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Socio-economic and institutional change
Beliefs and attitudes towards development
Income and wealth issues
A major preoccupation with Amazonia hinges on loss of forest cover and biodiversity, and much attention focuses on how to arrest this destruction. But deforestation does not necessarily mean environmental degradation. What happens to the land after forest-clearing is crucial to the long-term productivity of the environment and to the impact on flora and fauna. Some deforestation in Amazonia for development is inevitable; the more sustainable the development on land already cleared, the better the chances of saving substantial tracts of the region's ecosystems until they can be permanently removed from economic activities, or at least better managed. A more comprehensive understanding of the dynamics of land use and the driving forces behind change can thus help development and conservation efforts.
A confluence of forces is implicated in forest destruction in Amazonia and other tropical lands. The preponderance of forces responsible for the retreat of forest varies according to such factors as access to markets, road infrastructure, and fiscal incentives. Loggers, cattle ranchers, dam builders, small-scale farmers, plantation operators, and miners are all involved in deforestation. Throughout the tropics, small-scale farmers account for more deforestation (some 60 per cent) than the next two agents of destruction, commercial loggers and ranchers, combined (Myers 1991). Small-scale farmers probably account for more than half of the mature and secondgrowth forest cleared each year in Amazonia.
A variety of driving forces propels these actors in transforming the region. Proximate agents of environmental change are not necessarily to blame for adverse ecological impacts. An analysis of the driving forces behind these agents of forest removal will help clarify policy issues for future development.
Although many forces propel environmental change, they may be conveniently grouped into five main categories: changes in population; new technologies; socio-economic/institutional conditions; the influence of beliefs/attitudes; and levels of income/wealth. The interplay of these factors varies considerably from one part of Amazonia to another, but they are all involved in altering the region's expansive landscapes and intricate cultures.
Population pressure is often portrayed as a root cause of environmental degradation in many developing countries, particularly with regard to deforestation (Westoby 1989: 45). Although rapid population growth undercuts the natural resource base in some developing regions, it is hard to conceive of Amazonia as having a population problem. The precontact population of Amazonia was denser in many rural parts of the basin than it is today, but little long-term damage was exacted on the environment. Even in regions perceived as suffering from overpopulation, overtaxing of the land may be due to inappropriate technologies or highly skewed land-ownership patterns, among other socio-economic factors.
Except in a few restricted areas, such as south-western and southeastern Amazonia, population growth is a relatively minor force behind environmental change in the region. The population of Rondônia, for example, grew from about 110,000 in 1970 to approximately 1 million by 1990 (Southworth, Dale, and O'Neill 1991). Even then, migrants, rather than natural population growth, mostly account for the swelling ranks of farmers, itinerant miners, and ranchers in Amazonia (Schmink 1988a).
Population growth in parts of north-eastern, central, and southern Brazil is propelling migrants into the Amazon basin (fig. 3.1). When coupled with natural hazards or overcrowding in environmentally sensitive areas, such as the Andean altiplano, migrants can arrive in waves. Periodic rain failures in the North-east region of Brazil, for example, have uprooted farmers into Amazonia for over a century. A substantial proportion of the inhabitants of the Brazilian Amazon trace their ancestry to the arid backlands of the North-east. Skewed landdistribution patterns exacerbate droughts in the North-east.
Fig. 3.1 The regions and states of Brazil
Most of the people in the North-east are poor and till marginal land in the rain shadow of the coastal range, areas particularly vulnerable to rain failure.
Two main migration currents are discernible in countries embracing Amazonia: a substantial rural exodus to towns and cities, and settlers penetrating the Amazon basin along pioneer roads. For every migrant heading for Amazonia, many more have opted for towns and cities. During the 1970s, some 766,000 people migrated to the Brazilian Amazon, accounting for only 5 per cent of the flow of people moving from the countryside to urban areas (Wood and Carvalho 1988: 234). Amazonia is clearly not serving as a convenient safety-valve for population growth and socio-economic problems in other regions.
In Latin America, urban population growth is generally much faster than in rural areas, and this holds for countries with territories in Amazonia (fig. 3.2). Throngs of sharecroppers, unsuccessful or dispossessed farmers, and grown children of rural families have caught buses or trucks in search of new lives in Latin America's swelling cities. Rural-urban migration has severely stretched the ability of governments to provide services for newcomers, and many settle in slums without potable water or sewerage hookups. Some shanty settlements around cities eventually improve, or people eventually move into better neighbourhoods. But urban migrants rarely return to live or even work in their source areas.
Cities are a magnet to prospective migrants. Urban areas, in spite of their higher living costs, crime, and pollution, offer better opportunities for jobs, schooling, and health care. In contrast, pioneer areas of Amazonia have fewer health and educational facilities, and roads that become impassable in the rainy season can isolate farmers from markets, hospitals and clinics, schools, and needed supplies. This impressive sponge effect of cities has undoubtedly saved the Amazon from even more extensive deforestation.
