Københavns Universitet
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PhD defence: Yair A. Alpuche Álvarez

Ph.d.-forsvar — Yair A. Alpuche Álvarez 15 MARCH


Date & Time:

Aud C, Department of Geosciences and Natural Resource Management, Øster Voldgade 10, 1350 Kbh K

Hosted by:
Geography Section - IGN


Yair A. Alpuche Álvarez defends his thesis,

Subsidies Are Driving Land Use Behavior and Changes in the Maya Area of the Yucatan Peninsula, Mexico

Associate Professor Martin Rudbeck Jepsen, IGN
Associate Professor Laura Vang Rasmussen, IGN

Assessment Committee:
Senior researcher Birgit Schmook, ECOSUR, Mexico
Professor Casey Merlin Ryan, University of Edinburgh, UK
Associate professor Alexander Prishchepov (chair), IGN

Land use subsidies are given to farmers to incentivize certain land use behavior. Indigenous peoples are often targeted for this kind of subsidy, yet their preferences, knowledge, and behavior are often overlooked in subsidy design, especially in countries like Mexico, home to 68 indigenous groups. Limited research exists on how land use subsidies shape the integration of traditional and nontraditional land uses by indigenous people, including the Maya of the Yucatan Peninsula. This thesis aims to address this knowledge gap through a multimethod approach combining a literature synthesis, household surveys, and serious games. Based on 79 documents, the literature synthesis identifies the following key elements within the Maya land system: land covers, land uses, ecosystem services, types of capital, and drivers of change. The findings highlight the prevalence of the traditional milpa system and the expansion of agricultural modernization and protected areas acting as major drivers of land system change.
Household surveys involving 65 households across three case studies reveal three distinct land use portfolios, with varying engagement in traditional agriculture, mechanized agriculture, cattle raising, and agroforestry. Traditional agriculture consistently emerges as the most prevalent land use across these portfolios, irrespective of the dominance of non-traditional uses. Three variables can explain the differences in household engagement in land uses across portfolios: agricultural investments of individual households, household a recipient of agroforestry subsidies, and case study location.
Serious games involving 44 players were used to shed light on the persistence of traditional agriculture among Maya farmers, even in the face of monetary incentives for alternative land uses. Notably, players rarely abandon mechanized agriculture or cattle raising once initiated, opting to add subsidized land uses without replacing preexisting agricultural uses. This resistance to altering agricultural practices poses the potential risk of deforestation, as demonstrated by the game, where players allocated 40% of the cells used for agroforestry by replacing forest areas, rather than implementing agroforestry on already cultivated land.
In conclusion, this thesis underscores the critical role of land use subsidies in promoting nontraditional land uses in Maya land use portfolios. The findings also acknowledge the potential negative outcomes resulting from poorly designed subsidies and emphasize the importance of serious games in understanding land use.

A digital version of the PhD thesis can be obtained from the PhD secretary at phd@ign.ku.dk