Land parcel fragmentation in the agricultural frontier: Sierra del Lacandón National Park, Guatemala

Laurel K Suter, University of California, Santa Barbara
David L. Carr, University of California, Santa Barbara

This presentation is an examination of an instance of the human drivers of land cover change in Latin America, concerning a land use case study of frontier farmers in the Sierra del Lacandón National Park (SLNP), in the northernmost department of Petén in Guatemala. This is an area where the agricultural frontier has expanded progressively into tropical rainforest. In-migration of small-scale agriculturalists and cropping done by the same are the direct agents of deforestation in this area of high biodiversity. This presentation makes use of a unique panel data set collected among frontier settlers in eight subsistence agriculture communities: 241 household heads plus their partners (when present) were interviewed on demographic, socio-economic, political-economic, and agricultural characteristics in 1998; in 2009 comparable surveys were administered to 233 of these farmers or remaining family members, as well as interviews with 82 households of new owners of the land which formerly belonged to the 1998 interviewees, and 153 randomly chosen households. In the intervening 11 years between interviews the frontier has effectively become closed, leading to population density increase in this conservation area. This paper takes as its theoretical framework the multiphasic framework, as adapted from the purely demographic model proposed by Davis (1963) and applied to land use/cover change research by Bilsborrow and Okoth-Ogenda (1992). Specifically, it examines the rural households’ responses to increasing population density, focusing on: redistribution of land, out-migration, fertility reduction, and/or intensification of land use. The “multiphasic” aspect of this theory means that households may adopt one or more of these possible responses. This paper furnishes models which examine in particular the land redistribution response. This response is chosen because of its implications for in situ land management and its role in effecting dramatic land cover changes over time in the maturation of the agricultural frontier.

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Presented in Session 52: Population and land use in developing countries