There exist large populations of extremely
low-income farmers within the Amazon forest that do not own the land that
Because of this, they settle themselves
wherever they find space and are forced to move quickly either because they
are expropriated by other settlers or because the soil is depleted by
unsustainable agricultural practices.
The Amazon is suffering from rapid
deforestation, largely due to unsustainable agricultural practices.
Sustainable agricultural practices will not
take root in the Amazon if these farmers do not obtain legitimate rights to
farm the land.
The mechanisms necessary for these
populations to obtain the rights to farm the land do not currently exist.
The state governments of the Brazilian
Interior do not have the funds necessary to implement the internal
improvements programs that would increase the standard of living for the
extremely low-income populations that inhabit the Amazon.
To implement an experimental government policy of
land-leasing that includes:
an educational initiative to inform landless
farmers (posseiros) of sustainable farming practices and the advantages of
taking part in this experimental program,
an administration and infrastructure that will
lease land to farmers in exchange for a deposit that will be returned to the
farmer in a quantity contingent on the quality of land returned to the
a means for the under-funded state governments of
the deep Amazon to raise revenue for internal improvements.
The government has encouraged Amazonian
colonization during the last five decades, with the objective of settling
large numbers of agricultural workers in frontier areas to reduce urbanwards
migration flows . In addition, this colonization policy has been
strengthened after the great drought which devastated the Northeastern
region in 1970 and it is then that the government decided to construct the
Transamazon highway with the idea of settling massive numbers of small
farmers along its margin. The number of occupations has progressively been
increasing: they involved 14, 720 families in 1991, 30, 476 families in
1995. In the face of the worsening of the agrarian question, the government
set up the Ministry for Land Policy and has settled large numbers of
landless persons. But most of them are still landless or their rights are
not respected. In general colonization plans have been a failure because the
number of landless rural families is too large for the carrying capacity of
the Amazon and because the different colonization programs have poorly been
organized. The majority of the people settling themselves in the forest do
so without official assistance. Only a minority of settlers coming to the
region establish themselves in permanent fashion on a given piece of land.
The absence of policies control migration flows coupled with the apparently
unlimited availability of unoccupied land encouraged the adoption of
traditional slash-and-burn practices. While this traditional practice is
well mastered by small indigenous populations who respect long fallow
periods, it causes major depletion of the soil and important deforestation
when practiced by the neo-Brazilians.
The absence of government support and the lawless
nature of the occupation process coupled with rising land values, quickly
caused the forest to become the scene of a real struggle for land,
especially when companies started to buy land along the road. The lack of a
clear demarcation of properties and the presence of grileiros (
land-grabbers who take illegal and often violent possession of the land to
sell it to landlords or businessmen) has caused serious speculation in the
region and violent conflicts rarely in the favor of the small farmers.
A posseiros is defined as a peasant working on
the land without any legal document defining him as the owner of the land.
This poor peasant subsists from the production of the land and sells on the
market the agricultural surplus to buy the home necessities. He cannot
increase the productivity of his labor for, without a title, he cannot
access bank loans, agronomic assistance or any other kind of support. The
greatest concentrations of posseiros are in the North and Centre-West
(region defined as Legal Amazonia). In several states of the Amazon, the
posseiros' settlements constitute the majority of agricultural
establishments. But he is always considered to be in a provisional
situation, somebody out of place: nobody recognizes him or represents him.
The struggles in which the posseiros is involved are numerous (one of
Brazil's major newspapers opened a special section to deal with this problem
because the instances are so numerous). Very often, they lead to burning
down the farmer's house and violent eviction by grileiros or landowners and
the big companies. Some of them die, others are arrested and others migrate
further. If lucky enough to find undisputed land and to not succumb to
malaria or other diseases, they fell a new area and plant a few fast-growing
crops in the hope of subsistence until the next eviction or until the soil
is depleted. These new migration flows also create pressure on indigenous
land because when a posseiros has nowhere to go he invades indigenous
territory. Actually, large estates and companies use him to gain new space:
he advances into tribal land, clears it for companies to move in later on.
He is the ultimate loser. The government agencies don't make much effort to
prevent these invasions so their number continues to grow. These disputes
often end tragically with dead and wounded on both sides.
We think that the only way to slow down
deforestation is to preserve the rainforest as a whole and create
sustainable "islands" of cultivated land. This is why we are experimenting a
model of an agroforestry subsistence farm. But to do that we must improve
the living conditions of local people. Without proper distribution of land,
evictions will continue; never will the posseiros be able to invest on their
land and adopt long-term sustainable practices.
Parà should be the site of the experiment. The
reason is mainly that this is where the sustainable farm experiment will be
run. Also, this state is typical of the Amazon rainforest both in
socio-economic terms and ecological and topographical terms.
Area needed for one family: 40
hectares (see explanation on the agriculture page).
