Sustainable Agriculture In Central America Agricultural tradeoffs to mitigate deforestation

Miracle Farm Blueprint

Organic Farming Manual

Get Instant Access

Throughout the developing world, the scarcity of remaining land resources means that capital and land intensive agriculture represents an increasing share of the overall means to food production. Growth in food production slowed worldwide starting in the 1960s (World Bank, 1995). Half of potentially arable unused land remains locked (de jure if not de facto) in protected lands, and another three-fourths has soil or topographic limitations. Further, over 10% of land currently in production is substantially degraded (World Bank, 1995). This is particularly the case in Central America where forest cover decreased at an average rate of 1.2% per year from 1961 to 2001 (Figure 6.2). With just over half the original 1961 forest cover remaining, future increases in agricultural production in Central America will likely take the form of more intensive agriculture rather than agricultural expansion as in, for example, the Amazonian nations.

Even if food production is sustainable over time, maintaining production to keep pace with growing demand has implications for the environment and rural livelihoods. Land allocated to pasture and permanent crops (perennials) in Central America has increased about 40% (13 percentage points) from 1961 to 2001 (Figure 6.3) with a simultaneous increase in production of 170% (Figure 6.4).2 Most of the extensification noted in Figure 6.3 is due to the expansion of pasture rather than arable and cropped land; therefore, the increase in agricultural production can most likely be attributed to intensification over time. However, while the purpose of most forest clearing is for agricultural expansion, the flip

2 Net production is computed by FAO as (Production - Feed - Seed).

side of the coin is habitat destruction. In Central America, forest conversion increasingly occurs on dwindling remnants of biodiversity-rich tropical forests, often in and adjacent to protected areas (Brandon and Wells, 1992; Rudel and Roper, 1996). As much as 90% of species extinctions (over 20,000 annually, according to Myers, 1993) have occurred in tropical forests, though these regions make up a fraction of the world's land cover. These processes impoverish Central America's considerable gene pool, a potential gold mine for scientific advancements and food production (Smith and Schultes, 1990; Myers, 1996).

J 25

3 20

J 25

3 20

1961 1971 1981 1991 2001

Figure 6.2 Total forest cover (million ha) in Central America over time

1961 1971 1981 1991 2001

Figure 6.2 Total forest cover (million ha) in Central America over time

I Arable and cropped land □ Pasture land

1961 1971 1981 1991 2001

Figure 6.3 Agricultural extensification by year in Central America

Agricultural intensification also poses severe problems for environmental sustainability and the maintenance of agricultural inputs. Examples include waterlogged soils and alterations in water table levels in areas of intensive use of irrigation; salinization; water and soil contamination with excessive and inappropriate use of chemical inputs; and loss of genetic diversity in areas of monoculture, with higher vulnerability to pests and the weather (Ruttan, 1994). Further, increasing agricultural intensification in developing countries has threatened the quality of surface and groundwater due to the runoff of plant nutrients and use of pesticides, with increases in the former posing an increasing threat to the health of rural workers (Crissman et al., 2000).

Land degradation and health problems are not the only impacts on rural residents originating from agricultural and environmental change. Figure 6.5 shows the gradual decreasing trend of people in Central America living in rural areas, with the largest drop occurring between 1991 and 2001. Despite rapid urbanization in recent decades, nearly half of the population still resides in rural areas, and virtually all of them work in agriculture. This is particularly important since the majority of Central America's poorest inhabit rural environments where natural population growth remains considerably higher than in urban locales. Despite notable progress in some rural areas, particularly in Costa Rica, the majority of rural Central Americans eke a living from pauperesque plots or are landless. In both cases, the sale of one's own labour is often the main strategy for earning capital (Leonard et al., 1989). Rural people are disadvantaged in their access to roads, water, public works, schools, health care, and other government investments (Murphy et al., 1997; Pichón, 1997). Yet when development reaches the countryside, food production systems tend to change from labour to capital intensive, pushing small farm families off the land, often to cities where their agricultural skills offer meagre comparative advantage in urban labour pools. Inexorably, this process marches on - perhaps necessarily so if food production is to continue to keep pace with demand. Nevertheless, a host of socio-economic and political-ecological forces enable and constrain local land use decisions. We will now discuss some of these determinants.

