Forest frontiers out of control: The long-term effects of discourses, policies, and markets on conservation and development of the Brazilian Amazon

Ambio. 2021 Dec;50(12):2199-2223. doi: 10.1007/s13280-021-01637-4. Epub 2021 Oct 12.


With the Brazilian military governments of the 1960s, systematic economic development of the Amazon began. Social and environmental concerns have entered Amazonian discourses and policies only since the 1990s. Since then, reports of threats to forests and indigenous people have alternated with reports of socio-economic progress and environmental achievements. These contradictions often arise from limited thematic, sectoral, temporal, or spatial perspectives, and lead to misinterpretation. Our paper offers a comprehensive picture of discourses, policies, and socio-environmental dynamics for the entire region over the last five decades. We distinguish eight historical policy phases, each of which had little effect on near-linear dynamics of demographic growth and land-use expansion, although some policies showed the potential to change the course of development. To prevent local, national, and international actors from continuing to assert harmful interests in the region, a coherent long-term commitment and change in the collective mindset are needed.

Keywords: Agricultural frontiers; Amazon region; Deforestation; Discourses; Policies; Rural development.

MeSH terms

  • Brazil
  • Conservation of Natural Resources*
  • Forests*
  • Humans
  • Policy