Brazil’s concerted efforts to reduce deforestation in the Amazon have been very successful, but progress has stalled in recent years. This brief presents a detailed analysis of official data that suggests the government’s strategies have been more effective with large landowners than with smallholders or properties in remote areas. New, more tailored and incentive-based approaches are needed to keep reducing deforestation.

Contrary to common claims that smallholders are now responsible for most deforestation, the data show that nearly half of the total deforestation in the Brazilian Legal Amazon in 2004–2011 occurred in areas dominated by properties larger than 500 hectares. Smallholders (properties under 100 ha) contributed only 12% of total deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon in the same period.

Annual deforestation rates declined faster in areas dominated by large and very large landowners (80% and 81%, respectively) than in those dominated by smallholders (73%) and medium-size properties (65%), as well as remote areas (71%). This partly reflects the focus of enforcement efforts on “deforestation hotspots” where properties are typically larger.

Forests in areas dominated by smallholders are generally in better condition, with lower levels of fragmentation and stand degradation from logging and fire. This shows the key role of smallholders in preserving the Amazon, particularly since smallholder- dominated areas make up a large share of the remaining Amazon forest on private land.

These findings highlight that the fight against deforestation in the Amazon is entering a new phase. Without decisive action, Brazil could see deforestation rates continue to remain stable or rise again, as recent data suggest may already be happening.

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