More jobs are needed in cities and towns to better absorb the endless stream of rural-urban migrants. A diversified agricultural economy would help stem the tide of people leaving rural areas so that cities could adequately accommodate arrivals. In addition, viable farms could help foster agro-industries in urban areas to generate more employment opportunities. Sustainable agriculture could thus help alleviate both rural and urban poverty.
The Andes and southern Brazil are currently the main source regions for Amazonian migrants. The crowded Andean valleys of Peru, Bolivia, Ecuador, and Colombia have sent aspiring landowners down into western and south-western Amazonia for several decades (Crist 1963, 1967; Eidt 1962, 1966; Hicks et al. 1990: 2; Hiraoka 1980a; Rudel 1983; Stearman 1978). In Brazil, the North-east region has long served as an important source of migrants for much of the Amazon basin, but the numbers of Nordestinos fleeing poverty and failed rains have been eclipsed by the growing throngs of settlers from southern Brazil.
The greatest influx of settlers into the Brazilian Amazon since the 1970s has come from such states as Parana, Rio Grande do Sul, Sao Paulo, Minas Gerais, and Espírito Santo (fig. 3.3). Population growth is partly responsible for the flow of migrants to Amazonia, particularly in Parana and Rio Grande do Sul, where small farms are divided up among sons and in some cases have become too small to be economically viable. In north-western Rio Grande do Sul, areas pioneered in the 1940s were already becoming "full" by the early 1970s.
Other factors also account for out-migration from rural parts of southern Brazil to Amazonia and cities, however. Unequal distribution of land in some areas propels the landless in search of new lives and homesteads. Also, changes in farming methods, to be discussed shortly, can lead to redundancy for some farm labour.
In spite of over two decades of intensive efforts to accelerate settlement and development, Amazonia remains relatively sparsely settled. The 3.8 million km Brazilian Amazon contains only 10 million inhabitants, less than the megalopolis of São Paulo (table 3.1). The Brazilian Amazon accounts for 45 per cent of Brazilian territory, but less than 7 per cent of its population. If one considers the Legal Amazon (Amazônia Legal), a larger administrative unit set up by Brazil's federal government to distribute development funds and fiscal incentives, population density is still low. The Legal Amazon comprises 5.1 million km and contains some 16 million inhabitants, thus embracing some 60 per cent of the national territory but only 10 per cent of its population.
Overall, population pressure has clearly not reached any serious proportions in Amazonia. Environmental degradation in the region is thus only tenuously linked with population growth. Some rural areas of Amazonia have actually lost people to cities in the past two decades. A little over half of the population in Amazonia resides in urban areas, and Belem alone has over 1 million inhabitants. Population growth rates in Amazonian towns and cities far exceed those in rural areas (Godfrey 1990).
Technological changes in agriculture, the logging industry, and mining, among other activities, sometimes adversely affect the environment. Few would deny that humankind's ability to alter the face of the earth and the atmosphere has increased dramatically with ever more potent technologies. The literature is replete with examples of technological changes that have wrought ecological destruction and social disruption (Bennett et al. 1974; Nelson 1973; Norman 1981; Turner et al. 1990b). But technologies can also be employed to help manage resources more wisely, as is occurring in various parts of Amazonia.
Table 3.1 Area and population of the Brazilian Amazon, 1989
Sources: IBGE (1989); Veja, 22 January 1992, pp. 58-63.
a. Brazil's population in mid-1991 was estimated at 146 million.
b. The state of Tocantins was created in 1988 by splitting the old state of Goiás in half; northern Goiás then became Tocantins. Tocantins contains a mixture of forest and woody savanna.
Technological changes in agricultural areas of southern Brazil have been accused of forcing people off the land. Some of those no longer able to farm or find work in rural areas have moved to Amazonia. A switch to machineintensive soybean production from more labour-intensive coffee production in parts of Paraná, for example, has contributed to the rural exodus (Wood and Carvalho 1988: 207). The widespread use of tractors on soybean farms has allegedly displaced labour, thereby contributing to migrants streaming into Amazonia (Muller 1988a). But most of the displaced small farmers have migrated to cities, not to the Amazon (Romeiro 1987).
The agricultural landscape of southern Brazil started shifting dramatically in the early 1970s from mixed cropping based on maize, field beans, and wheat, to monocropping, particularly with soybean. This kaleidoscopic change was triggered by a 1973 drought in the United States and a temporary ban on soybean exports. Japan scrambled for alternative sources of the pulse and turned to southern Brazil. Brazilian farmers responded eagerly to new market opportunities and traditional food crops, such as maize, field beans, and wheat, were often neglected in the rush to plant soybean.
