A. J. Shriar
Abstract Many studies have examined the impacts of new roads in tropical forest frontiers. In general, these have led to substantial deforestation because they provide access to peasant farmers in need of land for food production and income generation. But few studies have investigated the impacts of improvements made to existing roads in frontier regions, and more specifically, their effects on the rural economy, land use, and land cover. This paper discusses the results of a 2001 study of these impacts, following the recent paving of the main road between Peten, a lowland frontier region in northern Guatemala, and the more densely populated highland regions of the country. This improvement, completed in late 1999, has yielded a major reduction in travel time between Flores, Peten and Guatemala City, the capital, from 12 to 14 h, or more, previously, to 7–8 h currently. The effects of this substantial change were examined through interviews and discussions with farmers, market vendors, and representatives of governmental and non-governmental organizations in the region, and through analyzing the limited available data on imports to Peten from other parts of the country. The results indicate that to date, the farmers in the study area have not altered their land use patterns because the prices they receive from intermediaries have not changed, and no market for new crops has emerged. However, more agricultural products raised in other regions of Guatemala are now being sold in Peten. Therefore, producers in Peten seemingly face greater competition from those elsewhere in the country. This trend has important implications regarding the impacts of regional integration, and for the difficult challenge of improving agricultural and environmental conditions in Peten.