We asked Dan Janzen, President of the Guanacaste Dry Forest Conservation Fund, how they identify the people who currently own the rainforest that they purchase for conservation. See what he has to say.
The land purchases (more than 300 in the history of the formation of ACG, and see the GDFCF site for the specific example of Rincon Rainforest) are extremely varied in their nature and ownerships. The owners range from original frontier colonists to middle-class absentee landlords to wealthy corporations to foreign investors, and about every imaginable combination and in-between. They all have one trait – they are happy to sell their land for something approximating market value in order to buy something ‘better’ – land, store, delivery truck, investment bonds, vacation in Europe, relative support, and about everything else you can think of. This move “up” is their personal evaluation of their situation.
Another variable that has been important has been the occasional case, usually with long-time resident families, of “I am happy to sell it for inclusion in a national park” (with the silent implication of I would not sell it to a developer or THAT neighbor).
The actual process of land purchase is sociologically complex, but boils down to what any neighbor does if he wants to buy the neighbors farm. You talk, think, discuss, offer, counteroffer, etc. for weeks to months to years, and in the end, it is commonplace for the fund transfer to be in portions (because ACG and GDFCF does not have enough donor funds to buy the entire property outright) and to allow 6 months to a year for removal of livestock resident on parts of the property.
Almost always we purchase an entire property, because the person has long since moved off the land and simply wishes to cash in and use the funds elsewhere. All properties purchased are surveyed (for area and location), titled, and registered in the national land register, and owned by the Guanacaste Dry Forest Conservation Fund (a US and Costa Rican registered charity) until passed as a “finished” ACG Sector to the government (in the meantime they are managed jointly by GDFCF and ACG).
As for what appear to be high land prices, one has to remember that Costa Rica, for all its low financial resources, very much approximates a developed country in terms of goods, services, health, education, government stability, and land ownership. Ask yourself what a hectare of old growth forest on private land a two hour drive from an international airport in UK or California would cost, and then the Sector A land prices are bargain basement (and climbing yet more rapidly as agro-industry becomes the major competitor and yet another road is paved).
But with this greater cost also comes enormously greater social stability for the purchase and its permanent incorporation into national park status. In those countries where tropical forest can still be purchased for a quarter to half the cost of Sector A lands, the management and stress costs, both in dollars and sweat equity, will have to yet be paid over the years to come. In Costa Rica they have already been paid.
So how do people come to own large tracts of rainforest?
If the owner is international, they bought it from a Costa Rican, almost invariably. The Costa Rican who owns it today bought it from someone else, and all the land around here (Rincon Forest) is owned by a historical chain containing 5-10 owners back to colonial times. ACG contains the second oldest European ranch in Costa Rica, established about 1580. Think on that date. There have been 40+ owners for Santa Rosa since then. The specific Sector A area was initially a few huge land holdings obtained by colonists in the 1800′s and early 1900′s as part of government programs for rural development, and these have gradually been fractured and sold off in parcels as they were also (often) logged or otherwise converted to agroscape, where they are now. The indigenous holdings here vaporized with the first several hundred years of European occupation.
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