Environmental costs of government-sponsored agrarian settlements in Brazilian Amazonia

Maurício Schneider, Carlos A Peres

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Brazil has presided over the most comprehensive agrarian reform frontier colonization program on Earth, in which ~1.2 million settlers have been translocated by successive governments since the 1970's, mostly into forested hinterlands of Brazilian Amazonia. These settlements encompass 5.3% of this ~5 million km2 region, but have contributed with 13.5% of all land conversion into agropastoral land uses. The Brazilian Federal Agrarian Agency (INCRA) has repeatedly claimed that deforestation in these areas largely predates the sanctioned arrival of new settlers. Here, we quantify rates of natural vegetation conversion across 1911 agrarian settlements allocated to 568 Amazonian counties and compare fire incidence and deforestation rates before and after the official occupation of settlements by migrant farmers. The timing and spatial distribution of deforestation and fires in our analysis provides irrefutable chronological and spatially explicit evidence of agropastoral conversion both inside and immediately outside agrarian settlements over the last decade. Deforestation rates are strongly related to local human population density and road access to regional markets. Agrarian settlements consistently accelerated rates of deforestation and fires, compared to neighboring areas outside settlements, but within the same counties. Relocated smallholders allocated to forest areas undoubtedly operate as pivotal agents of deforestation, and most of the forest clearance occurs in the aftermath of government-induced migration.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0134016
JournalPLoS One
Issue number8
Publication statusPublished - 6 Aug 2015

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