Who Will Work the Land? National Integration, Cash Economies, and the Future of Shifting Cultivation in the Honduran Mosquitia


This article describes how shifting cultivation is being marginalized in the Honduran Mosquitia as the region becomes more tied to national society. For much of the past four centuries, the Mosquitia has been a commercial frontier whose residents balanced subsistence with participation in external markets. In recent decades, colonization and greater integration with national society have transformed much of the region. I analyze the impacts of this change on shifting cultivation in three Miskito-Ladino communities on the Río Patuca. Few households specialize in land-based subsistence. Most combine subsistence with cash work. A few focus on professional and commercial activities and have no direct ties to the land. Many young adults pursue cash work at the expense of subsistence activities, suggesting that shifting cultivation may decline as older generations die out. In this sense, the long-term viability of shifting cultivation in the Mosquitia may largely be a factor of its performance relative to other economic activities.