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Back | Programme Area: Environment, Sustainable Development and Social Change

The Social Dynamics of Deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon: An Overview

This paper presents a preliminary assessment of the social origins and impact of deforestation in Brazil's Amazon region, as well as ideas regarding practical alternatives to deforestation. The paper was also intended to provide a coherent conceptual and methodological framework for detailed case studies that followed. It is based on a wide body of secondary sources, consultations with key informants and visits to proposed research sites.

When analysing the causes of deforestation, the paper emphasizes the role played by processes of economic and social change associated with the unequal distribution of land, commercialization of agriculture, landloss and poverty. These conditions have resulted in the expulsion of poor peasants to the Amazon forest frontier areas. Other factors such as inflation and land speculation have also underpinned deforestation. The paper argues, however, that the chief responsibility for most of the massive deforestation lies principally with the government and its development strategy of the past three decades which, through credit, tax and other incentives, has enabled large scale agricultural and cattle raising schemes to be established. The promotion of mining and hydroelectric projects in the Amazon and efforts to increase exports to pay the huge external debt have also contributed to deforestation. The paper stresses that deforestation in the Amazon should be analysed in the context of Brazil's insertion in the world economy and its overall development style.

Many poorer and weaker social groups have been deeply affected by the deforestation processes in the Amazon. The paper refers to the case of the rubber tappers who have been dispossessed by large landowners, corporations and cattle ranchers. Another group which has suffered, partly because of the growth of gold mining in the Amazon, is the Amerindian population. There is an escalating level of violence in the Amazon, as these groups attempt to resist land invasions.

The paper goes on to identify different alternative forest or land use practices that have been adopted in the Amazon. It discusses the concept of "neo-extractivism" which has evolved from movements of the rubber tappers and other forest-based people. This resource management system seeks to protect the forest and provide secure, sustainable, forest-based employment for these different groups of people who are dependent on the Amazon forests. Furthermore, it attempts to maintain the socio-cultural identity of indigenous populations such as the Indians.

The paper concludes with an annex on the technical, forestry and agroforestry alternatives to combat deforestation. With limited scientific research available, much of the knowledge about this area rests with the local Amazonian population. More research at the local level is called for in order to find solutions to the problem of deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon.
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  • Pub. Date: 1 Jul 1992
    Pub. Place: Geneva
    ISSN: 1012-6511
    From: UNRISD