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Peasant rationality and land cover changes in the central drylands of Chile

Juan Paulo Ramirez Aliaga, University of Nebraska - Lincoln


In this study, peasant rationality and land cover changes of a small rural community in the central drylands of Chile are assessed. Peasant rationality is no different from the rest of society, but it has been discussed and contrasted with classical works, as it represents a common dilemma in developing countries for the success of development plans. Peasants make decisions in a rational way, taking into account their most immediate necessity: food security. In general, development plans do not observe this fact as relevant, or it gets overlooked because of technological adoption initiatives. Thus, there is a contradiction between development plan goals and peasant wishes. Landscape sustainability does not only depend on peasant decision-making, but also on external driving forces such as population, climate conditions (periodical drought and wet seasons), economic policies, and land cover changes that may threaten ecological stability of the environment. ^ Land cover changes are addressed in a multitemporal context by comparing results with local knowledge obtained through oral interviews. Historical aerial photographs (local scale) and satellite images (regional scale) are used as information to evaluate vegetation changes. Results show that evergreen vegetation has decreased by 35% at the local level from 1955 to 1994. However, between 1978 and 1994 the progressive degradation of evergreen vegetation was suspended and even increased by 1%. Peasants affirm these changes, as they are aware of soil, vegetation and crop yield changes over the past years. However, analysis at the regional level shows that tree planting has been the most important land cover conversion in the study area, with tree planting showing an increase of 166% from 1988 to 2000. Nevertheless, tree planting has not been managed in a rational way as it has been replacing the best soils that were originally destined for crop production. Thus, land management policies have to be addressed in the short term in order to avoid migration, progressive impoverishment of peasants, and land degradation. ^

Subject Area

Anthropology, Cultural|Geography|Agriculture, Forestry and Wildlife

Recommended Citation

Ramirez Aliaga, Juan Paulo, "Peasant rationality and land cover changes in the central drylands of Chile" (2002). ETD collection for University of Nebraska - Lincoln. AAI3059963.