Guus Knijnenburg's Farm

by Sjoerd Mayer

This page is dedicated to the memory of Guus Knijnenburg.

At an age when many people think of no more than watching television and playing golf, Guus sold his meatpacking business, bought 1000 hectares of trackless Bolivian jungle, bulldozed a road to it, "cleaned" (as they call it in Bolivia) a few hectares, and built a very nice house in the middle of his clearing. Much of all that work he did with his own hands.

Guus was a pioneer, together with the neighboring Mennonite colony "La Esperanza". During the 1990s, a veritable land-clearing and soybeans-growing boom followed in this area, with 100,000 hectares of forest flattened and converted to soybeans fields each year ("this area" is the belt of dry forest east of the city of Santa Cruz, all the way to the Brazilian border).

My first visit to Guus was in 1989, together with my friend Bernard Geling. The long road from the Mennonite colony to Guus' house still went through solid forest then. In 1994, when we enjoyed Guus' and his wife Ana's hospitality for two weeks, the forest on one side of the road was converted to a soybeans field, and the area surrounding Guus' still mostly forested property had become a patchwork of large fields and original forest. Finally, when in 1997 Bernard paid his last visit to the area, Guus' land had been sold, and the house stood in an endless expanse of nothing but soybeans!

Guus Knijnenburg and Ana, their (then two) children, Bernard Geling, and the good old Landrover. Sjoerd Mayer.

Guus Knijnenburg's house. Sjoerd Mayer.

The road to Guus' property in 1989, with solid forest on both sides. In 1994 the forest on one side was replaced by soybeans, and that on the other side was reduced to a strip a few hundred meters wide. In 1998, all forest had gone. Sjoerd Mayer.

Before and after "cleaning" away the forest. Sjoerd Mayer.

Tree burning in the distance. In this area of dry forest, where trees do not grow to the same size as in the rainforest to the north, "forest clearance" is not done by cutting trees, but by pushing them down with big bulldozer-like machines. The fallen trees are then pushed together, left to dry for a few months, and burned off. This final stage is visible on this picture. Sjoerd Mayer.

Burning forest at sunset. Sjoerd Mayer.

Mennonite carriage amidst fields. Sjoerd Mayer.

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