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Geographic Patterns of Land Use and Land Intensity in the Brazilian Amazon


Kenneth M. Chomitz


World Bank, Independent Evaluation Group

Timothy S. Thomas


World Bank

October 1, 2001

World Bank Policy Research Working Paper No. 2687

Abstract:     
Nearly 90 percent of agricultural land in the Brazilian Amazon is used for pasture, or has been cleared and left unused. Pasture on average is used with very low productivity. Analysis based on census tract data shows that agricultural conversion of forested areas in the wetter Western Amazon would be even less productive, using current technologies. Using census tract data from the Censo Agropecuario 1995-96, Chomitz and Thomas map indicators of current land use and agricultural productivity across Brazil's Legal Amazon. These data permit geographical resolution about 10 times finer than afforded by municipio data used in previous studies. Chomitz and Thomas focus on the extent and productivity of pasture, the dominant land use in Amazonia today.

Simple tabulations suggest that most agricultural land in Amazonia yields little private economic value. Nearly 90 percent of agricultural land is either devoted to pasture or has been out of use for more than four years. About 40 percent of the currently used pastureland has a stocking ratio of less than 0.5 cattle per hectare. Tabulations also show a skewed distribution of land ownership: almost half of Amazonian farmland is located in the 1 percent of properties that contain more than 2,000 hectares.

Multivariate analyses relate forest conversion and pasture productivity to precipitation, soil quality, infrastructure and market access, proximity to past conversion, and protection status. Chomitz and Thomas find precipitation to have a strong deterrent effect on agriculture. The probability that land is currently claimed, or used for agriculture, or intensively stocked with cattle, declines substantially with increasing precipitation levels, holding other factors (such as road access) constant. Proxies for land abandonment are also higher in high rainfall areas. Together these findings suggest that the wetter Western Amazon is inhospitable to exploitation for pasture, using current technologies. On the other hand, land conversion and stocking rates are positively correlated with proximity to past clearing. This suggests that in the areas of active deforestation in eastern Amazonia, the frontier is not hollow and land use intensifies over time. But this area remains a mosaic of lands with higher and lower potential agricultural value.

This paper - a product of Infrastructure and Environment, Development Research Group - is part of a larger effort in the group to understand the causes and consequences of land use change. The authors may be contacted at kchomitz@worldbank.org.

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Date posted: April 20, 2016  

Suggested Citation

Chomitz, Kenneth M. and Thomas, Timothy S., Geographic Patterns of Land Use and Land Intensity in the Brazilian Amazon (October 1, 2001). World Bank Policy Research Working Paper No. 2687. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=632755

Contact Information

Kenneth M. Chomitz (Contact Author)
World Bank, Independent Evaluation Group ( email )
1818 H Street, N.W.
Washington, DC 20433
United States
Timothy Scott Thomas
World Bank ( email )
1818 H Street, N.W.
Washington, DC 20433
United States
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