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Theorizing Land Cover and Land Use Change: The Peasant Economy of Amazonian Deforestation

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This article addresses deforestation processes in the Amazon basin, using regression analysis to assess the impact of household structure and economic circumstances on land use decisions made by colonist farmers in the forest frontiers of Brazil. Unlike many previous regression-based studies, the methodology implemented analyzes behavior at the level of the individual property, using both survey data and information derived from the classification of remotely sensed imagery. The regressions correct for endogenous relationships between key variables and spatial autocorrelation, as necessary. Variables used in the analysis are specified, in part, by a theoretical development integrating the Chayanovian concept of the peasant household with spatial considerations stemming from von Thünen. Results from the empirical model indicate that demographic characteristics of households, as well as market factors, affect deforestation in the Amazon basin associated with colonists. Therefore, statistical results from studies that do not include household-scale information may be subject to error. From a policy perspective, the results suggest that environmental policies in the Amazon based on market incentives to small farmers may not be as effective as hoped, given the importance of household factors in catalyzing the demand for land. The article concludes by noting that household decisions regarding land use and deforestation are not independent of broader social circumstances, and that a full understanding of Amazonian deforestation will require insight into why poor families find it necessary to settle the frontier in the first place.

Keywords: Amazon; deforestation; peasant economy

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: 1: Department of Geography, Michigan State University 2: Environmental Studies Program, Hobart and William Smith Colleges and Instituto do Homem e Meio Ambiente da Amazônia 3: Department of Sociology, University of Florida

Publication date: 2007-03-01

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