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Land tenure and deforestation patterns in the Ecuadorian Amazon: Conflicts in land conservation in frontier settings

by on November 29, 2011

Joseph P. Messina, Stephen J. Walsh, Carlos F. Mena, Paul L. Delamater

The article, Land tenure and deforestation patterns in the Ecuadorian Amazon: Conflicts in land conservation in frontier settings, presents a case study explaining how the Cuyabeno Wildlife Production Reserve, “has shaped the landscape within the protected area”(114). This is a protected reserve in Ecuador created, “to promote the ‘production’ of wildlife,” through the protection of both plants and animals (114). This reserve unfortunately has became plagued with complex, multi-dimensional highly political conflicts regarding developmentalist and environmentalists. Eventually the, “land tenancy status from “protected area” (non-agricultural activities) to “patrimony forest”(communal agricultural activities) increased the process of deforestation and fragmentation in the patrimony forest area”(117). Aside from deforestation due to agriculture, guerilla warfare on the Ecuadorian-Colombian border coupled with the discovery of oil further intensified this process.

This article is really interesting and illustrates the very nature of the Ecuadorian atmosphere right now; complex. The 2008 constitution of the Republic of Ecuador is very progressive, as it states that Ecuador is a plurinational state. It recognizes castellano and kichwa, the dominant indigenous language, both as the official languages of the state.   The preamble addresses both men and women, and recognizes every individual’s distinct race, “la Pacha Mama” or mother earth being vital to their existence. These rights, as illustrated through the article are being ignored through dominating external political forces. Domestic limitations are derived from, “national population growth, poverty, high unemployment, land tenure regimes, urban development policies, mechanization of agriculture, and globalization of markets”(124). President Correa is unable to effectively implement any policies that would protect the Amazonian environment or the people within it ultimately because of the economic incentive that this region provides through the exploitation of natural resources, only further complicating the situation. What initially seemed to be a political stride toward a more democratic nation, fighting for equality through all races and granting rights to la Pacha Mama, has arguably resulted in the opposite outcomes for many of these Amazonian pueblos.


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  1. 242colleencarey permalink

    I’m a little confused if the government purposefully let people use the land for agricultural purposes, or if the people did by their own means. If the government was part of it and is allowing the use and exploration of resources, then this looks like a typical situation of countries that aren’t categorized as “wealthy” and the government is looking for ways to make money; this is apparent in many third world countries especially. I read and blogged the article on Bhutan for today so I’ll pose some similarities and differences I’ve noticed. Bhutan is having similar problems with conservation. The State has seized private woodlots from peasants and claimed the woodlots to be the State’s land. The State claims to do this for conservation purposes because people are overly using the woodlots. But, then the government turns the woodlots into government forest reserves and supplies communities and corporations with these forests for the use of timber. So here is a contradiction that looks similar to what’s occurring in the Ecuadorian Amazon.

  2. I think this brings up a really important issue of environmental conservation in third world countries. Like we talked about in the beginning of the semester, there are many third world countries, like Ecuador, that having conservation efforts in mind but can’t afford to go through with them. First world countries don’t have to rely solely on the environment around them to survive and participate in global markets. The decision that Ecuadorians face between protecting their land and utilizing it for survival, is one many countries face around the world.

  3. janellekramer permalink

    This article was very humbling to me because it showed that even though Ecuador has made great strides with equality in terms of the new Constitution, none of that matters if there are natural resources to make money for the country. The constitution recognizes that la Pacha Mama needs to be protected, yet there is warfare and hardship in a theoretically protected area. What is worse is that the government will not do anything about the war nor the resource extraction, even though this is all taking place in a wildlife production reserve.

  4. This article also gave me a new perspective on environmental protection. The models that were used to show deforestation in the Amazon examines how complex the situation is. In some areas, deforestation increased and decreased more and less than other areas surrounding it, all due to multiple probable factors. Although some communal farmers may have let regrowth take over some of their cultivating land, it is still unknown how likely that possibility was. obviously many cultures around the world rely heavily on oil extraction in order to stay afloat in society, this article shows the great detrimental effects oil mining has on the environment not just directly, but indirectly as well. With road building, pipe lining, and oil spills, the environment becomes even more fragile and susceptible to deforestation.

  5. I think its is interesting that this article brings up the counteraction between protectionism and development. It is usually more becomming to argue on the side of protecting the environment whether it be through policies or individual effort, however this article argues that these implemenatations make this struggle worse. When oil companies started to build infastructure in Ecuador, colonists started to move and disperse onto the land. Consequentially, carrying out subsistenceagriculture,land speculation, and logging which created a divide the authors describe as environmentalist vs. the people resisting environmentalism. Oil companies vs. everyone else.Protectionism vs. Development. But would less protecting mean more prosperity for the country?

