A Teoria de Von Thünen sobre a influência da distância do mercado relativamente à utilização da terra : sua aplicação a Costa Rica


  • Leo Waibel
  • Henrique Miranda


Costa Rica;, Economia Agrícola;, Uso do solo;, Geografia Econômica;, Agricultura.


The capital problem of Brazil nowadays is that of colonization. It is studied under these two aspects: 1) the areas to populate and 2) the type to be adopted for benefiting the land. The first one is a problem of physical geography; the other is one of economic geography and agrarian economy. As the improvement of the land depends to a great extent on distance to the consumption and export centers, such a study holds a special meaning for Brazil. Who first developed a theory of the influence of the distance of the market in agrarian economy was Johann Heinrich Von Thünen in his book Der lsolierte Staat, in 1826.

            The theory of the isolated state admits three abstractions. One refers to space. The State has a circular shape and isolated from the rest of the world is by an impenetrable forest The second abstraction, it says concerns the nation because the State is located in a plain where physical conditions are uniform. This plain is not crossed by any river or navigable channel. The third abstraction regards economy, because all the population of the State is devoted to agriculture and to forestry of the type adopted in Central Europe. It has so high a standard of education that it directs its own properties in the most efficient way that is possible. It also can move without difficulty from one economic system to another according to whatever the convenience is.

            The only marked that exists is a big city located exactly in the center of the State. All products of the country are taken there by large and small carts through roads. On the other hand, the town supplies the country with all the industrial products it needs.

            So, the production is distributed in a ring or concentric zones which, from the center to the periphery, producing in the first place the most perishable goods and, afterwards, by succession, those goods which may afford higher tariffs of transportation. Thünen distinguished six farm systems located in different zones (see map n.1).

            The most internal zone produces perishable goods: vegetables, fruits, milk and flowers. As the manure (dung) can be brought from town, the exploitation is very intensive. The second zone is destined to forestry, because both the timber and the construction wood are very voluminous.

            In the third zone it was established a round system of cereals and tubercles. The cereals are sowed in autumn and summer. The tubercles are bet-roots, turnips and potatoes. In this system the growing is very important of foraging plants for cattle. Manure is used once a year. The system is of English origin and it was introduced in Europe. ·

            In the fourth zone the round system of cultivation and the field grass system are used. It is less intensive and with it there appears gras fields and follow lands.

            In the fifth zone a three-field system was adopted. It had been once used throughout Europe.

            The sixth zone is proper for the raising of cattle and also for the production of butter.           Outside this zone, only hunting and hide production are of any economic value. Then, the author made considerations about modifications introduced in the scheme of Von Thünen by a navigable river and by new means of railroad communication.

            On making the disbursement of this farm for several years, Von Thünen reached the conclusion on through practice that the location of the farm is the main factor in determining its administration.

            The following points make the theory of Von Thünen very important for agricultural geography: 1) Thünen exposed and proved that in two places where natural conditions are the same the benefit from the land might be very different.

            He launehed with is theory a lethal blow in the thesis of geographical determinism, 2) the main factor to determine the different types of the utilization of the land is distance between the producing region and the consumption on one. 3) the agrarian systems and types of agriculture are the most important subjects of agricultural geography, as they determine not only the general aspect of the agricultural scene as well as its economic and social structure. 4) the systems of agriculture are not irregularly spread out over the face of earth. Instead, their conformation is more o r less circular with the big cities in the center o f the circles.

            In the second part of his work, the author studied the economic zone or the Central Meseta of Costa Rica under the light of the theory of Von Thünen, based on field work he did in March 1938.

            Costa Rica is similar to an isolated State specially by the fact that its population is concentrated in the Central Meseta, which is surrounded by woods in a way that it has few communications with the exterior.

            Another phenomenon which makes the Central Meseta similar to the Isolated State of THÜNEN is the high standard of education of its inhabitants. This permitted twice the change of the agricultural system in the last one hundred years.

            The author distinguished the following zones of agrarian systems.

  1. a) Zone of Coffee Monoculture

            It comes after the surroundings of the great cities of the Central Meseta. Coffee is intensively grown in small farms. The soil is manure and carefully worked. Coffee plantations are shadowed with trees. Sometimes they give an impression of a forest. The coffee grains are picked up one by one and transported to processing machines in ox cars. There. coffee is treated by the humidity method also called method of the West Indies. This increases considerably the quality of the product. Yet, people are used to attributing such a high quality to the soil exclusively.

  1. b) Zone of Coffee and Sugar Cane. Coffee and sugar cane are found in this zone. Secondarily, maize, manioc. pineapple and several "potreros" are also found. The cane is mainly for the production of unrefined sugar. Its consumption is very widespread. There are few great mills of unrefined sugar.

            This Zone surrounds the first one on all sides. It forms an irregular oval of 50 kilometers in extension from SE towards NW. Seven small areas are also to be found outside this Zone.

  1. c) Zone of the System of Cultivations and Pastures.

            The main zones of this region are: the southern slopes of the volcanos and the W of the Western Central Meseta. The landscape of this Zone recalls the NW of Europe and is characterized by small .fields divided by forked wire fences or high hedges.

            In some regions of this zone emphasis is put on the production of milk food ("tierra fria" of the volcanos); in other zones, the most important production is that of cereals and roots (part of the "tierra fria" and W of the Western Central Meseta).

            Then, the author divided this zone in: 1) areas which are getting specialized in milk production; 2) areas of cereal and root production. He described and located each one of them.

  1. d) Rotation of forest-culture.

            It is the primitive system of nomad agriculture. By this system not only maize and beans as well as banana and sugar cane are grown. It prevails in the scarped slopes mainly in the high valley of the Reventazon.

  1. e) Zone of Cattle Raising.

            It does not properly stand in the Central Meseta: it is rather located in the slopes of the Atlantic and of Pacific and to the North of the volcanos. The system of raising is primitive and the farms in great part are self supporting.

            Concluding his work, the author declared that Costa Rica, despite being a small country, gives the following lessons to tropical America.

            1) It does not make rotation of lands but of cultures.

            2) It established small farms and delivered these to families.

            3) It gave to small farmers a standard of education so high that they may easily pass from one agrarian system to another.

            4) It adapted agrarian systems not only to natural conditions but also to economic ones, especially to distance from farms to markets.