Mechanization may have reduced on-farm labour needs, but it is not clear whether or not the increased use of tractors in southern Brazil has spurred migration to Amazonia or other parts of the country. The manufacture and servicing of agricultural machinery, combined with the impressive volume of soybean transportation and processing in Brazil, have undoubtedly created many new jobs. Some farm labourers are likely to have moved to the service sector in urban areas, rather than try their hand at farming in Amazonia.
Mechanization does not necessarily push small farmers off the land. In areas of Paraná settled by private land companies, or where farmers are members of efficient cooperatives, smallholders remain viable in the face of mechanization and soybean cultivation (Muller 1988b). Rapid soil erosion and consolidation of landholdings by ranchers in Parana, rather than technological change, have been mainly responsible for the demise of some small farms and an exodus of people from rural areas (Muller 1988b).
Sophisticated technologies are not necessarily a major cause of destruction in Amazonia. Small-scale farmers employing axes, machetes, and in some cases power saws are probably clearing more primary and secondary forest in Amazonia than any other actors. Even large landholders generally employ work gangs armed with power saws or axes to clear land. Indians formerly employed stone axes to fell forest, and, as has been argued previously, were quite capable of radically altering the plant geography of Amazonia. In pre-contact times, many of the larger trees were simply ringed rather than cut down in fields. Stone axes were used to farm large areas of the Amazon basin effectively.
A theme we wish to develop in later chapters is that a combination of new and traditional technologies is vital for sustainable development in the region. We place major emphasis on technologies for agriculture and silviculture that are being deployed to overcome soil and other constraints to raising and upholding yields. New technologies, developed by public research institutions and the private sector, could be a powerful means to reduce environmental degradation in Amazonia and create more options for farmers.
The fiscal and agrarian policies of the Brazilian government have significantly shaped land use in Amazonia since the late 1960s. Beginning in 1967, companies could invest up to half of their taxes in approved development projects in Amazonia. Administered by the Superintendency for Amazonian Development (SUDAM - Super-intendencia do Desenvolvimento da Amazonia), projects supported by tax incentives were responsible for clearing over 10 million ha of forest, mostly for cattle pasture (Hecht and Cockburn 1989). Fiscal incentive pastures were planted on an area equivalent to two Costa Ricas.
The large-scale conversion of forest to cattle pasture has proved to be the single most controversial aspect of fiscal policies in Amazonia during the 1960s and 1970s. As concern mounted over the ecological implications of such a rapid land transformation, and the often disappointing productivity of many new ranches, the government suspended fiscal incentives for cattle pasture development in "dense" tropical forest in 1979. Nevertheless, many projects approved before 1979 were still being implemented in the 1980s. Furthermore, transitional forest skirting the basin was eligible for fiscal incentives to create pasture. Fiscal incentives accelerated pasture development in Amazonia, particularly in southern Para and northern Mato Grosso, but overall they have not proved to be the main forces behind deforestation in the region (Mahar 1989: 15). On 25 June 1991, President Collor signed a decree removing fiscal incentives for cattle-ranching in any forested portion of the Amazon, including transitional forest.
Even without fiscal incentives, cattle-ranching remains one of the most common land uses in recently cleared areas of Amazonia (fig. 3.4). Cattleranching is a favoured occupation of small-, medium-, and large-scale operators in the region because labour is scarce and a ready market exists for beef, particularly in the rapidly growing urban centres (Hicks et al. 1990: 14). If roads are impassable, cattle can still reach market. Cultural factors stemming from the tradition of cattle-raising in Iberia have sustained the conversion of formerly forested land to pasture in many parts of the region (Hiraoka and Yamamoto 1980).
Government-directed colonization schemes have opened up vast stretches of hinterland to settlers. In 1970, the Brazilian government announced the national integration plan (PIN - Programa de Integração Nacional), which called for a system of pioneer highways to crisscross Amazonia, with the 3,000 km Transamazon Highway serving as the main eastwest axis for the new highway system. PIN highways were initially designed to provide homesteads for drought victims from the North-east region and the landless and small farmers with large families from other parts of Brazil. They were further designed to create access to resources, such as minerals. The road network in the Brazilian Amazon has grown spectacularly, from a total of 6,350 km in 1960 to 43,672 km by 1985 (Homma, Teixeira Filho and Magalhães, 1991). Tens of thousands of settlers have followed quickly in the wake of bulldozers to take up lots in government-sponsored settlement schemes, to squat on unoccupied land, or to invade reserves and private holdings. By the mid to late 1970s, several private land companies were opening up substantial tracts of land in southern Pará and northern Mato Grosso to small- and medium-scale farmers.
Planned settlements, however, account for a relatively small proportion of the settlers who have streamed into Amazonia over the past two decades. Government-operated settlement schemes were soon overwhelmed by the flood of migrants seeking land. Many settled on public land, and in some cases private property, particularly at the end of side-roads.
