Land Reform Policies, the Sources of Violent Conflict and Implications for Deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon
Posted: 14 Dec 1999
In this paper we examine land reform policies and their implications for violent conflict over land and resource use in the Brazilian Amazon. We identify the protagonists (land owners and squatters), derive their incentives to use violence, and show the role of legal inconsistencies as a basis for conflict. Although civil law guarantees title for land owners, the Brazilian Constitution adds a beneficial use criterion as a condition for title enforcement. This provision is part of a land reform or redistribution effort and it provides authorization for transfers to squatters. We describe the government agency involved in land reform, INCRA, and show that its intervention critically affects the actions of both squatters and land owners. Further, we point out the resource use effects of land reform policies and associated insecure property rights to land. Forested lands on large farms do not meet the constitutional beneficial use criterion and hence, are vulnerable to invasion by squatters and redistribution by INCRA. In the contest for control, land owners and squatters have incentives to deforest more rapidly and extensively prior to a conflict than agricultural production alone would warrant in order to demonstrate their respective land use. In analyzing the determinants of violent conflict, an analytical framework is provided to generate hypotheses for testing. Using data from the Brazilian census and the Pastoral Land Commission for the state of Para we examine the characteristics of regions where violent conflict predominates. Our empirical results indicate that a greater policy emphasis on land reform in Brazil through expropriation to reduce violent conflict, may have the unanticipated effect of increasing violent competition and wasteful resource use. The results of the paper are suggestive not only for Brazil, but for elsewhere in Latin America where there is tension between the goals of secure property rights and wealth redistribution.
JEL Classification: Q23, Q28
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation