Fighting deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon: environmental policy effects on landowners’ decision-making, and land-use and land-cover change

Greetings from “Belém do Pará”, Brazil!

Hey there! I am writing from the Brazilian Amazon where I have conducted a feasibility study since May 23rd when I arrived in Belém, the capital of the Pará state. This is the first fieldwork for my PhD in Environmental Sciences at the IU School of Public and Environmental Affairs (SPEA). Overall, my purpose is to analyze how environmental policies influence landowners in making decisions regarding land use within their properties, as well as on triggering collective actions among a varied set of actors and institutions to comply with environmental regulations.

In that context, I came to Pará in order to deepen my understanding about the so called “deforestation blacklist”. Annually updated by the Environmental Ministry between 2008-2013, the blacklist sanctioned municipalities with the highest rates of forest loss in the Amazon biome. Along with other regional initiatives that took place in the region (e.g. the beef moratorium), the blacklist severely affected the municipal economies based on illegal activities such as logging (Picture 01), charcoal production, and cattle ranching expansion. The blacklist forced the municipalities to implement monitoring, sanctioning, and the registration of landowners’ rural properties as mechanisms to revert such scenario.


During my trip, I spent one week in Paragominas, the first municipality to comply with all the requirements to be removed from the blacklist in 2010. I met and interviewed several actors and officials working on local institutions, such as municipal and state environmental agencies, agricultural agencies, rural workers unions, banks, research institutions, and the like. These meetings helped me out to clarify the role that the blacklist had as a tipping point in changing the fate of Paragominas, deepening my comprehension about the institutional arrangements and partnerships that originated the project “Pargominas Município Verde” (Paragominas: Green Municipality), a multi-institutional program locally created to remove Paragominas of the blacklist.

The success of the innovative strategies and arrangements devised in Paragominas became a model later adopted in the whole state to control deforestation and monitor land cover change within rural properties. As a result, in 2011 the state of Pará created the “Programa Municípios Verdes“ (Green Municipality Program). During my stay in Belém, I was fortunate to attend the XXI Meeting of the Green Municipality Program (PMV) Committee (Picture 02). The meeting congregated more than one hundred representatives of the civil society and governmental agencies, including the secretaries of environmental agencies of several municipalities that agreed to fight deforestation and foster the development of sustainable economies in the region.


Furthermore, I also stopped by two other municipalities also included in the blacklist. While Tailândia succeeded in following the steps of Paragominas, Moju is still struggling to comply with all the requirements to become a “green municipality”. In travelling around Paragominas, Moju, Tailândia, and Belém, I realize that the blacklist created a sense of emergency in the municipalities included on it. It is clear the role of human and social capitals at the municipal level in bringing diverse actors to collaborate, as well as the importance that reliable partnerships, funding, and governmental support have in triggering local and regional actions towards the municipality to achieve the goals of the Green Municipality Program.

Finally, my trips to Tailândia and Moju revealed that the challenges faced by each municipality are very particular. Replicating one specific model devised in a particular context does not appear to work everywhere, requiring arrangements and collective actions crafted according to the specificities of each municipality or micro-region.

I may say that my fieldwork in Pará has been very challenging. Despite my previous experience living in the Brazilian Amazon for almost eight years before I start my doctorate at IU in 2015, this is the first time I carry out a study in the eastern portion of the region. At the same time, I need to learn about the differences in sociocultural, historical, and ecological aspects that characterizes this portion of the Amazon, it is also necessary to establish a new local social network to support my future visits and work in the region.

This preliminary fieldwork is funded by two grants received from CLACS and the IU Office of Sustainability, for whose generous support I am very grateful. I am also thankful to CNPq, whose “Sciences without Borders” program has supported my doctorate at SPEA. The travels and the contacts I have made during my trips are crucial to my comprehension about the region of Pará, and will allow for the development of ideas and the advance of my dissertation project over the 2016/2017 scholar year.


Paulo Massoca is a Ph.D. Student in Environmental Science in the School of Public and Environmental Affairs (SPEA)



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