Occupation of Amazonia would occur even without government incentives. A case can be made that certain government policies have accelerated rates of settlement and forest conversion, but they can hardly be blamed for widespread ecological change in Amazonia. Government policies have influenced the locations of such change, but many land-hungry settlers and investors are already motivated to try their luck in Amazonia. A desire to tap natural resources and seek new fortunes is a powerful enough incentive, and, as frontiers close in other parts of Brazil, eyes would naturally turn to Amazonia, one of Brazil's last remaining frontiers.
Migration to and within Amazonia is sometimes attributed to a skewed distribution of land. Unequal access to land both within Amazonia and in other parts of Brazil, it is argued, uproots people and obliges them to seek a new life in frontier zones. Debate on whether drought, population growth, or latifundia are responsible for the long history of out-migration from northeastern Brazil has continued for a long time (Hall 1978). All three factors are responsible in varying degrees, depending on the area in question. Without stepping too far into this complex question, suffice it to say that landownership patterns have undoubtedly caused social conflicts in some parts of Brazil, particularly southern Para, and are partly responsible for migration to and within Amazonia (Becker and Egler 1991: 154; Schmink and Wood 1992).
The need for some degree of land reform and the expediting of secure land titles has been recognized for a long time in parts of Brazil and other areas of Latin America. Confusion over land titling has fuelled deforestation, since one of the most visible ways to place a stamp of ownership on the land is to clear it, even if the opened space is not used productively (Schmink and Wood 1987).
Historically, the politically more expedient solution to the greatly skewed land-ownership pattern in Latin America has been to open up "unoccupied" land for the needy, rather than tackle powerful land-owning interests or invest in technologies to boost productivity (Wood and Schmink 1978). But even if significant land reform were carried out in Brazil, it is debatable whether breaking up large estates would greatly alleviate the flow of people to Amazonia. Land reform could exacerbate social problems by reducing agricultural production and dismantling managerial expertise for certain agricultural enterprises.
Subdividing land is thus not necessarily a cure-all for sustainable development and for saving vast tracts of Amazonia. In southern Brazil, minifundia rather than large landholdings are a significant cause of outmigration to Amazonia. Further subdivision of lots for future generations is not feasible in many areas of southern Brazil, such as around Tenente Portela in Rio Grande do Sul. In Peru, land reform has been carried out for several decades, but thousands of migrants still pour out of the packed altiplano in search of jobs in cities, such as Lima, or to eke out a living in the forests carpeting the eastern flanks of the Andes.
An interesting change in the institutional and political landscape of Amazonia is the move to subdivide municipalities. Traditionally, some municipalities in the Brazilian Amazon have rivalled the size of smaller European nations. In an attempt to gain more control of their own affairs, to tap resources from Brasilia, and to ensure better social services, people in many areas of the Brazilian Amazon have lobbied successfully to create new municipalities. Along the Altamira-Itaituba stretch of the Transamazon Highway, for example, several new municipalities have formed recently, including Medicilandia, Uruara, Ruropolis, and Pacaja (Homma et al. 1992a). Competition for seats in these municipal legislatures is keen, with a hundred or more candidates disputing a handful of positions at election time. The chance to be on a government payroll, even at the modest salaries paid to vereadores, no doubt draws some prospective council members. Roving cars and trucks with powerful loudspeakers blaring the virtues of candidates have become a common feature of rural and urban life in the Brazilian Amazon.
Such new, more decentralized structures create fresh opportunities for communities to seek local solutions to their problems. Decentralization of political power is not a panacea, however. Municipal governments can be corrupt and ineffectual. The power of Brasilia has certainly waned over the past decade; it remains to be seen whether the resulting vacuum will be filled effectively by local initiatives. Nongovernment structures such as growers' associations, community organizations, and the private sector are currently taking a more active role in the development and diffusion of technologies. The track record of such organizations is highly variable, but one thing is clear: private enterprise is sure to play an ever-more important role in shaping the development of Amazonia.
Amazonia has long been considered a cultural and economic backwater. Although still considered exotic and steeped in mystery, at least in the public's mind, Amazonia is rapidly being incorporated into the heartlandsof countries with a stake in the sprawling region. Brazil has been the pace-setter in implementing projects to integrate the region better into national society.
In the 1960s and 1970s, the Amazon was thought to have great potential that warranted massive investments, from both national governments and international agencies (Hurrell 1990). Enormous investments were made to upgrade transportation, communication, and electrical power networks. New roads would carve avenues to El Dorados long entombed under the mantle of forest.
Although heavy government investments in Amazonia continued in the 1980s, the prevailing attitude of national governments shifted to the idea that the region should start "paying" for itself. The downturn in the global economy during the 1980s and the mounting budget deficits of governments prompted governments to perceive the region more as a fountain of revenue, rather than as a sinkhole for public investments. Attempts were also made to shift more of the burden for development to the private sector, in part because some of the public sector investments, such as in planned settlements, were expensive and sometimes produced disappointing results.
