Dynamics in land tenure, local power and the peasant economy: the case of Petén, Guatemala

By Markus Zander and Jochen Dürr

This article analyses the ongoing process of land grabbing by cattle farmers and drug traffickers in south-eastern Petén, Guatemala and its socio-economic consequences. In the last decade, this process has strongly accelerated due to several factors, which made investment in land more attractive and resulted in sharply increasing land prices. In the 236 communities included in the field study, 30% of all peasant families have already sold their land, some of them hoping to escape poverty, others under often violent pressure from buyers mostly related to the drug trade, who are securing control over large territories. For lack of economic alternatives the landless families end up leasing plots for cultivation from their neighbours, working as day labourers on big cattle ranches or occupying land in the protected areas in northern Petén, with poverty and conflicts about resources on a steady rise. Value chain analysis shows that the conversion from small scale peasant agriculture to extensive livestock production reduces land productivity and diminishes local added value and employment, thus providing further arguments for changes in agricultural politics to halt or reverse the process.

File: Markus Zander and Jochen Durr.pdf