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Organization of Communities and Agricultural Production.

The organization of colonization activities has changed since the initiation of the FTN project. Initially, farmers were allocated individual parcels and were supposed to receive government organizational and technical support. This form of organization was succeeded by the Patrimonio Agrario Colectivo (PAC) under the Lucas administration, in which the farmers were supposed to form kibbutz-like co-operatives (DTCA-INTA n.d.). After the accession to power of Efraín Ríos Montt in mid-1982, INTA began promoting Empresas Comunitarias Agrícolas (ECA), designed to incorporate both collective and individual forms of farm management (INTA n.d.).

It is not entirely clear how the decisions were made to change the land allocation schemes in colonization projects, although in separate contexts comments were made as to shortcomings of the different models. For example, it was mentioned that in the initial stages of colonization of the FTN, in the western area, farmers were brought in from the Pacific coast or from the area of Zacapa, both of which are much drier than the FTN. Farmers suffered severe health problems, as did their families, and probably also had technical problems in farming the new environments. In informal conversations it was reported that a large proportion of the first colonists abandoned their farms.

The establishment of PACS may have been an attempt to deal with the problems of giving assistance to a dispersed farm population, by concentrating them and making them more accessible. Nevertheless, the PACS were not successful in the attempt to collectivize farmers; the introduction of the ECA was explicitly cited as an attempt to formalize the actual organizational structures of the agrarian colonies under the PAC. Under the PAC, certain areas were demarcated as collective, but in addition the members of the PAC were informally assigned individual trabajaderos (work areas) which they managed privately with the permission of the local directive bodies of the PACS. The use of these individual plots was formalized by the ECA structure. INTA officials recognized that changes were not as dramatic on the ground as they may have seemed in a legal sense, given the informal forms of organization that had developed within the colonies.

What may be one of the most significant changes in the process of colonization in the FTN is the concentration of authority and decision-making embedded in a strategy of "polos de desarrollo" (development poles). The overall strategy is to co-ordinate the efforts of all government institutions in a limited number of communities. The objective is to create "first order centres" which enjoy all the benefits of government suppport, such as health care (supplied by the Ministerio de Salud), agricultural technical assistance (DIGESA and ICTA), forestry management and assistance (INAFOR), technical assistance for animal production (DIGESEPE), sewage and water-supply (UNIPAR), roads (Dirección General de Caminos y Carreteras), legal/organizational assistance (INTA), credit (BANDESA), communications (GUATEL), schools (Ministerio de Educación) etc. Coordination is effected through a hierarchy of local decision-making bodies. The highest order body is the CID (Coordinador Inter-Institucional Departamental); this body is composed of representatives from government agencies and from the departmental government (the major areal political division within Guatemala), presided over by the Commander of the Military Zone. At a lower level is the CIM, Coordinador InterInstitucional Municipal, which has a composition analogous to that of the CID, but which is presided over by the municipal mayor. Finally, at the lowest level is the Comité de Desarrollo Local, which is also presided over by local authorities.

In a positive sense, the new development-pole structure has the authority to coordinate activities by oligating each governmental institution to be present and carry out its function. The justification for the new structure is that previously, each government institution worked independently of, and at times in opposition to, other institutions due to personal and political competitions of members of the institutions. The absolute nature of the military authority structure makes it difficult for institutions to withhold services for petty reasons and enforces a coordinated planning.

In a negative sense, the success of the local development process depends very much on the wisdom and ability of the local military commander with regard to economic, technical, and development questions. In the worst of cases, a well-intentioned but poorly informed military commander would be in the position to initiate massive government activities which suffer from technical flaws of which he is not aware or does not understand. The other major failing in this scheme may be that it does not address the fundamental question of budgetary problems. The identification of 41 "development poles" which require complete attention within one single agricultural zone of the country may well be beyond the budgetary capacity of some of the governmental agencies.