The authoritarian governments that ruled Brazil from 1964 to 1985 laid down bold development strategies for the Brazilian Amazon. The intellectual girders of these development plans were laid by several military strategists associated with the military academy (Escola Superior da Guerra), particularly the now-deceased General Golbery Couto e Silva. Civilian scholars and scientists were also involved in rationalizing development plans, such as the economists Delfim Neto and Mario Henrique Simonsen. Gifted civilian technocrats were thus a critical part of the "revolutionary" governments and often occupied key administrative posts.
The "revolutionary" military governments that steered Brazil for 21 years have been blamed for much of the rampant destruction in Amazonia (Bunker 1985; Hecht and Cockburn 1989). The World Bank has also been criticized for funding portions of the Polonoroeste project, which included asphalting the Cuiaba-Porto Velho Highway through Rondônia.
The process of incorporating Amazonia into the respective national orbits would have occurred without SUDAM-approved projects, government settlement schemes, or loans from multilateral development banks. The building of roads into Amazonia was inevitable. Before the road to Brasilia was opened in 1960, Belém could be reached only by air or by sea. Even asphalting highways does not necessarily speed up settlement; rather, all-weather roads increase land values and farmers may be more inclined to invest in more intensive farming methods.
No single political ideology or belief system can be "blamed" for the environmental changes under way in Amazonia. Indeed, democracy in Brazil is bringing its own threats to the environment, with increasing pressure to open up the forest to settlement and development (Foresta 1991: 257). Several governments with different organizational structures and ideologies have been involved in the region over the past few decades. All have sponsored development and settlement schemes in the region. Only Venezuela and Colombia have been relatively cautious about opening up their Amazonian territories, but then they occupy comparatively small segments of the region. Trends towards cattle-ranching, increased gold mining, petroleum exploration, and deforestation are common to all countries with stakes in Amazonia (Barbira-Scazzocchio 1980; Hemming 1985a,b; Hiraoka and Yamamoto 1980; Moran 1981; Schmink and Wood 1984).
The notion that authoritarian governments are more damaging to Amazonia than democratic regimes does not hold water. In Peru, the democratically elected government under Alan Garcia, who held office until 1990, did not stem widespread deforestation in western Amazonia. Brazil has had democratic governments since the late 1980s and development pressures on Amazonia continue.
A development ethic, suffusing particularly authoritarian governments and financial institutions, is sometimes thought to be responsible for the ravages of Amazonia. If only governments in Amazonia would turn away from economic growth models, it is sometimes argued, the environmental balance would be restored and prosperity would ensue. Although there is room for debate about the merits of different development strategies, natural resources in the region will continue to be tapped.
The idea that forest-clearing in the region must be halted at all costs is unrealistic. To many Brazilians, at least, the connection between halting deforestation and national well-being is unclear. Most of Haiti is deforested and it is one of the poorest countries in the hemisphere, but over 90 per cent of Western Europe's forests have been cleared, yet inhabitants of that region enjoy some of the highest standards of living in the world. A similar situation prevails in Japan, an economic superpower. Developing countries with the fastest economic growth rates are along the Pacific Rim, and much of their forests have been or are being destroyed. We will make the case for conserving forests and other environments in Amazonia, but it is tied to economic development and improved standards of living.
Many government organizations involved in development now recognize the importance of the environmental impacts of projects they promote. Recent publications of the regional development agency for the Brazilian Amazon, SUDAM, underscore the importance of conserving the environment and the ecological sustainability of economic activities (SUDAM 1990). At a May 1989 meeting of the Amazon Pact countries in Manaus, the heads of state of Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Guyana, Peru, Suriname, and Venezuela endorsed the need to use and protect natural and cultural resources, and highlighted the value of maintaining biodiversity.
Although some might argue that utterances from political leaders and development agencies may amount to little more than lip-service, there is a genuine concern about the ecological and social dimensions to Amazonian development among a broad range of government and development agencies. How much of this concern is likely to be translated into concrete action is debatable, but a change in values and attitudes is always a precursor to policy shifts.
Some indicators that the "green" positions adopted by politicians and development agencies are more than mere window-dressing include evidence of changes in priorities for research and development in the region. Several regional research institutions, such as those belonging to the Brazilian agricultural research system (EMBRAPA), the Museu Goeldi and the Federal University of Pará in Belém, and the National Institute for Amazonian Research (INPA Instituto Nacional de Pesquisas da Amazonia) in Manaus all have mission statements or strategic plans that focus explicitly on sustainable development and a better understanding of natural resources. Various international organizations, such as the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) in Rome and CIAT (Centro Internacional de Agricultura Tropical), based in Call, Colombia, have been approached by regional research and development bodies for guidance and technical assistance in sustainable agriculture (FAO 1990).
