Amazon settlement study disputes deforestation claims

Amazon rainforest resettlement
Copyright: Flickr/Neil Palmer/CIAT

Speed read

  • About 1.2 million have migrated to Amazon through official programmes
  • The government says most tree loss occurs before smallholders arrive
  • But resettlement areas found to cause disproportionate amount of deforestation

Send to a friend

The details you provide on this page will not be used to send unsolicited email, and will not be sold to a 3rd party. See privacy policy.

The resettlement of smallholder farmers in Brazil has spurred deforestation in the Amazon, according to fresh research on nearly 2,000 settlements in the region.
The findings undermine government claims that most deforestation occurs through logging before resettlement takes place. A study funded by Brazil’s National Congress published in PLOS One yesterday found that resettlement areas account for 13.5 per cent of deforestation in Brazilian Amazonia since the 1970s, despite covering only 5.3 per cent of the land.

“Deforestation rates within the settlements are following the same rates that apply outside the settlements since 2004”

Pedro Bruzzi,  Brazil’s National Institute for Colonisation and Agrarian Reform (INCRA)


Around 1.2 million people have been resettled since the 1970s, when the government encouraged migration into the Amazon. Other resettlement programmes aimed to give more land to the poor and reduce wealth disparities, but these have exacerbated deforestation as settlers clear jungle for farmland, the paper says.
The two researchers behind the study looked at satellite data of settlements and their wider environmental impact through farming as well as construction of infrastructure such as roads. Study author Maurício Schneider, a researcher at the National Congress, says deforestation rates are worse in settlements created between 2000 and 2010.
But Pedro Bruzzi, environment coordinator at Brazil’s National Institute for Colonisation and Agrarian Reform (INCRA), says that much of the deforestation from resettlement was caused by projects created in the 1990s. Things have now improved through environmentally focused settlement projects, Bruzzi says. Just four per cent of the 30 million hectares of projects governed by INCRA in 1998 were subject to environment standards, compared with 30 per cent of 50 million hectares now, he says.
INCRA figures show that deforestation in states in the Amazon basin fell from more than 25,000 square kilometres a year in 2004 to about 5,000 square kilometres ten years later. “Deforestation rates within the settlements are following the same rates that apply outside the settlements since 2004,” says Bruzzi.
Schneider says measures such as the green settlement programme INCRA launched in late 2012 to control deforestation indicate some “winds of change” in the way INCRA tackles settlements, although he thinks it is too early to assess this project’s success.

The study suggests that establishing settlements on degraded, low-productivity pasture, rather than forested areas, and enforcing environmental legislation would help reduce settlement-related deforestation.
Daniel Nepstad, executive director at the Earth Innovation Institute, a US non-profit organisation focused on low-emission rural development, believes that private sector-backed contract farming could improve the situation. Increasing smallholders’ access to technical help and finance would also help by lowering the amount of land needed for farming, but he admits that this is difficult given a recent cut in INCRA’s budget.
“This is the piece that’s been left out,” he says. “[INCRA’s] strategies have almost all gone after large-scale landholders.” 


Maurício Schneider and Carlos A. Peres Environmental costs of government-sponsored agrarian settlements in Brazilian Amazonia (PLOS One, 6 August 2015)