Academic journal article Human Organization

Colonist Farm Income, Off-Farm Work, Cattle, and Differentiation in Ecuador's Northern Amazon

Academic journal article Human Organization

Colonist Farm Income, Off-Farm Work, Cattle, and Differentiation in Ecuador's Northern Amazon

Article excerpt

Examination of income sources and other characteristics among agricultural colonists in Ecuador's northern Amazon reveals economic differentiation of the frontier associated with farming, off-farm work, and cattle raising. Regression models use data from a unique, representative farm-level survey in 1990. As expected, farm income is higher on large, fertile, extensively cultivated plots near roads. Evidently, greater start-up capital helps some migrants, enabling the purchase of better land, title, credit, cattle, and other assets. Off-farm work results from positive and negative factors: involvement in low-paying agricultural work (jornalero) is common among recent settlers and those with little farm income; at the same time, wealthier, bettereducated, larger, households choose lucrative nonagricultural work. In turn, they hire more farmworkers, earn more farm income, and invest in pasture and cattle. A third model examines cattle income, which is more important among households with greater start-up capital, more land, a legal title, and Sierran origins (regardless of labor availability). The varied status of frontier households is thus associated with farming, off-farm work, and cattle raising, livelihood activities that result from differentials in wealth before migrating, combined with frontier conditions and household characteristics. The settlement of Ecuador's Oriente has thus achieved very modest success in redistributing some land and a livelihood to people without land. Yet, at the same time, settlement is also providing more land to those who already had land, setting off a process of differentiation that parallels highland disparities (the "Andeanization of the Amazon") as well as colonization processes across the globe. Jointly, rich and poor colonists are deforesting Ecuador's rich "hot spot" of biological diversity through their distinctive activities. Some policies to aid small farmers, prevent further pasture extensification, and promote more ecologically sound livelihoods in this region are suggested, based on the statistical findings and supplementary fieldwork in the 1990s.

Key words: differentiation, income, deforestation, Amazon, Ecuador

The northeastern Amazon rainforest frontier of Ecuador (the Oriente)was long considered to be an escape valve for "surplus" rural population, a place of plentiful empty lands to resettle people from the densely populated coast and highlands (Hicks et al. 1990). As in other nations, the thinly settled lowland region was expected to relieve pressure on the land elsewhere in the country, to contribute to national development through agricultural colonization, and to establish "living" boundaries at disputed international frontiers. Unfortunately, frontier settlement in Ecuador since the 1960s appears not to have met these original lofty goals, although it has evidently succeeded in providing some land and a livelihood to several thousand settler families, many of whom were once quite poor. Regrettably, this modest humanitarian result comes at high cost: the loss of thousands of hectares of tropical rainforest; the extinction of uncounted species of flora and fauna; and the disruption of numerous indigenous groups, displaced from their ancestral lands and livelihoods. Settlers were not uniformly poor to start; the advantages of frontier settlement have been disproportionately enjoyed by those who already had land, leading to differentiation in economic status and activities in the frontier that reflect inequities in the larger society. Settlement processes and outcomes in Ecuador's northeastern Amazon since the 1960s thus closely parallel colonization of the Amazon regions of Brazil (Moran 1983; Ozorio de Almeida 1992; Schmink and Wood 1984), Bolivia (Painter 1987; Stearman 1984), Colombia (Corsetti 1987) and Peru (Aramburu 1984), the lowland settlement frontiers of Central America (Jones 1990), as well as the forest frontiers of Central Africa and Southeast Asia. …

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