1961

1971

1981

1991

2001

Figure 6.4 Agricultural production by year in Central America3

1961

1971

1981

1991

2001

Figure 6.4 Agricultural production by year in Central America3

3 The FAO indices of agricultural production measure 'the relative level of the aggregate volume of agricultural production for each year in comparison with the base period 19992001. They are based on the sum of price-weighted quantities of different agricultural commodities produced after deductions of quantities used as seed and feed weighted in a

1961 1971 1981 1991 2001

Figure 6.5 Rural population (%) in Central America

Determinants of agricultural production and forest cover change

Given the heterogeneity of coupled human-agricultural systems across the world, it is critical to understand the meaning of rural agricultural and livelihood sustainability in terms of local and regional contexts (Bowler et al., 2001). The most traditional agricultural system in Central America is the maize-beans tandem, which together with coffee, intensive small-scale irrigated vegetable production and seasonal migration of wage labour to lowland and coffee estates, are the main sources of farm income (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), 2001). As in other developing regions, sustainable agricultural development in Central America is challenged by a myriad of factors including rural poverty, population dynamics, and institutional factors, such as absence of credit markets, land insecurity and inappropriate land management (Bilsborrow and Carr, 2000).

While some studies have found a 'Boserupian' pattern in Central America, i.e., a positive relationship between population density and farm yields (Carr, 2002), the question remains as to whether technological advancements will continue to overcome challenges to agricultural sustainability such as soil overuse, inadequate land management, and natural resource degradation (FAO, 2001). The region has experienced rapidly falling (but still high in rural areas) fertility and rural-urban migration in recent decades. An understudied demographic challenge to agricultural sustainability in Central America is population momentum. In addition to the high population density of the region, the young age-composition promises that future demand for land and natural resources will challenge current agricultural systems. The population density in similar manner. The resulting aggregate represents, therefore, disposable production for any use except as seed and feed' (www.fao.org/waicent/faostat/agricult/indices-e.htm).

the region in 2002 was 57 people per km2 (compared to the Latin America and Caribbean average, 26 per km2), while 34% of the population was below 15 years old (United Nations Population Division (UNPD), 2003). Thus, even with drastic fertility declines in the next years, the current high proportion of population in younger age groups will assure high population growth in the coming decades. Population pressure - along with land concentration as measured by a high Gini coefficient of land distribution - has been a primordial reason for the usually small landholdings in Central America - less than 2 ha on average (FAO, 2001), a land size insufficient with current economic development patterns to alleviate poverty and assure food security. Consequently, small farmers are unlikely to adopt environmentally benign agricultural practices if they do not translate into income gains or improved food security (Mc Neely and Scherr, 2002).

Decreasing farm income and deterioration of wages, due to a combination of trade liberalization and the protection of national production, has also induced the overexploitation of existing resources and environmental degradation (Dragun, 1999; FAO, 2001). Agricultural sustainability in a population-dense world is predicated on scientific and technological developments, which require investment in, for example, credit markets and governmental technical assistance. However, for small farmers, imperfect markets, the paucity of credits for agricultural investments, and the middle or long-term returns required by more sustainable agricultural practices are usually incompatible with the short term demands of food security and other household needs. Similarly, the adoption of conservation measures such as agroforestry systems, usually involves large-scale production, with large amounts of land, labour and capital resources (Current et al., 1995).

Small farmers are the primary agents expanding the agricultural frontier in tropical lowland areas, a recurrent phenomenon throughout the Central America nations (Jones, 1990). Expansion of agriculture threatens common natural resources in protected areas, as is the case, for example, in Guatemala's Peten (Carr, 2001) and throughout the national park system of Costa Rica (Sanchez-Azofeifa et al., 2003). Barbier (1997) suggests that deforestation in tropical lands was responsible for 22% of soil erosion in Central America over the period 19451990. Lutz et al. (1998) suggest that 56% of total land in Central America has experienced moderate degradation (with substantial reduction in productivity), and 41% has experienced strong degradation (agricultural use becoming impossible). Such patterns have not arisen only as responses to the physical environmental, but also to changes in policies promoting the occupation of fragile lands and the adoption of extensive land practices such as cattle (Loker, 1993; Turner II and Benjamin, 1994). However, agricultural extensification and land degradation are not a fait accompli. Some encouraging patterns have been observed in Central America in terms of safeguarding habitat integrity, species diversity, agricultural supply and rural livelihoods (Mc Neely and Scherr, 2002).

