2008– 2013: Amazonian Deforestation and the Structure of Households (Phase III) (funded by NICHD)

Description:  The third phase of our project will explicitly focus on the relations between rural-urban (and other inter-household) linkages and the entry of large-scale external capital into a region, and will use forest transition theory at a subnational level to help us better understand trajectories of demographic and land use/land cover change in the Amazon and elsewhere. We continue to follow small farmers and the rural landscape, but ask what happens to them when large capitalized farmers enter a region. Large-scale agriculture (and also large-scale ranching) has been cited recently as a prime driver of deforestation in the Amazon Basin, whether or not the large owners do the initial clearing (Palm et al. 2005; Angelsen and Kaimowitz 2001, 2003). However, mechanized, intensive agriculture combined with strongly protected forests is recommended by some scientists as the key to sustainable development of the Amazon (cf. Palm et al. 2005; Nepstad et al. 2002; Uhl and Nepstad 2000). In either case, a key question posed by Forest Transition Theory and to which our project may contribute is the level of remaining forest at which rates of forest cover change level off or become positive. In the proposed project, we examine both the pace of forest clearing across regions with varying characteristics and histories and the socioeconomic impacts of such differences across regions. Economic development associated with capitalization may increase off-farm opportunities for local residents (direct employment by large farmers or in industries that provide services to them), and small farmers may benefit from the sale of their farms (particularly those that are economically stagnated due to poor soils or poor roads).

In order to test the importance of capitalized agriculture for both landscape change and population change, this third phase adds a new study area, the município of Lucas do Rio Verde in the state of Mato Grosso, characterized by highly capitalized agriculture since the early 1980’s (see Preliminary Studies section C.2 for map and description of the three study areas). Together our three areas of study encompass almost 10,000 sq km and embody some of the most important human and environmental dynamics taking place in the Amazon region—the largest extant tropical rain forest in the world. The comparison proposed in this study involves Altamira, which continues to be overwhelmingly occupied by smallholders; Santarém, traditionally smallholding but receiving capital investments since 2000 to expand soybean production and export facilities (thus allowing study of short-term transformations from small to large-scale farming); and Lucas do Rio Verde, characterized by large-scale capital investment in mechanized soybean production for the past 20 years. This comparison will allow us to assess the differences in the level and tempo of effects of smallholder agropastoral production and highly capitalized large scale agropastoral production on the social and biophysical landscapes over time.

To examine inter-household and urban-rural linkages, and the effects of degree of capitalization of agriculture, we will investigate five sets of research questions (RQs):

RQ1.    How do linkages between rural and urban areas vary depending on the organization of agropastoral production in a region? Specifically, how do inter-generational family ties (potentially linking urban and rural), employment of residents, and transportation networks vary between regions characterized by small- or large-scale agriculture? How are small farmers and large farmers differently connected to their rural properties and urban activities/homes in terms of residence and type of economic activity?

RQ2.    How does the process of rural-urban migration vary across the study areas? Are farm income and farm productivity positively or negatively related to moves to the city? Do rural residents moving to the city sell their land, maintain it in the same use, or modify their land use as a result of the migration?

RQ3.    What are the local economic impacts of large-capital and small-capital production, in terms of: changes in GDP per capita, income inequality, infrastructure development, sectoral structure of the economy, and employment? Specifically, can increases in productivity due to capitalization create enough employment for displaced small farmers? Are the displaced farmers filling newly created urban jobs?

RQ4.    What happens to small farmers when highly capitalized farmers arrive? Do they remain on their land and modify their land use in response to changing urban demand? Do they move to local urban areas or to new agricultural areas? Are they able to parlay the proceeds of the sale of their farms into stable homes and businesses in urban areas, or into sufficient agricultural land elsewhere? Do their children experience upward or downward mobility?

RQ5.    How do land use and land cover change vary in tempo (particularly deforestation rates over time) and in total impact (particularly total area deforested, and percent of area deforested) between areas of highly capitalized agriculture and small farming? What are the spatial patterns of these impacts in rural areas, both within properties owned by the two types of producers, and at the landscape level? Is urban land use close to cities greater under small farming or large farming?

To address these questions, we build on an extensive database of social survey and remote sensing data collected in Altamira and Santarém in previous phases of the project. In the proposed project, we will conduct a follow up survey of previously surveyed households and properties in Santarém, and add urban samples in Santarém and in Altamira. We will also undertake a survey of rural households and properties, and urban residents in Lucas do Rio Verde. We will acquire new satellite images for Altamira and Santarém to update the time series we already have, and collect a comparable time series of images and additional environmental data for Lucas do Rio Verde. The proposed project combines a strong comparative design for making inferences about the importance of regional factors with longitudinal data for the study of household and property level processes and extends a conceptual framework (Forest Transition Theory) to subregional and household levels to test its applicability at those scales.

2008– 2013: Amazonian Deforestation and the Structure of Households (Phase III) (funded by NICHD)