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Chile Cultivation and Forest Preservation in the Southern Yucatan Peninsular Region

Eric G. Keys

Driven by a desire to both preserve tropical environments and the realization that local peoples depend on those environments for livelihood, the search for conservation with development is on. To accommodate both interests, intensive agriculture is frequently proposed. It is thought that intensive, commercial agriculture enables farmers to increase their economic welfare at the same time as limiting the total amount of land cultivated. Limiting the total amount of cultivated land is thought to save ecosystems high in biodiversity, carbon-storage potential or archeological and historical remains. The proposed research will evaluate this proposition in the Southern Yucatan Peninsular Region (SYPR). Within the SYPR transport middlemen have stimulated commercial chile production which is now undertaken by over fifty percent of the farmers in the region. Therefore, this research is driven by the overarching question: What are the likely impacts of the widespread adoption of intensive commodity production of chile among small holders in the SYPR on the forests there? Answering the overarching question demands understanding chile crop requirements and management practices, the economic costs and rewards to the farmers, and linkages to the market. Three subquestions will be studied: [1] Do the physical requirements of chile cultivation limit the kind and amount of land dedicated to the activity? [2] Do the economic rewards of this production suggest that small holders can sustain it? [3] What role does the complex, vertical structure of the chile market, including market-based transport middlemen, have in perpetuating chile cultivation in the SYPR? Informed by diverse methods (ethnography, survey, ecological research, and remote sensing) these questions speak to various cross-disciplinary conceptual themes, and illuminate sustainable development and the human dimensions of global environmental change discussions.


Copyright 2000 Graduate School of Geography, Clark University