While noting the importance of local variation, the focus here is to delineate regional-level trade-offs between forest conversion for agricultural extensification and agricultural intensification through human, land, and capital inputs. We will now explore some regional variation in agricultural change in Central America. The following section of the chapter addresses the methodology used in this examination, followed by a presentation of results in agricultural production trends and changes in the means to sustaining agricultural production. We will then interpret the findings to speculate on the sustainability of these recent patterns for continued food production as forest resources dwindle.

REGIONAL VARIATION OF AGRICULTURAL CHANGE

Methods

Data come from the Food and Agriculture Organization's Agricultural Yearbooks, as well as FAO online statistical resources (www.fao.org). We examine key indices of agricultural production between 1961 and 2001 for six Central American countries, and seek to interpret trends in food production sustainability. Indices examined include total forest cover in hectares (ha), percentage of land in agriculture, rural population, and fertilizer use. In exploring the means to production we examine changes in rural population, agricultural extensification (in the form of arable, permanently cropped land, and pasture), and intensification through the use of fertilizers. Lastly, based on forest cover change patterns, we speculate on the extent to which increases may occur through continued agricultural extensification. These are but a subset of a broader series of variables that ultimately must be researched to achieve a more complete analysis of sustainability trade-offs for agricultural, human, and environmental systems. Although a more in-depth data analysis is beyond the scope of this chapter, we consider potential variables and forms of analysis in the conclusion.

Agricultural extensification, intensification, and production in Central America: 1961-2001

As shown in Figure 6.2, total forest cover in Central America declined approximately 40% between 1961 and 2001. Several countries lost nearly half their forest cover, including Nicaragua, Guatemala, and El Salvador during this period. Table 6.1 shows the loss of forest cover by country in total ha. Nicaragua and Guatemala, with the majority of their land cover in forest in the 1960s, experienced the highest level of total forest cover loss of 3.4 million ha and 2.7 million ha respectively. Obviously such trends are unsustainable; when projecting recent trends merely several decades into the future the Central American nations would become devoid of all forest cover.

Pasture land and arable and permanently cropped land expanded steadily in Central America between 1961 and 2001, with total land in agriculture for the region increasing from 31% in 1961 to 44% in 2001 (Figure 6.3 and Table 6.2). Honduras was the only country to experience an overall decrease in pastureland and arable and permanently cropped land during this period. We are dubious of the reliability of these data based on case studies from Honduras describing substantial agricultural expansion (Stonich, 1996; Godoy et al., 1998; Humphries, 1998; Jansen, 1998), though there appears to be recent reforestation in some regions (Southworth et al., 2002). Costa Rica and Guatemala underwent the most agricultural extensification between 1961 and 2001, while El Salvador,

Nicaragua, and Panama all experienced roughly 37% agricultural expansion. Increases in agricultural land in Costa Rica, Guatemala, and Panama were primarily due to expansion of pasture, while increases in El Salvador, which had the highest proportion of land devoted to agricultural use consistently over the entire period, were primarily attributed to expansion in arable and cropped land. Nicaragua experienced an initial increase in pasture land from 1961-1981 followed by a subsequent increase in arable and cropped land with pasture plateauing from 1981-2001.

Table 6.1 Forest cover by year and country (1,000 ha)

Country

1961

1971

1981

1991

2001

Costa Rica

3,240

2,490

1,730

1,570

1,790

El Salvador

208

178

134

105

107

Guatemala

5,370

5,070

4,470

5,212

2,717

Honduras

6,000

6,000

6,000

6,000

5,335

Nicaragua

6,650

5,510

4,370

3,270

3,232

Panama

4,740

4,440

4,070

3,260

2,836

Total

26,208

23,688

20,774

19,417

16,017

Table 6.3 shows the relative level of the aggregate volume of agricultural production for each year in comparison with the base period 1989-91. Agricultural production nearly tripled from 1961 to 2001, a trend inversely related to forest cover, as one might expect, in the absence of agricultural outputs responding exclusively to intensification. However, much of this growth occurred during the 1960s and 1970s. Between the years of 1961 and 1981, total production nearly doubled; however, the rate of total production slowed to an increase of 36% between 1981 and 2001. In contrast, forest cover decreased 21% between 1961 and 1981 and 23% between 1981 and 2001.