We propose to conduct an experiment in the state
of Parà for the management of the land exploited by the posseiros. The plan
is that the posseiros provide a deposit to the state, in exchange for
the rights to work a tract of land. The particular tract of land granted to
the farmers is determined by the
Ministry of the Environment utilizing Project Amazonia’s Forest
Quality Index method. Education to the farmers regarding the sustainable
farming methods developed by Project Amazonia will be provided by the
Institute of Agroforestry. In accordance with these methods, the land will
need to be fallowed after a number of years. Should the farmers, upon
fallowing their land, return it to the state, they will receive a percentage
of their initial deposit back. The percentage of the deposit that is
returned to the farmer will be a function of the quality of the land being
returned with respect to its condition when signed to the farmer. An
approximation of this function is illustrated in figure 1. The deposit
return policy will be structured in such a way that it is far more
beneficial to the farmer if the land is returned with a relative quality
index equal or greater than Qr, the minimum grade of land that
will recover to primary forest within a practical time-frame (60-100 years).
If the fallowed land is indexed at or above Qr then the portion
of the deposit returned to the farmer will be at or above Pr, a
quantity determined to ensure the farmer’s ability to pay off any loans and
still retain a profit.
The money from all deposits will be controlled by the
government of the state of Parà, to be invested and managed by the state
treasury , until it is returned. Sixty percent of revenue generated by
the investment of deposits will go, in its entirety, towards funding the
proposed education program. The remaining forty percent will be at the
disposal of the state for the other expenses needed to implement this
program. Revenue generated due to incomplete return of deposits will
fund reforestation efforts in regions that are unable to reforest naturally.
The return on deposits is capped at one hundred percent to prevent of the
nominal value of the initial deposit to prevent speculative fallowing.
Should this experimental program be terminated at or prior to its expiration
date, all assets will be placed under the control of the Ministry of the
Figure 1: Deposit Return Function,
Percent Return on Deposit
Upon the Return of Farming Rights to the State
The advantages of this plan are many-fold. The Ministry of the
Environment is placed in control of which regions will be farmed and which
will remain fallow until they recover to the point where they may be farmed
again. This will lead to better, centralized management of small-scale
development of the forest region. Also, by making the farming rights
available at manageable initial cost, this plan will stimulate the posseiros
to obtain their lands legally. For those farmers that are unable to
obtain the necessary cost of deposit, loans will be made available, with
minimal interest rates, through government programs already in existence.
Farmers who obtain the legal right to farm state lands will have those
rights enforced by SIVAM and local law enforcement mechanisms, thus allowing
them to remain on their farms and invest the time and effort to farm
properly. These farmers will also remain exempt from property taxes on
land they farm, as ownership rights will remain with the State government.
However, they will be held accountable for standard income taxes on any
profits obtained through their farms.
The education initiative will include a multi-day
informative seminar in the regions where these farmers currently reside to
provide them will the information necessary to operate in a sustainable
manner, as well as the help necessary for them to obtain and manage the
initial deposit cost. It will also include bi-annual visits by a state
personnel to inform the farmers of the current quality index of their land,
a projected return on their deposit should they continue with their current
practices and recommendations of improved farming techniques. (for more
details see the agriculture solution).
Because this program is expected to fund itself
through the investment of deposits, farmers who operate in a sustainable
manner will have larger revenues than those who do not, and the state will
obtain funding for internal improvements, this program will benefit all
parties involved. This experiment is intended to provide an example to
the rest of the nation for how sustainable land management can be
implemented and executed, profitably.
During the initial stages of the implementation,
the State government will use adaptive management to reach a budget
equilibrium for this program. This program should solve most of the
land disputes between the various groups present in the Amazon Forest
because the state will be in charge of surveying the land, its distribution,
and the enforcement of its policies. This program should lead to a
sustainable cycle of land use within the forest, curbing deforestation and
leading to greater economic and social stability within the state.
Should the implementation of this program be
completely successful, the only foreseeable negative result may be an
increase in migration rates to the forest. This will only happen if
this program is effective in establishing real profit margins for
small-scale farmers and individuals from other states migrate to Parà in
hopes of obtaining such margins. However, if similar land reform
policies are applied in the rest of the country, as should be expected if
the program is successful, this should not happen for two reasons. First,
the farmers involved in this program will not own the property rights to the
land they are cultivating. This program presents a more stable
lifestyle for farmers that were initially semi-nomadic, however it is still
not as sedentary as the lifestyle potential migrants may hope for.
Secondly, improved land management does not change the fact that farming in
the Amazon is far more difficult than in the southern states. Agroforestry
is more technical than traditional monoculture, even in the case of well-run
agroforestry, Amazonian soil is less productive than southern soils.
For these reasons there exists little expectation for significant increases
in the rate of migration into Parà.
Corruption is a constant problem for state and
local governments within the Amazon. Though certain measures have been
included in this plan to reduce the impact that corrupt government officials
have on the effectiveness of this program, it is impossible to make
guarantees. This program is intended to be profitable for Brazilian
society as a whole, however there exists the potential for individuals of
power to undercut the entire effort.
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