The mounting foreign debt of developing nations is sometimes depicted as one of the "root causes" of tropical deforestation (Bramble 1987; Gradwohl and Greenberg 1988: 45; OTA 1992: 6; Serrão and Homma 1993; Spitter 1987). Many developing countries, it is suggested, have plundered natural resources to help pay off bank loans. Recent governments in Brazil have been accused of exploiting the Amazon rain forest to solve foreign exchange problems (Moran 1988a). Some political leaders complain that debt repayment obligations force countries to overexploit natural resources in order to generate foreign exchange (Wood 1990). But the linkage between foreign debt and accelerated environmental degradation has not been clearly established, particularly for the Amazon region (Ruder 1989; Sanderson 1992: 93; Shilling 1992). Amazonia accounts for only 5 per cent of Brazil's GNP, and Brazilian exports are increasingly dominated by manufactured goods (Hurrell 1990).
Although banks in developed countries and multinational corporations are sometimes cast as the "villains" with regard to Amazonia, investments from southern Brazil are much more significant than international capital. The dominant drive to develop the Brazilian Amazon is internal (Hurrell 1990). It is true that some Amazonian resources are directly linked to the export trade, such as iron ore from Serra dos Carajas and pulp from the Jari plantations, but domestic investment from the industrial heartland of Brazil is a major factor in many development schemes. Companies headquartered in São Paulo have much greater investment exposure in Amazonia than the World Bank or private banks in the United States, Europe, or Japan.
Investments in Amazonia from São Paulo can be envisaged as a means to redistribute some of the wealth accumulated in the nervecentre of Brazilian business. To others, the great disparity of wealth between São Paulo, with its diverse agricultural and industrial base, and relatively undeveloped Amazonia contributes to the latter's demise. São Paulo is seen as exporting pollution to Amazonia and exploiting its resources with little long-term benefit to the region.
Given that forces of change in Amazonia, ranging from population growth, institutional and socio-economic factors, to questions of attitudes and distribution of wealth, are likely to remain essentially the same for the foreseeable future, we concentrate on ways to promote the sustainable use of forests, plantations, and agricultural lands. This is not to deny the validity of efforts to change the driving forces, but rather an attempt to display options for development that can be used by societies guided by a variety of principles and forms of government. Attempts to address driving forces should go hand-in-hand with efforts to harness natural resources in a rational manner.
A central theme is the need to uncover and promote sustainable systems that generate a cash surplus to provide rural peoples and companies with more options and greater flexibility to grasp opportunities and adapt to change. Also, viable farms, ranches, plantations, and carefully managed forests are likely to relieve pressure on the remaining wilderness.
Our approach recognizes that there are many models for agricultural development in Amazonia, ranging from small-scale farms, to communally operated forest reserves, to ranches and large plantations. The role of managed forests in regional development is also discussed. The importance of developing and sustaining linkages to markets is underscored, whether we are dealing with individual farmers, cooperatives, or giant corporations. A mosaic of land uses is called for involving small- to large-scale operators.
Strategies for sustainable agricultural development and forest management are discussed in more detail in later chapters. An attempt will be made to identify responses by decision-makers in Amazonia, ranging from small to large holders, to raise and sustain yields. In the next chapter, we discuss efforts to set aside parks and reserves in Amazonia. Here we focus on the growing awareness of environmental issues in Amazonia, particularly at the regional and national levels. Although increased awareness alone will not solve the environmental and social problems facing the region, the open debate about the causes of change and appropriate responses is healthy and will help clarify issues and goad concrete responses.
The role of the media in increasing awareness of environmental issues
In Brazil, media coverage of environmental and social problems in Amazonia began well before the transition to democracy in the mid-1980s, but increased markedly after 1985. Coverage of environmental issues reached almost blitz proportions up to and during the UNCED meetings in Rio in June 1992. A parallel increase in reporting on environmental and political issues related to Amazonian development also occurred in the influential New York Times (Cohen 1990). Although press censorship has operated to varying degrees in several of the governments with territory in Amazonia, a surprising amount of reporting on environmental and social issues has surfaced. Today, the press is essentially free in all governments operating in the region.
The military governments of Brazil supported the penetration of television into the far corners of the country as a strategy of national integration. Most inhabitants in the region have had access to radios for many decades, but many small towns in the Brazilian Amazon now receive at least one television station. Television and radio coverage of environmental issues is critical in stirring public consciousness about such issues as pollution and loss of biodiversity.
Although impressive strides have been made to improve literacy rates in Brazil, approximately one-third of the population over five years old still cannot read (IBGE 1989: 197). Television and radio are thus important media for disseminating information. Discussion of Amazonian development and conservation issues, ranging from the climatic impacts of deforestation to social conflicts over land use, is frequent on Brazilian television and radio. The airwaves have thus opened the eyes of many rural peoples in the region.
