New Thinking About Development in Central America

A Conversation with Bud Kenworthy

From the Environmental Review Newsletter Volume Two Number Ten, October 1995


In the first issue of this newsletter - January 1994 - we spoke with Carl Leopold about a reforestation project in Costa Rica called the Tropical Forestry Initiative. Outside of the national parks and biological preserves, most land in Costa Rica has been cleared for pasture or planted in non-native trees such as pine or teak for saw timber.  A plantation of teak or pine is the functional equivalent of a corn field and does not support the great variety of organisms - birds, monkeys, insects, amphibians, plants - that a diverse tropical forest does.  In addition, the thin soils of the tropics cannot sustain intensive agriculture, so many crop and pasture lands in Costa Rica have been exhausted and soil erosion is a major problem. TFI is one of several groups working to develop more appropriate models of tropical forestry. Its starting point is the same that Aldo Leopold used to reclaim an abandoned wheat farm in Wisconsin in the 1940s: to replant worn out land with species of trees that were originally there and allow the land to rebuild its soil and fertility and the woods to regain biological diversity of plants and animals . TFI is replanting a 300 acre parcel of worn out pasture to a mix of trees native to the area to restore a biologically diverse forest that will again support a wide variety of plants and animals as well as a modest - sustainable - amount of human use.

     Economic development projects in Central America have also met many problems. In this issue of the newsletter we talk with another member of the TFI, Eldon Kenworthy, about how TFI intends to learn from the mistakes of previous development projects. The so-called new thinking in development involves primarily, greater economic realism as a component of  local empowerment.

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