more than technical considerations. During the week of 16 July 1984, the regional office of the ADI in Batán was invaded twice by militant squatters, and on one occasion the office personnel were held hostage for a period of 20 hours in an effort to reinforce squatter demands. The background to this invasion is presented here because it helps illustrate the problems faced by the ADI

As mentioned, one of the major concerns of the ADI in adjudicating farm land is to avoid providing land to peasant speculators who have no intention of farming. In some notorious cases, farms have been invaded by peasants and adjudicated by the ADI only to have the farm land resold to the original owner within a period of a few years. More common is the rapid turnover of peasants in newly established colonies, in which original invaders quickly "sell" their land to other peasants. While obviously there are conditions under which farmers may want or need to sell recently acquired land, ADI officials identify certain individuals as "professionals" who earn a living by partcipating in invasions and selling adjudicated lands. Condition six of the ADI settler evaluation criteria mentioned above is included to exclude these professionals from new colonies. This issue is prominent in the following discussion.

The immediate motivation for the take-over of the ADI offices in Batán was a demand for expropriation of a farm called La Margarita. La Margarita is a cacao farm located on the railway between Batán and Limón. Its area is 360 ha and its owner, the Costa Rica Cocoa Company, was reported to be asking 40 million colones (approximately us$1 million) for the farm. A group of 50 squatters invaded the farm but were removed by the local police, and some were taken to court. Nevertheless, the squatters invaded again, since according to the squatters the farm had been abandoned prior to their invasion. This may be true, since in the past few years the presence of Monilia fungus greatly reduced cacao production in the area, and many cacao plantations ceased to be worked. In the meantime, CATIE technicians working at "La Lola" experiment station near Batán discovered methods for controlling Monilia which were economically feasible. Where a few years ago cacao was being abandoned or destroyed, plantations are now being renewed or newly planted. The ADI thus found itself in the position of buying a fairly small farm, which the owners probably wanted to retain, at a price which would be quite high for abandoned land.

An added dilemma for the ADI is the make-up of the new colonists. Most were thought to be professional land occupiers. This impression gains some support from the location of the farm on the railway, where lands are especially valuable and appreciate rapidly. In a chance interview with a squatter from a politically associated invasion (two invasion groups had joined forces to pressure for the adjudication of "their" lands and had jointly invaded the ADI offices the week of 16 July), the squatter stated that 80 per cent of the invaders of La Margarita were "comerciarites" (merchants).

Political pressure is increased in these invasions by the participation of leftist political parties. In the selection study for La Argentina (ITCO 1980), it was recognized that the Popular Vanguard Party (PVP) provided advice and support for the invading group. The PVP is a coalition of leftist parties which have traditionally been involved with political activity in labour unions of the banana areas. Many invasions are organized through banana workers unions, and the PVP has come to be present in other invasions as an organizational or legal advisor. In the case of La Margarita, a second gathering at the ADI office in Batán two days after the take-over ADI officials took the precaution of not allowing more than one of the demonstrators in the office at one time) was joined by directors of peasant unions from all over Limón Province.

The take-over of the ADI office took place during a week marked by nation-wide labour problems. Newspapers were full of articles discussing the coalition of political interests which were attempting to manipulate these labour problems for their own ends. After leaving the ADI offices following the second incident, organizers of the group openly discussed the possibility of co-ordinating their demands with those of the workers in other parts of the country to deal a "massive blow" (golpe masivo) to the government.

While the take-over of the ADI offices was an exceptional occurrence, the invasion of lands has not been. In a progress report from 15 June 1984, the Batán regional office reported that there had been 30 invasions in the past two years. Twenty of these were new invasions and 10 were continuing cases which had not been formally adjudicated for a variety of reasons.

The problems associated with the La Margarita farm illustrate the problems of the ADI in managing colonization on a technical basis. The interests of landless farmers are tied to political and commercial interests which are contrary to ADI policies. Pressure groups try to force the ADI into making decisions on a political basis in order to avoid the application of technical criteria which may recommend the refusal of an adjudication request. At the same time, the ADI finds itself subject to pressure from the government to make decisions which are based more on the current political conditions in the country than on the technical merits of a colonization programme.


Several general conclusions emerge from this analysis of colonization in tropical forest areas:

1. National agencies faced with colonization questions do not have technical information, such as studies of land use potential, available to them which could guide them in making more efficient use of humid tropical lands.

