Deforestation, agricultural intensification, and farm resilience in Northern Belize: 1980-2010
Tropical deforestation through agricultural expansion is an important driver of a number of environmental and social problems. In developing countries, the individuals at the centre of these problems are often smallholders who manage less than 5 hectares of land. Collectively, the decisions of approximately 65 million smallholders worldwide contribute significantly to the processes of global climate change, local environmental change, and a variety of social problems relating to food security, poverty, urban growth, and, at times, armed conflict and genocide. This thesis, above all, argues that to mitigate these global environmental and social problems, we must take a bottom-up approach that focuses on farm-level decisions. In this way, it is possible to devise better national and regional-level policy interventions that specifically target local problems.To explore this farm-level approach, this thesis integrates three key theoretical frameworks. First, a resilience framework is adopted to help explain the relationship between farm-level decisions, disturbances, and feedbacks that can negatively impact the integrity of farming systems. The resilience approach also helps to explain how systems can change over time without losing their identity, or change completely into a new type of system. Second, a land change science approach is adopted to help explain the relationship between land cover change and the underlying human dimension. Third, an agroecological approach is adopted to view farms and farming communities as complex systems that include both environmental and social variables.As a case study, a group of Mestizo and Mennonite farming communities in Northern Belize were investigated using a methodology that integrates a land cover change assessment and a farm practice survey. The 700 km2 study area was evaluated using a LANDSAT time-series dating from 1980 to 2010. Land cover change statistics showed that different patterns of deforestation and land use occurred within the study area, including agricultural expansion through deforestation, reforestation through cropland abandonment, and conversion from one type of production to another (e.g. cropland to pasture). This suggests that different types of farm-level decisions were being made, but farm-level data were required. To investigate these farm-level decisions, 145 farmers were interviewed concerning land appropriation, crop production, livestock production, and household and labour organization. This farm-level information helped to identify several types of farms in the study area with very different land use practices. In short, although previous studies identified 3 or 4 types of farms in Northern Belize, this thesis demonstrates that many more types likely operate within the study area, a fact that helps explain the complex land cover change patterns observed in the remote sensing data.By integrating land cover and farm survey data, this thesis evaluates how farm resilience relates to environmental change in Northern Belize by identifying specific patterns relating to agricultural expansion through tropical deforestation and agricultural intensification through the adoption or increased use of agricultural technologies. Based on these results, this thesis proposes areas where policies can be formed and implemented to mitigate the potential negative effects of agricultural development in areas experiencing high rates of tropical deforestation and intensification.
Advisor: Hall, G. Brent; Sirguey, Pascal
Degree Name: Doctor of Philosophy
Degree Discipline: School of Surveying
Publisher: University of Otago
Keywords: Belize; Deforestation; Resilience; Remote Sensing; GIS; Spatial Analysis; Agricultural Change; Mennonites
Research Type: Thesis