Surprisingly, there are no formal evaluations of the colonization process in the FTN. ICTA has carried out specific tests of new technologies, as well as sondeos, but no published evaluations of the overall colonization process exist. Obviously, internal evaluations have been done as a basis for decision-making, especially regarding changes in overall strategy, as in the changes to PAC and ECA. However, no INTA documents were encountered which specifically evaulated positive and negative aspects of the colonization process. There are several student theses which evaluate INTA activities (Maldonado Andrade 1972; Mancur Donis 1970; Villeda Sagastume 1971), but all suffer from the obvious limitations of working within the framework of a student thesis. Nevertheless, some very disturbing conclusions can be drawn from the data presented, especially from Villeda Sagastume (1971), which reports a pattern of mismanagement by INTA co-operative administrators and a heavy indebtedness of cooperatives. On the basis of data from several parts of the country, co-operatives seem to be endowed with more land resources than members, which logically would tend to create land-extensive use patterns.

Villeda Sagastume (1971) (see tables 38 and 39) observed that in Las Cabezas cooperative, the farmers had begun to work entirely on an individual basis because of disillusionment with co-operative management, and that, of 24 farmers interviewed (of the 160 members of the co-operative), none cultivated more than 3 ha. No information is given as to patterns of land and forest management employed in the non-cultivated lands.

With the breakdown of the co-operative organization, apparently no further land use planning was done. As an indication of the failure of land use planning, the Las Cabezas co-operative was reported to have some 60 per cent of its land area in forest and fallow in 1971; by 1984, the co-operative had virtually no forest and was feeling a shortage of fuelwood and had solicited the assistance of the CATIE-INAFOR fuelwood project to address the problem through the establishment of fuelwood plantations (Martinez, pers. comm. 1984).

Interviews with the director of INTA'S office of colonization revealed an awareness of the problem of land use planning. It was felt that there is a need to increase activities for controlling patterns of land use to avoid over-utilization of fragile lands. Under the ECA organization plan, INTA must approve annual land use plans for reform communities.

Table 38. Size and membership of seven co-operatives in Guatemala

Co-operative Department Size (ha) Members Ha/fam.
Chirripec Alta Verapaz 607 53 11.45
Chipoip Alta Verapaz 132 34 3.88
Campur Alta Verapaz 3,686 209 17.64
San Vicente Alta Verapaz 4,416 77 57.35
Saxoc Alta Verapaz 577 105 5.5
Cacahuito Santa Rosa 1,127 203 5.55
Las Cabezas Santa Rosa 1,681 173 9.72

Source: Villeda Sagastume 1971.

Table 39. Patterns of land use (in ha) in three co-operatives in Guatemala

Land use Las Cabezas Saxoc El Cacahuito
Coffee 22.08 80.04 133.17
Grainsa 331.89 132.48 105.57
Forest & fallow 1,019.13 347.76 422.97
Pasture 263.58 0 377.43
Other 64.86 0 87.63

Source: Villeda Sagastume 1971.

aThis category includes corn, beans, rice, and the individual plots of members, which are assumed to be planted principally in grains.

Population of Chocón. ChocŸn has been an area of spontaneous colonization for 20 to 30 years. Adams (1965) and Carter (1969) reported on the colonization of lowland tropical areas by Ketchí, Indians from Cobán.

The area of Cobán has been a centre for the development of coffee production, and the competition for land has led to a spontaneous movement of the local population toward the lowlands. The migratory movement has been toward Chocón to a great extent. The towns of Chahal and Cahabón were both destinations of migrants and jumping-off points for Petén. Before the 1950s, the movement into Petén had been primarily by single, acculturated men who went in search of chicle. These "chicleros" were superseded by the farmer families of monolingual Kekchís.

While Chahal and Cahabón are not within the Bloque Chocón, they were stopping-off places for settlers moving into what is now the Chocón. Farmers in various communities, such as Chakichoch and Searranx, reported that they had come from these sites before 1954. The communities in Chocón, thus, have been occupied for many years, but only recently has road communication improved to the point of making accessible to them markets and national transportation. Members of the INAFOR forestry inventory crew reported that visits to towns such as Searranx several years previous to this required a journey on foot of eight hours after leaving the fourwheel drive access road. Adams (1965) reports that the municipalities of Livingston and El Estor (see map 8) were largely occupied at the time of his investigation.

The population of Chocón is mainly Kekchí, but in the south-eastern part of the zone, another migratory current of Spanish-speaking ladings has occurred. Population pressures from the Zacapa valley led to the use of the roads connecting Puerto Barrios, Livingston, and Petén as penetration routes into jungle areas. Nevertheless, a survey of 104 communities in the Bloque Chocón found that the great majority of communities were primarily Kekchí speaking; only four communities were Spanish speaking.