Table 6.2 Share of land in agriculture by year and country (%)

Country

1961

1971

1981

1991

2001

Costa Rica

27

37

51

56

56

El Salvador

60

61

64

71

82

Guatemala

24

26

29

40

42

Honduras

27

27

29

30

26

Nicaragua

42

46

51

52

58

Panama

22

23

23

29

30

Average

31

33

38

42

44

Table 6.3 FAO aggregate agricultural production by year and country3

Country

1961

1971

1981

1991

2001

Costa Rica

29

54

70

106

142

El Salvador

63

85

101

105

104

Guatemala

38

58

85

101

132

Honduras

43

72

93

102

127

Nicaragua

62

115

116

101

144

Panama

45

73

87

98

106

Total

280

457

552

613

755

Average

47

76

92

102

126

a Net PIN base 1989-1991. The Net Production Index Number (PIN) is computed by dividing the aggregate for a given year by the average aggregate for the base period, following a Laspeyres formula.

a Net PIN base 1989-1991. The Net Production Index Number (PIN) is computed by dividing the aggregate for a given year by the average aggregate for the base period, following a Laspeyres formula.

While the rate of forest decline remained similar between 1961 and 2001, the pace of increase in agricultural production drastically decreased after 1981. Costa Rica led the region with a nearly five-fold agricultural production increase, accompanied by the highest increase in land converted to agriculture over the time period. Output in the remaining nations more than doubled, with the exception of El Salvador, whose total agricultural production increased 65%.

Due to a substantial increase in rural labour productivity per capita, agricultural production increased during the time period while rural labour pools shrank. Rural population as a percentage of total population in Central America decreased by 27% between 1961 and 2001. Honduras, Costa Rica, and El Salvador experienced the largest and most rapid decreases in percent rural population, each with its 2001 percent rural representing approximately 60% of what it was forty years earlier. Guatemala showed the lowest rate of decrease in rural population relative to total population, with an overall decrease of 10% over the entire period. The countries in 2001 with the highest percentage of rural population were the later-developing and less population-dense Guatemala and Honduras, and the lowest two were the earlier industrialized El Salvador and Costa Rica. However, the decrease in rural population in El Salvador occurred mostly between 1991 and 2001, while Costa Rica has experienced a steadily declining rural population over the past 40 years.

The rate of increase in the consumption of fertilizers per ha far outpaced the rate of increase in agricultural production in the region. Table 6.5 provides a breakdown of fertilizer use by country, indicating that the total consumption of fertilizers per ha in 2001 was more than six times the region's 1961 level. Costa Rica, Honduras, and Guatemala had the highest fertilizer per ha consumption in 2001, respectively. The country that experienced the highest percentage increase of fertilizer use per ha was Honduras, whose 2001 level had increased by twenty-five times its 1961 level. Honduras also shows the smallest decrease in forest cover between 1961 and 2001 (11%), showing that agricultural production (which increased almost 300% between 1961 and 2001) occurred without a substantial reduction in forest cover when compared to other Central American countries, most likely attributable to it being the largest user of fertilizer in the region. Costa Rica, whose fertilizer use per ha increased more than five times, had the third smallest decrease in forest cover (45%) between 1961 and 2001, after Honduras (11%) and Panama (40%). The other Central American countries (El Salvador, Guatemala, Nicaragua, and Panama) combined level of fertilizer use per ha of arable and permanently cropped land in 2001 was more than four times their combined 1961 level.

Table 6.4 Share of rural population by year and country (%)

Country

1961

1971

1981

1991

2001

Costa Rica

65.7

60.5

52.2

45.8

40.5

El Salvador

61.2

60.3

55.4

50.0

38.5

Guatemala

67.2

64.2

62.5

61.8

60.1

Honduras

77.1

70.4

64.6

57.1

46.3

Nicaragua

60.1

52.4

49.4

46.7

43.5

Panama

58.2

52.0

49.2

46.0

43.5

Total

65.6

61.4

57.4

53.7

48.0

Table 6.5 Fertilizer use on land cropped by year and country (kg/ha)

Country

1961

1971

1981

1991

2001

Costa Rica

39

115

142

226

244

El Salvador

32

121

122

94

80

Guatemala

10

16

51

80

96

Honduras

4

18

16

19

106

Nicaragua

3

22

45

23

10

Panama

9

43

54

39

42

Regional use

12

40

56

61

77

Average

16

56

72

80

96

Was this article helpful?

0 0

Post a comment