Dutch researchers predict future of Central America

May 07, 2001

As part of an NWO project at Wageningen Agricultural University, Dutch researchers have constructed a model to simulate how land use changes in accordance with various different scenarios for the future. The model, CLUE (Conversion of Land Use and its Effects), makes it possible to carry out model calculations at various different scales and it also produces outline drawings and detailed maps. The project is being financed by NWO's Earth and Life Sciences research council.

The core of the model consists of formulas for land use, partly based on interviews with millions of peasants throughout Central America. The countries in the region all have different features -ranging from mountain ranges with steep slopes, low temperatures and sparsely populated valleys to fertile, level, warm and densely populated lowland areas- making them ideal for testing the Wageningen digital models in the field. The models show just what drastic effects seemingly minor changes in people's way of life can have on the equilibrium of a country. If each of the six million people of Honduras were to eat only one extra kilo of meat each year, for example, and if the extra cattle were to be raised within the country, then forests, rice fields and maize plantations would give way to grassland, leading to natural and climatic changes that would also affect neighbouring countries.

In order to test the model, the research team calculated what Costa Rica will be like in ten years' time. A map was produced for each of the ten years, giving Central American policymakers an idea of the consequences of changes in land use.

The countries of Central America also differ enormously from the economic and political point of view. Honduras and Nicaragua are among the poorest countries in the western hemisphere, whereas Costa Rica is one of the most stable and robust democracies in the region.
Further information:
Kasper Kok (ICIS)
T 31-43-388-26-64 or 2662
E-mail: k.kok@icis.unimaas.nl

Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research

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