The growing influence of NGOs
Another response to the perceived need to tackle environmental and social problems in Amazonia is the striking growth in the number of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) operating in the region. At least 1,000 NGOs are currently operating in Brazil, and many of them focus on environmental concerns (Homma 1992a; Landim 1988). This blossoming of NGOs seems to be a global trend; tens of thousands of grass-roots environmental groups have sprung up to raise public awareness of ecological problems and to press for policy changes (Brown 1991).
About three-quarters of the NGOs in Brazil arose in the 1980s in response to increasing awareness at various levels of society about contentious development and environmental issues. A sense emerged in many quarters that prevailing models of economic development were not adequately addressing social equity or sustainability issues, and that more "extra-official" channels were needed for development assistance (Montecinos and Altieri 1991).
Many NGOs have targeted international media and organizations, as well as state, local, and federal governments. The primary mission of many NGOs is to promote the cause of disenfranchised groups, such as Indians, rubber tappers, and women, but they have skilfully "piggybacked" their agendas on the global preoccupation with the environment. Some groups advocating the rights of rubber tappers and Indians have seized the growing concern about the environmental impacts of development in Amazonia as an opportunity to strengthen their hands and obtain greater media coverage and leverage with government and donor agencies.
Indigenous rights groups, such as UNI (União das Nações Indigenas), and organizations attempting to galvanize rubber tappers, such as the National Council of Rubber Tappers (Conselho Nacional dos Seringueiros), have lobbied aggressively for land rights and for the defence of nature in Amazonia. The Institute for Amazon Studies (Instituto de Estudos Amazonicos), headquartered in Curitiba in southern Brazil, has coordinated efforts to pressure authorities in Brazil to safeguard rubber groves against outside developers. Many other organizations have sprung up in Amazonia to promote the cause of disenfranchised groups and to promote "sustainable development" and conservation. Some of these groups have received support from foreign donors, such as bilateral aid agencies and foundations and international NGOs based in the United States and Europe (Revkin 1990).
Although some NGOs are jockeying for position as saviours of the forest, particularly in the eyes of the media, this confluence of environmental and social concerns might turn out to be an ephemeral marriage of convenience. NGOs promoting the cause of disenfranchised groups have mixed agendas, and environmental concerns may well be peripheral in some instances.
An often-overlooked aspect of NGOs promoting the cause of indigenous groups and peasants is that they may misrepresent the needs and aspirations of their "clients." With little experience in dealing with the varied cultures of Amazonia, NGOs may insert their own agendas, rather than attend to the real needs of the people they are supposed to help. Insertion of key words such as "grass roots" in their work does not ensure that NGOs have correctly diagnosed problems, let alone drawn up appropriate plans of action.
Recent experiences with indigenous groups in contact with national society illustrate some of the disparities between expected behaviour and reality. Some of the Kayapo have profited from illegal timber sales on their land. The Surui and Cinta Larga of south-western Amazonia are avid sellers of timber from their reserves (Brooke 1991). Gold miners have invaded the Yanomamo reserve in Roraima. In view of the cultural and ecological damage that ensued, the Brazilian government has taken steps to expel miners and relocate them to other parts of Roraima. But at least some Yanomamo Indians have opposed the forced removal of miners from their lands, claiming they want to learn from the miners and extract some gold themselves.
The market for NGOs in Brazil and many other developing regions is getting crowded. Attrition is sure to trim the number of NGOs operating in the future. Major donors and development banks are likely to look more closely at the effectiveness of NGOs with which they may have been collaborating. To some degree, NGOs are catering to the agendas of donors, which may shift. Some development agencies may eventually bypass NGOs and attempt to work directly with community leaders or growers' associations. Although some NGOs have solid track records and will continue to play valuable roles in promoting equitable development and conservation, others will succumb to dwindling support.
Efforts to tackle mercury contamination
Mercury pollution from gold mining is probably one of the hardest ecological problems to tackle in the region. With hundreds of thousands of fortuneseekers operating over such a vast territory, any effort to minimize the use of mercury would be extremely difficult. The larger operators working from barges are more visible, and thus easier to control. In the early 1990s, the government of Rondônia prohibited the approximately 300 gold-mining barges from operating along a 200 km stretch of the Madeira River near Porto Velho (Brooke 1991). Mercury is imported to Brazil for the dental trade; even if restrictions were imposed on the amounts of mercury allowed in, Brazil's porous borders with neighbouring countries would soon ensure a clandestine trade.
Efforts are under way to improve the recovery rate of mercury using simple field techniques. For the time being, though, the price of gold will largely determine how much mercury finds its way into Amazonian food chains.
