The BOSCOSA Project: An Experiment in Rain Forest Conservation 

and Rural Development on the Osa Peninsula of Costa Rica


Karel Kurka



Parks and nature reserves throughout the tropics are under increasing threat from agricultural encroachment, illegal logging, and the poaching of wildlife. Conventional methods of securing park boundaries with guards, fences, and punitive land-use restrictions no longer adequately protect park resources. This thesis examines a new approach to conservation in developing countries called Integrated Conservation and Development which attempts to link rural society and economic development to park protection. The effectiveness of this increasingly popular approach to conservation is examined through a detailed case study of an Integrated Conservation and Development Project on the Osa Peninsula of Costa Rica, called BOSCOSA. The BOSCOSA project was initiated in 1987 by the World Wildlife Fund to slow deforestation around Corcavado National Park, one of the most biologically significant nature reserves in Central America. This thesis examines the history and context of the project, tracking its implementation from 1987 to 1994. The social, political, economic and ecological impacts of the project are examined. Although the project has had some success in improving economic and social conditions of rural farmers through its sustainable agriculture program, the project has failed in its primary mission to promote forest conservation around Corcavado National Park through community-based forest management. BOSCOSA's forest management efforts failed due to poor planning and implementation and an overwhelmingly hostile policy environment. Project activities were too ambitious and unfocused, and the project spent too much time organizing local farmers and too little time gaining government cooperation. In the end, rigid government policy that prevented local farmers from gaining title to the land they occupy, while prohibiting them from participating in forest management, obstructed all of BOSCOSA'S efforts to integrate forest conservation and rural development. The primary lesson from BOSCOSA is that conservation organizations must do a better job of understanding the social, economic and political environment they are working in before implementing projects.