Land-use decision making, uncertainty and effectiveness of land reform in Acre, Brazilian Amazon
From 1970 to 1999, almost 700,000 families were settled through land reform programs in Brazil. However, lot turnover contributed to re-concentration of land and to the limited success of these programs. This dissertation explores land-use decision-making in an aging land reform settlement in the Amazon. It focuses on how farmers respond to limited access to the information and to opportunities that are typical of the frontier context. I analyze the interactions among variables affecting families, communities and the agrarian structure of the settlement, and changes in land-use and cover (LUCC) resulting from these interactions. The study site is a government sponsored colonization project (P.C. Humaitá) in the State of Acre, Brazil. Variables affecting land-use choices were analyzed studied through a micro-level approach using remote sensing linked to social sciences' techniques. A property grid (n=739) overlaid to satellite images (1981-2003) was used to analyze LUCC during this period. It was found that differences among social groups, access to urban centers, and use of agricultural credit contributed to explain LUCC along settlement's lifetime. Additionally, lot consolidation into larger properties was found to correlate with accessibility to urban centers, but not with deforestation. It was also found that diversification of livelihood strategies through time comprises an important adaptive mechanism to the uncertain conditions that are present on frontier settlements. Additionally, it was found that social learning processes help farmers deal with uncertainty and to take advantage of economic opportunities. There have been enough experiences in the Amazon to inform better governance approaches to promote rural development; despite failures and problems, land redistribution and regularization is an historical need in Brazil and should continue to be a policy priority. However, land markets and infrastructure constraints during different stages of settlement formation are important forces undermining the goals and successes of land reform in the region.