Pasture, profit, and power: an environmental history of cattle ranching in Colombia, 1850-1950.
This article examines the expansion of cattle ranching from 1850 to 1950 into lowland forests of Colombia. Although most attention to ranching as a source of deforestation in Latin America has focused on the second half of the 20th century, in Colombia it has a much longer history. The article also examines the role of introduced African grasses in the process of pasture development. While it discusses their ability to suppress secondary-forest regeneration, it underscores their contribution to productivity gains to help explain their wide diffusion. Lastly, the article suggests that paying greater attention to the costs and labor of pasture formation can serve as a springboard to reexamine a number of common stereotypes about ranching: that the logic of livestock was not about producing beef; that cattle were primarily a means to control territory; and that ranching 'profits' stemmed from extra-economic sources. Although there is some truth to these explanations, the dominance of cattle throughout the countryside cannot be explained without taking the economic and productive logic of ranching into account. This, in turn, should also help push us to better understand the nature of landed power and the dynamics of agrarian change in Colombia.