Until recently, the Brazilian government rejected the notion of debtfor-nature swaps on the grounds that such deals would compromise its sovereignty. In 1991, however, the federal government decided to authorize the conversion of US$100 million of the US$123 billion external debt for environmental projects. These debt-for-nature dollars will be used mainly to demarcate national parks and reserves and to compensate landowners or settlers in protected areas for leaving their claims. Although effective protection and management of reserves and parks in Brazil will cost an estimated US$2 billion, the relinquished funds will certainly help.
Resources liberated by this debt-for-nature swap will be administered as a "patrimonial fund" under the federal government's control. This adroit move allows the Brazilian government to avoid relinquishing any of its sovereignty while reducing, albeit slightly, its debt burden. At the same time, sizeable grants will be available for certain worthwhile environmental causes, and the government achieves a public relations coup at virtually no cost.
Many of the environmental issues related to development in Amazonia hinge on the scale and rates of deforestation. A spurt in forest removal occurred from the late 1960s to the mid-1980s, associated in part with the opening of pioneer highways and investments in cattle-raising (Malingreau and Tucker 1988). A surge in deforestation in 1987 in the Brazilian Amazon has been linked to the formulation of Brazil's new constitution, passed in 1988, which called for expropriation of unproductive land (Nepstad, Uhl, and Serrão 1991). Landowners' fears that unoccupied land might be confiscated are thought to have triggered a clearing frenzy (Revkin 1990: 180). This widespread effort to "tame" Amazonia's wilderness and to integrate the region into the national economy, which was particularly noticeable in Brazil, stirred concern about the future of the forest and raised the spectre of deleterious regional and global environmental change.
Considerable controversy has characterized the debate about deforestation rates in Amazonia (Bonalume 1989a). Different definitions of forest, the difficulty of separating advanced second growth from forest, and whether one considers temporary or permanent forest removal in the equation have contributed to different scenarios and conclusions about the dangers of deforestation. Some groups may have exaggerated deforestation rates to further conservation aims, while others may have downplayed figures in order to encourage further development of the region. The claim that 8 million ha of forest were cleared in the Brazilian Amazon in 1987 alone is now being challenged (Monastersky 1993).
No attempt will be made here to sort out all the claims and counterclaims as to how much of the Amazonian forest has been truly "lost." Three main points are worth emphasizing here: the notion of virgin Amazonian forests is a myth anyway; considerable areas of Amazonia are still in mature forest, particularly in western and northern parts of the basin; and deforestation rates appear to be declining.
The decline in deforestation appears to be real, rather than an artefact of manipulating remote sensing data, or of changes in the definition of forest (Bonalume 1989b, 1991). Deforestation slowed in Rondônia, an acknowledged "hot spot" for forest destruction, after 1985 (Fearnside 1989a). Satellite imagery reveals an approximate 27 per cent drop in deforestation rates in the Brazilian Amazon from 1989 to 1990 alone. In 1989, an estimated 2.1 million ha of forest were cleared in the Brazilian Amazon, dropping to 1.4 million ha in 1990 (Alcantara 1991). According to Brazil's remote sensing institute (INPE Instituto Nacional de Pesquisas Espaciais), deforestation in the Amazon dipped further to 1.4 million ha in 1991, and unofficially to 0.9 million ha in 1992.
The precise causes of this slowdown are unclear, but several factors were probably involved, including the severe recession that gripped Brazil in the late 1980s and early 1990s; the blocking of substantial portions of savings accounts by President Collor in 1990; and the desire of farmers and ranchers to put second growth back into production or to upgrade weed-choked pastures.
Forests have waxed and waned in the face of economic cycles in other regions, such as the Mediterranean (Westoby 1989: 64). Farmers and ranchers in the Altamira area of the Transamazon Highway, for example, are cutting more second growth than forest; a similar pattern prevails among middle-scale ranchers in the Paragominas area. The burning season in Rondônia also focuses more on scrub that has grown up in pasture and on the second growth that soon envelops abandoned fields, rather than on mature forest (Brooke 1991). Second growth is increasingly cut because, as a colonization zone matures, regrowth becomes more common and accessible than mature forest.
Increased pressure to protect parks and reserves and to enforce environmental regulations in Amazonia has probably had negligible impact. The notion that the removal of fiscal incentives for cattle-ranching in the Brazilian Amazon has slowed deforestation is implausible.
The implications of the recession being a major factor in the slowdown in forest destruction, if correct, are worrisome. When the economy resumes growth on any significant scale, deforestation rates could pick up again. Only by adequately addressing the need for a broad-based raising of economic living standards in the region, coupled with a more systematic approach to environmental protection, will ecological problems in the region be alleviated.
Unless alternatives to deforestation are offered, any widespread effort to halt forest-clearing could lead to lowered food production and more unemployment. Because of the depletion of soil nutrients, weed invasion, and the build-up of pests and diseases, many farmers periodically clear new fields from forest. Farming methods that minimize forest-clearing, such as agroforestry, thus need to be developed and promoted for various soil and other environmental conditions.
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