Close Window

Tropical deforestation is a significant driver of global environmental change, given its impacts on the carbon cycle and biodiversity. Loss of the Amazon forest, the focus of this article, is of particular concern because of the size and the rapid rate at which the forest is being converted to agricultural use. In this article, we identify what has been the most important driver of deforestation in a specific colonization frontier in the Brazilian Amazon. To this end, we consider (1) the land-use dynamics of smallholder households, (2) the formation of pasture by large-scale ranchers, and (3) structural processes of land aggregation by ranchers. Much has been written about relations between smallholders and ranchers in the Brazilian Amazon, particularly those involving conflict over land, and this article explicates the implications of such social processes for land cover. Toward this end, we draw on panel data (1996-2002) and satellite imagery (1986-1999) to show the deforestation that is attributable to small- and largeholders, and the deforestation that is attributable to aggregations of property arising from a process that we refer to as frontier stratification. Evidently, most of the recent deforestation in the study area has resulted from the household processes of smallholders, not from conversions to pasture pursuant to the appropriations of smallholders\' property by well-capitalized ranchers or speculators.

Close Window