  6. This article is just another example of how globalization and industrialization are causing the destruction of planet. This recurring theme in all areas on environmentalism shows the ease at which people are only self interested and forget the value of nature when presented with a few dollars. Especially in third world countries where it comes down to helping or protecting the environment or feeding your family, people will always choose self preservation and if the industry will give them an opportunity, those desperate enough will take it.

  7. This article was interesting yet not extremely surprising to me. I feel that our world has often in recent history been plagued by the repeated exploitation of developing nations. The recent history and progressive struggles of Ecuador seem to be a common story in nations who are working hard to build themselves up and keep their landscapes healthy while also being influenced by outside nations. I thought the article gave good insight into a situation which is extremely devastating yet not being handled very well by nations who have the resources to aid developing countries. I also thought it gave good insight into the struggle between a nation trying to expand its economy and politics, while struggling with the negative affects on the environment. Ultimately, Ecuador will need its environment in order to help evolve the nation to developed status, so these issues are ones that are extremely important to the country’s future.

  8. Megan Powell permalink

    I wasn’t sure that other nations were necessarily directly exploiting the area — the article made it seem that the Ecuadorian government was voluntarily exploiting the preservation for profit, probably with incentive from companies/buyers from other nations. This article reminded me with the one about Bhutan that we read recently — the prevalence of exploitation of varying landscapes and natural research never fails to surprise me. For some reason I naturally think that these instances are very common, but articles like these prove to me they happen (and are happening) much more frequently than I previously thought. These examples can almost make you support extreme conservation ideas like Terborgh’s…

  9. I also found this article to be particularly interested but, similar to other reactions, I found this information to be not surprising. This article displays another example of how a certain area, in this case Ecuador, is fighting environmental degradation and destruction. It seems like we frequently have heard all semester long about how countries, often developing countries, are fighting to keep their environment healthy, stable, and balanced while attempting to counteract a balance with outside western influence. However, I did like how the article explained how environmental destruction and exploitation directly and indirectly effected the Ecuador population.

  10. amygraceaustin permalink

    I find this article really interesting because it explains a phenomenon that is certainly not unique to Ecuador. It brings to mind discourses that are taking place in Bolivia right now regarding the environment and development. In Bolivia, the term “el buen vivir” literally means “living well.” To many Bolivians, living well means living in harmony with the environment, respecting la Pacha Mama, promoting the importance of community, and ensuring that each person has enough to live well. The problem arises when ensuring that people have enough resources to survive often requires extracting natural resources to do so. Recently there has been a discussion in Bolivia about building a transcontinental highway which would bring increased economic revenue to the region at the expense of destroying huge regions of tropical rainforest. The article discusses the conflict between development and protection, a theme which is crucial in Latin America today.

  11. punam123 permalink

    i find this article very interesting and political because it reflects the effects of globalizaiton, industrialization, countries wanting to compete for developmental. It also makes me wonder which one is important development or preservation. Third world countries always have issue with this and the exploitation of the natural resources by developed nation. I feel the World Bank and IMF support more towards developed nation supporting exploitation of resources. in addition to this political conflict also affects the environment a lot. There are countries like Ecuador where the political situation affects resources and its people. There is no stopping on the exploitation.

  12. Sean Butler permalink

    This article perfectly demonstrates the difficulties that are associated with environmental protection. While environmental protection is important, the government seemed to be concerned with providing resources to the people to fuel their society. In addition to the need of the resources in the protected area, the government is likely interested in the money that can be generated from the exploitation of the environment. It seems that many countries are having a difficult time balancing the protection of the environment with the use of the necessary resources. I feel that a plan needs to put into place in Ecuador to protect the designated area as well as utilize the resources. It’s unfortunate that the president in unable to implement any reasonable plans at this time.

  13. I think that there is so much that goes into the protection and preservation of a place, and this article does a good job at illustrating the positive, hopeful side and the reality of what a lot of countries go through on the road to preserving their land. Unfortunately, more often than not, countries have to remain afloat in the world, and so protection is often shoved to the side in order to maintain other aspects of government operations. I agree with Sean that there does need to be a plan for the country so that the remaining natural resources don’t get diminished, especially when there is no need for these resources to be lost. I think it’s hard, coming from a country that doesn’t have the same struggles as a third-world country, to understand exactly why Ecuador can’t just protect these precious areas, but I do understand that people need help, too, and so more often than not, the environment is affected because of these needs.

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