Processes of intensification and diversification of land use in a humid, lowland tropical area of Costa Rica are discussed through the application of Boserup's model of agricultural intensification. Environmental conditions and cultural factors are integrated into Boserup's model to provide a framework for understanding choices between beef and dual-purpose cattle systems, permanent cash crops (black pepper and coffee), forest, and off-farm employment in household land use and economic systems. The results indicate that intensification of cattle grazing is possible even on acid, infertile lowland tropical soils, and that small landholders intensify cattle grazing by increasing labor investments in pasture and animal management when markets for dairy products are favorable. As returns to labor from cattle grazing diminish with intensification, farmers diversify into intensive permanent cash crops or off-farm labor. Risk is a key factor influencing intensification and diversification decisions. Trees remain important even on intensively managed farms to meet household subsistence needs and provide environmental services, but overall intensification of land use is accompanied by intensification of forest land uses and substitution of purchased products for forest products. Understanding the processes of land use choice behind intensification of diversification is critical to the development of sustainable land uses.

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