Agronomic or contentious land change? A longitudinal analysis from the Eastern Brazilian Amazon

PLoS One. 2020 Jan 27;15(1):e0227378. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0227378. eCollection 2020.


Since 1984, nearly 1,000 people have been killed in the Brazilian Amazon due to land conflicts stemming from unequal distribution of land, land tenure insecurity, and lawlessness. During this same period, the region experienced almost complete deforestation (< 8% forest cover by 2010). Land conflict exacts a human toll, but it also affects agents' decisions about land use, the subject of this article. Using a property-level panel dataset covering the period of redemocratization in Brazil (1984) until the privatization of long-term leases in the Eastern Amazon (2010), we show that deforestation is affected by land conflict, particularly in cases of expropriation of property for agrarian reform settlement formation and when that conflict involves fatalities. Deforestation on agrarian reform settlements is much greater when soils are poor for agriculture and when the land has been the object of past conflict. Deforestation and conflict are episodic, and both agronomic drivers and contentious drivers of land change are active in the region. Ultimately, the outcome of these processes of contentious and agronomic land change is substantial deforestation, regardless of who was in possession and control of the land.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Agriculture / statistics & numerical data*
  • Brazil
  • Conservation of Natural Resources / statistics & numerical data*
  • Forests
  • Humans
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Ownership / statistics & numerical data*

Grant support

Aldrich, Simmons, Arima: National Science Foundation, BCS-1157521. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.