2. There is a shortage of production recommendations which are feasible for small farmers. Productive activities which would be especially appropriate for the humid areas, typically forestry, do not have a structure of financial and technical support which would encourage farmers to enter into innovative production strategies.

3. In the cases where this information is available, there is a lack of incentive for farmers to use it.

4. Financial support is generally lacking for the implementation of activities which may help to ameliorate environmental problems.

5. There is no national environmental conscience capable of resisting local pressures for forest destruction.

6. The ADI is being forced into the position of regularizing ex post facto the illegal seizure of lands by both poor peasants and "professional squatters" and land speculators.

Agrarian Reform Problems in Tropical Colonization

The ADI is constantly faced with problems which involve forestry questions, but they have not been able to implement effective programmes which address these problems. ADI programmes do not generally have a forestry component built into them, and, in fact, forestry and environmental problems are generally ignored for want of appropriate planning and implementation mechanisms. As one clear example, the production of laurel (Cordia alliodora) in agro-forestry combinations has been an important source of income for farmers in Limón. in recent years where Monilia has reduced cacao income; combined with cacao or pastures, laurel provides a method of making multiple use of lands with appropriate local species and also helps to stabilize land and reduce problems of nutrient leaching and erosion (Rosero and Gewald 1979). Nevertheless, there is no clearly defined laurel component in either pasture or cacao production programmes in Neguev, and technicians were not even sensitized enough to the potential of the species to realize that the existing plantations could provide experimental data which might support further use of laurel.

Still on Neguev Colony, notably absent were plans for financing forestry activities of farmers. The ADI in fact had unconsciously adopted a purely exploitive view of forest resources. In an area with soil problems as serious as those of Neguev, forestry may well be one of the better economic alternatives for land use. In any case, farms are clearly lacking in income sources, and more attention could be paid to the enriching of forest, which, by law, must remain on the farm.

A major problem in the control of the colonization of tropical lands is the ADI's general reactive strategy. It seems that all colonization areas are selected by the invading peasants rather than the colonization agency. Once installed, the removal of the peasants is more costly (both politically and financially) than a more forward looking strategy which provides colonization areas which have been selected on the basis of technical evaluations. It is quite likely that this problem is one of financing, in which the ADI already has its budget committed to prior purchases and has no remaining funds to direct to further purchases, except where they are forced to by unavoidable political pressures. In any case, it is likely that in environmental and financial terms, it would be less costly to try to direct colonization to more appropriate areas, and that immediate investments in the ADI would be beneficial over the longer term.

Needs for Tropical Forestry Management

Within the NFD, the forestry reserve and protection zone programmes need to be strengthened. Increased staffing of forest guards has been demonstrated by the NPS to be effective, and presumably it would have the same effect in NFD areas.

The NFD needs to increase its capacity dramatically to produce management plans for protected areas. The most detailed plans now available generally come from student theses, but are sporadic in their development and slow in being produced. Either NED planning capacity must be increased or CATIE activities must be reoriented to provide a more complete coverage of forest areas with management plans.

Another need is to strengthen extension-type activities through the provision of technical support and credit, especially in the management of natural on-farm forests. The development of enrichment programmes or management and exploitation plans would be a positive step in generating farmer interest in forestry.

Necessary Investigations

In all cases of humid forest land occupation, there seems to be a clear lack of forestry implementation plans. Even in areas where forestry is obviously necessary, technicians are not making recommendations as to how to increase productivity of natural forest or how to best manage small-scale forestry or agro-forestry activities. Investigation must be implemented to provide answers to technical questions, and more effort must be directed toward communicating available information and the adaptation of forestry technologies to existing socio-economic conditions so they can readily be used by farmers.

It would be extremely useful to undertake more agro-forestry experiments in areas where they may be useful to farmers. The experiments can serve as demonstration plots, and a careful collection of local perceptions of the experiments can provide insights into technical improvements which will make adoption more likely.

More attention must be paid to soils. Although the problems of soils in high rainfall areas are generally known, there is insufficient information on alternative land uses or strategies for ameliorating known problems. Special attention must be paid not only to the discovery of alternative land uses, but to management strategies which generate income on small farms. Eighty-five per cent of all farms in Costa Rica are smaller than 50 ha, many of which are in areas of poor soils affected by high rainfall. Techniques for environmental management on these farms have a great potential impact in terms of both numbers of farms affected and on the larger environment.

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