Plans for the Development of the Bloque Chocón. Formal government participation in colonization has been restricted in the past to the western and central parts of the FTN (Playa Grande and Fray Bartolomé), leaving the easternmost section, the Bloque Chocón, to its own devices. Only INTA and INAFOR have permanent offices in the area, and other agencies send representatives on an occasional basis. Colonization of the area has been carried out in a spontaneous fashion, facilitated by the presence of the only road which connects Flores (near the archaeological site of Tikal, in Petén) with the capital. Chocón has had very little infrastructure, and only in the past five years have roads connected many communities to paved highways. There are still many areas inaccessible by vehicle.

The proposed development of the Bloque Chocón (Desarrollo Rural Integrado Izabal, DRl-I) is structurally similar to the INTA strategy in the rest of the FTN, but without the specification of "development poles." Organized by the Comité de Reconstrucción Nacional (CRN, which was formed in 1972 to distribute international aid to earthquake victims), its designers argue that integrated development requires management by an organization with extraordinary authority to overcome institutional competition and jealousy. The CRN is directly responsible to the president, and it is argued that this position will permit it to override inter-institutional problems. One other similarity between DRI-I and the general INTA programme is the focus on capacitación, or farmer training. According to INTA, this activity will address "technical, social, and ideological principles" in an attempt to overcome the problems of the 114 communities of the departments of Alta Verapaz and Baja Verapaz, which make up a large part of the FTN (INTA 1983).

Much to its credit, DRI-I has as part of its plan for development forestry and permanent crop production. However, it was observed that nurseries for the production of forest species were not functioning, and the one nursery for the production of fruit-trees, cacao, and rubber was operating on a limited scale. Nursery capacities would have to be greatly strengthened for the needs of the project.

Charcoal production has proven to be economically feasible in the eastern part of Guatemala. One individual in the Bahia de Amatique has begun to produce char coal for export to Europe, and this success has been an inspiration to many institutions, although the forests of that area are quite different from those of the Chocón area. The cement factory located near Chocón has indicated an interest in and even offered a price it would be willing to pay for charcoal which could be used to replace petroleum. But the scale of production demanded by the cement industry will require extensive reforestation to maintain production at necessary levels. Some communities within the DRI-I project have plans to develop a charcoal-production industry; in September of 1984, charcoal kilns had been constructed in the community of Chinacadenas and were in the process of being tested. DRI organizers also indicated an interest in promoting fuelwood plantations and the communal management of forests, since the forest resources of the area have been depleted. Even in the area of Chinacadenas, it seemed that the supply of wood will become a problem quite quickly.

Table 40a. Production modules for DRI-I development plan

Product Production modules, hectares per community
1 2 3 4 5
Corn 50 50 100 75 75
Rice 25 25 25 0 0
Beans 0 0 0 0 25
Kenaf 0 0 0 0 25
Yuca (Cassava) 0 0 0 0 25
Rubber 0 SO SO 0 0
Cacao SO 0 0 50 0
Achiote 25 25 0 0 0
Coconut 0 0 0 0 25
Pigs (sows) 0 0 16 16 0
Charcoal (ovens) 0 2 0 0 0

40b. Implementation plan for DRI-I modules

Year of


Production modules

1 2 3 4 5 Total
1 Families


212 258 212 212 153  
4 5 4 4 3
2 Families


212 212 258 152 212
4 4 5 3 4
3 Families


212 212 152 258 212
4 4 3 5 4
4 Families


212 152 212 212 212
4 3 4 4 4
5 Families


200 212 212 212 256
4 4 4 4 5
Families 1,048 1,046 1,046 1,046 1,045 5,231
Communities 20 20 20 20 20 100

Source: CRN 1984.

Permanent crops are a major part of the DRI-I development plan. The production of kenaf (jute - Hibiscus cannabinus), rubber (Hevea brasiliensis), cacao (Theabroma cacao), achiote (Bixa orellana), and coconut (Cocos nucifera) are being contemplated (see table 40). Rubber and cacao have been given most emphasis; project plans foresee the plantation of 350 to 450 ha of each of these annually. Technical assistance and the production of plant material will be co-ordinated through DIGESA.

