The challenges of implementing conservation schemes in the Southern Brazilian Amazon

By Marta Giannichi (@martalisli), University of Leeds

Perhaps the question that most hunts tropical conservationists is: how to avoid deforestation? And although there has been plenty of research efforts aiming at providing answers to this question, we still remain looking for a panacea. The causes of deforestation are widely known by the scientific community but it is still a major challenge to engage landowners in strategies that could effectively result in a decrease, or even halt deforestation. Brazil, for example, has a great potential of making this happen via a compensation scheme. The Brazilian Forest Code states that private landowners must set-aside areas of native vegetation within their farmland. Those who have deforested these set aside areas above the maximum permitted may compensate (buyers of forest) for their deficit by acquiring hectares from landowners who have forest surplus (as sellers of forest). If all landowners here considered “sellers” were to participate in this compensation scheme, it would be possible to avoid the deforestation of millions of hectares. However, our recent study shows that not all landowners are equally inclined to participate.

Figure 1. Examples of land owned by a seller (left – contour in green) and a buyer (right – contour in red). Adapted from Google Earth.

By interviewing 59 landowners in Mato Grosso state, southern Brazilian Amazon, we found that there are substantial challenges that could impede the uptake of this scheme. Using Q-methodology, sellers and buyers could be divided into three different typologies of landowners but only one group in each was willing to participate in the scheme. One specific group of sellers, the Willing Deforesters, deserves particular attention. They were unwilling to participate in the scheme because they believe their standing forest should provide the same financial return of a productive land. As a consequence, for them, this compensation scheme is not seen as a profitable solution. Another important finding is that contract duration expectations are entirely the opposite for sellers and buyers. The price per hectare of standing forest was also a concern for sellers, who are expecting to receive the equivalent to land use opportunity costs.

Figure 2. Location of interviewed landowners’ farms in Mato Grosso state, Brazil. From Giannichi et al. (2017).

Linking our findings with the ambitious targets Brazil established in COP21, this seems to add more complexity onto the strategies Brazil is going to adopt to (1) enforce the new Forest Code; (2) compensate carbon emissions from legal deforestation; and (3) promote restoration of millions of hectares of forest. We hope that providing evidence about landowners’ decision-making process can inform policy-makers develop pathways to better target conservation strategies and attain conservation goals.

To find out more, read our paper here.