Examining changing land-use patterns and deforestation in extractive reserves in Acre, Brazil


Christian Palmer: F & ES

Advisors: Carol Carpenter  &  Dan Nepstad


This proposed research addresses land use change in extractive reserves in the Brazilian Amazon. Since the 1960's the Brazilian national government, along with international investment and aid began to develop the Amazon region. This huge influx of capital and government subsidies in the region brought large-scale cattle ranching, mining, logging, agriculture, and hydroelectric projects, as well as increased legal and illegal colonization. The growing population and changing land use in Amazonia led to intense land conflicts between the local rubber tappers and recent migrants to the region. In addition, worldwide environmental activism has led to increased international pressure for economic activities that leave the rainforest intact and preserve the impressive biodiversity of the region.

Since the establishment of the first extractive reserves, they have gained increasing support on both the national and international level. State and Federal level government officials in Brazil, local and global NGO's, and large multilateral institutions such as the World Bank, have joined in advocating, implementing, and strengthening extractive reserves. These alliances have generated much optimism about the potential of extractive reserves to provide feasible means of sustainable development. There are plans to demarcate 22 extractive reserves in addition to the current 30 reserves (5 million ha) already demarcated.

The Problem

Despite their growing size and popularity, there is a lack of recent research on the ecological effects of the establishment of extractive reserves. Prior to, and during the process of the establishment of extractive reserves there was a significant amount of literature published on potential and future of extractive reserves as viable means of preserving intact ecosystems and supporting forest communities. This belief however, was tempered with more realistic commentary on the difficulties of making extractive reserves function to both preserve the environment and provide for economic growth. Much of this commentary, however, was done before the extractive reserves had been fully implemented and was purely theoretical, examining the potential economic or ecological effects of extractivism. There is a lack of research examining the actual effect of the implementation of extractive reserves on land use patterns in the region.

The multilevel research design of this project combines remote sensing with ethnographic field research to provide a more complete understanding of the dynamics of land use change within extractive reserves. Understanding the change of land use within the preserves, as well as deforestation rates, is one particularly valuable way of evaluating their effectiveness as models for the conservation of large, intact forest ecosystems. This research, beyond the practical policy and management implications, begins to establish a theoretical and methodological framework for analysis of the conservation value of extractive reserves. The magnitude of Brazilian extractive reserves (currently 5 million ha), as well as their significant symbolic and social importance, makes this study particularly valuable for critically examining the larger potential of extractive reserves as a means of sustainable development.

Research Question

Research Objectives

This study uses an interdisciplinary research design to get quantitative and qualitative data on land use patterns in extractive reserves. It proposes to analyze the extent of deforestation and land conversion within different types of extractive reserves from 1986 to 20002. This data will be combined with qualitative information gained through participant observation and semi-structured interviews to provide some description to the myriad of factors involved in land-use change. Land-use change analysis provides an important window into the effectiveness of extractive reserves in providing a model for sustainable development. This work will contribute to the research currently underway by Christiane Ehringhaus of F&ES.

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20 May 2003