Development Problems of the Bloque Chocón and Local Responses. Government agencies in the Chocón work out of two permanent offices, one at Semox and the other at Modesto Mendez. Semox is the centre of general operations, with storehouses, guest housing, equipment storage, and some offices; Modesto Mendez is the centre of INTA activities, and the site of class-rooms and housing facilities used for peasant training. Both centres are less than 150 m from the new asphalted highway which connects Petén to the capital by way of Morales and Zacapa. In the past five years, new roads have been opened connecting the Bloque Chocón directly with the rest of the FTN. One road follows the Sarstún River eastward from Modesto Mendez to Fray Bartolomé de las Casas, and the other connects Semox with Chahal, after which it connects with the Modesto Mendez-Fray Bartolomé road. The Sarstún road was favoured over the old route through Cobán as an access road to Fray Bartolomé de las Casas from Guatemala, despite the longer distance covered, because the road was better maintained. Nevertheless, due to rains and the transit of heavy vehicles, this road may be temporarily closed at any time, and during the rainy season is only transitable by large or four-wheeldrive vehicles.

The agricultural development of the FTN area is severely limited by land quality (see table 41). Over 75 per cent of the land is of land class IV to VIII, and there is no class I in the area. * In the Chocón area the best agricultural lands are near the banks of the Rio Dulce; these are not likely to be available for small-farm development, however, since the area has been declared a national park, and lands surrounding Lake Izabál will be included. Further, nearly the entire area of class III land is divided on the INTA land tenancy map into 400 ha farms which appear to be individually owned. Less than 10 per cent of the best soils are classified as national land. More than 55 per cent of the Chocón area is class Vl or Vll; these lands consist of mainly limestone outcrops with a superficial layer of topsoil, and they have strong contours and large exposed rock outcrops.

Table 41. Land use potential for the FTN

Land use


Area (km²) 554.18 80.94 3789.78 286.67 406.44 5.42 4,016.57 9,140.00
% Area 6.06 0.89 41.46 3.14 4.45 0.16 43.94 100.00

Source: IICA-OEA 1979.

A cursory visit to Chocón or a glance at land use maps can be deceptive. Extensive forests can be seen, but they cover outcrops which generally do not support commercial forest species and could only be logged with difficulty if any desirable species were encountered. Foresters familiar with the area were doubtful, when questioned, as to how much wood suitable even for charcoal could be extracted from these forests.

Agriculture in the Chocón area is restricted largely to the production of annual crops followed by a long fallow. Some attempts have been made to introduce pineapple, cacao, etc., on a commercial scale, but these efforts have not been successful. The Ketchí cultivators of the area cultivate a wide range of permanent and potentially commercial crops: families have small plots of achiote, cacao, cardamom (Elettaria cardamomum), and various fruits. None of these crops has been commercially successful; achiote has no local market, since many people produce their own supply, and the poor transport facilities do not provide adequate access to the national market. Cacao suffers from disease problems (possibly Phytophthora) which the people of the area do not know how to control. Since cacao production is for home consumption and for ritual purposes, the few fruits which reach maturity are sufficient for the families' needs. Cardamom seems to be relatively new in the area. Few farmers grow it, and those who do, do not seem to know how to manage it, since they plant in direct sunlight (which is not the recommended practice). This crop has been successfully established in other areas of the FTN, however, and Chocón farmers are eager to get more information in order to take advantage of the profits offered by the crop.

One of the most intriguing aspects of the agriculture of the area is the use of velvet bean (Styzolobium sp.) as a green manure crop to improve soils and shorten the necessary interval for fallow. Farmers commented that its ability to eliminate gramineous weeds was one of its principal contributions to improving the productivity of their lands, since the elimination of weeds is one of the main purposes of fallow. Between Semox and Chakichoch, fields of more than 5 ha of velvet bean were seen, and a great number of small plots. The use of the bean is so extensive that in places it seems that it must be a weed. Nevertheless, farmers report that it does not regenerate well on its own and that it must be sown during the corn cropping season. Farmers recognize that corn is much more demanding of soils than rice, so the best soils are reserved for corn production, and only these are sown with velvet beans. Using this pattern of rotation, corn can be planted annually on a single plot of land instead of requiring the five year fallow previously necessary.

