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Project Amazonia: Solutions - Sustainable Land Management - Land Distribution



·        There exist large populations of extremely low-income farmers within the Amazon forest that do not own the land that they farm. 

·        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:

1.      an educational initiative to inform landless farmers (posseiros) of sustainable farming practices and the advantages of taking part in this experimental program,

2.      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 government,

3.      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 Interior.


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.

Tools, Requirements:

bulletAdministration and infrastructure to distribute the land within the forest
bulletProgram for the indexation of land within the Ministry for the Environment
bulletAdministration and infrastructure (Institute of Agroforestry) to educate farmers in the methods of sustainable farming and the financial and legal aspects of this procedure so that they understand their responsibilities and opportunities to obtain profits.
bulletAdministration and infrastructure to obtain and manage the deposits of farmers
bulletInitial loans from a willing and able government bank. These loans could come from some of the agricultural policies cited in the characterization. These include the Rural credit policies (loans granted by The National Rural Credit system for the production and marketing of agricultural products) and the National program to strengthen family farming (credits from the Minister of Labor to small family farmers to finance planting, harvesting, machinery, infrastructures).


Before this experiment is run a model of a sustainable farm will need to be established. This testing should be completed whithin five years.  Should the proposed model work, this experiment will be launched to provide the legal and economical tools to expand upon that model.

Results of the Sustainable Farm experiment that will be relevant to this land management experiment:

bulletThe index value Qr
bulletThe quantity of farming that may be done prior to dropping farmland below Qr
bulletThe feasible profit margins of the farm model: from this the maximum interest rate of loans to farmers, initial deposit values, Pr, and the real values of the Deposit Return Function will be determined. 
bulletThe minimum acreage needed for a family to sustain itself

During the Sustainable Farm’s experimental period, the administrative structure for this government policy will be organized.  The Ministry of the Environment will need to index the quality and availability of state lands.

Tests to be run during this land management experiment:

bulletDetermine the level of understanding of the farmers involved regarding their rights and obligations under this plan
bulletDetermine whether the involved farmers understand what financial management they must undertake to operate profitably
bulletDetermine to what extent the results of the Sustainable Farm model are consistent with large scale operations
bulletDetermine the effectiveness of this program in controlling deforest rates due to small-scale farming and whether they can be stabilized to the point of equilibrium

Expected results:

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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