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No collective territory, but neither private property: The land struggles of Afro-descendant communities in Talamanca, Costa Rica

Authors: Kelsey Emard*, Oregon State University
Topics: Cultural and Political Ecology, Latin America, Applied Geography
Keywords: public political ecology, land struggles, Afro-descendants, Latin America, collective title
Session Type: Paper
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Many Afro-descendant land holdings in Latin America are “extra-legal,” not having been regularized by state property institutions (Mollett 2016). While in some countries certain Afro-descendant communities have achieved state recognition for collective or other customary land arrangements, this is not the case in Costa Rica. Instead, Costa Rica has prioritized policies that encourage foreign and private land ownership as modes of development. These policies have facilitated the transfer of land from many Afro-Costa Rican communities, including those on the Caribbean Talamanca coast, into the hands of investors from the country's Central Valley or abroad. Loss of land in recent decades has contributed to a decline of food sovereignty for the Talamanca Afro-Costa Rican community and an increased reliance on low wage labor for livelihoods. This paper reflects on an emerging scholar-community project to obtain land for members of Afro-Cacao, a community-based agricultural co-op in Talamanca. The co-op hopes to foster a return to agricultural livelihoods and food sovereignty for community members, but lack of land is a material hindrance. I candidly relate the potentials and limitations of my efforts to contribute to the work of Afro-Cacao, while exploring possibilities for scholars to help form, and assist the efforts of, networks between Afro-Latino groups striving for land rights across Central and South America.

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