The practice of using velvet bean as a green manure is relatively new in the area. It is reported to have begun at Semox between 1980 and 1982, and has slowly been passed from farm to farm. Seed must be purchased from farmers who already have the bean, and this has slowed diffusion somewhat. Farther from Semox, toward Chahal, the use of velvet bean dramatically decreases, and is seen only on small, isolated plots of land. The use of this technique is also reported for other areas of the FTN by Ruano (1981) and by Carter (1969).

There is a traditional interest in forestry all over Guatemala, including in Chocón. INAFOR employees report that they have received requests for plants and technical assistance from residents of Chocó to address the problem of a lack of contruction material: the remaining naturally occurring trees of the area are distant from communities and inaccessible. In Chinacadenas, on the road to Fray Bartolomé following the Sarstún River, residents reported that they collected the resin (copalpom) of copal trees (Protium copal), for both local consumption and to sale. The tradition of forest management by Guatemalan Indians has been documented by Veblen (1975). Zanotti (pers. comm. 1984) reports of communities in other parts of Guatemala where communal forests have been planted at local expense and with no support or direction from outside institutions. INAFOR only became aware of these plantations when they received requests for assistance in the management of the already established plantations.


The process of colonization in Guatemala is complicated by the very size of the government bureaurcracy. Whereas in other Central American countries government bureaucracies are held to a minimal size by budgetary limitations, in Guatemala the size and relative wealth of the country has led to a proliferation of agencies with interlocking functions. A further complication is that, although a General Secretariat of Economic Planning exists to co-ordinate the activities of different institutions in the agricultural sector, some of the most important government institutions are not subject to this planning process and are, rather, directly responsible to the president of the republic (these include INTA, FYDEP, and ICTA). Agricultural sector evaluations note the problems of co-ordination which arise from this condition, as do the government agencies themselves (DRI-I personnel comment that the major problems of development in humid tropical lands are not technical but institutional). The solution to this problem has been concentration of decision-making within non-technical co-ordinating groups.

A consequence of major significance arising from the division of the government agencies into highly specialized units is that decision-making with regard to long-term planning tends to be done with little attention to technical development. For example, in the DRI-I project, INAFOR has been made responsible for charcoal production, advising on forest management and fuelwood production. These responsibilities are a reflection of INAFOR'S past activities and apparently are what the co-ordinating committee feels INAFOR is best prepared to do. Nevertheless, while there is an obvious need for innovative forestry strategies in the development of Chocón's poor soils, there is no provision in the DRI-I plan for the investigation or testing of alternative strategies. INAFOR theoretically should be developing such strategies as part of its institutional development programme, but it is generally recognized (within and outside of INAFOR) that INAFOR'S limited budget permits little beyond the accomplishment of routine obligations (between 1980 and 1984, INAFOR'S budget was reduced by more than 50 per cent, from more than us$9 million to less than us$4 million).

The fragmentation of policy and implementation capabilities has potentially devastating effects on colonization project development. For example, it was observed that, although the DRI-I project calls for the implementation of improved maize production practices on more than 2,000 ha annually, the ICTA (the institution in charge of technical development) had no research directly applicable to the area, and its personnel felt that three years of research would be necessary to establish packages for extension (DRI personnel were prepared to start with the project at any moment, as soon as funding was arranged). Similarly, little work had been done in the area with regard to cacao or rubber, although it is planned that 350 to 450 ha annually will be planted once the project begins; DIGESA is managing cacao in the central and Pacific regions of the country, but it still has not been tested or adapted for the conditions in the Izabál area.

Another major problem is the lack of evaluation of colonization experiences, although it is not clear whether this is due to the institutional fragmentation or the lack of continuity in government agencies. Policy changes correspond to changes in agency personnel, and evaluations done in these cases are internal and possibly no more than ex post facto justifications for the changes of personnel.

Colonization in Guatemala illustrates the problem of distinguishing between "directed" and "non-directed" approaches to colonization. In its initial stages, colonization in the FTN was managed by INTA, and this agency was largely selfsufficient and independent of other national institutions; this would be a fairly clear case of directed colonization. Nevertheless, the position of INTA has evolved to the point where it is one of many national institutions involved in the process of land colonization; specific services, such as agricultural extension or public works, are provided by the appropriate government institutions. It is difficult to say to what degree this latter condition represents "directed" colonization, since by all evaluations the participation of government institutions has not been organized with any clear, overall set of goals.

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