Farming in the Amazon region is diverse. While major farms exist, much of it is carried out by smallholders. In this book chapter (in Portuguese; original title: “Dinâmica do desmatamento na Amazônia por agricultores familiares: Condições para o desenvolvimento sustentável em assentamentos rurais”), Gabriel Medina, a professor in the School of  Agronomy at the Federal University of Goiás, Brazil, and SEI Senior Research Fellow Javier Godar, report on a study comparing the impacts on deforestation and rural development of smallholder family farms and larger landholdings in the central Brazilian Amazon; and in particular how these impacts are influenced by agrarian policies.

The study, focused on the Transamazon Highway, found that when conditions are favourable, the productive systems of the smallholders produce better socio-economic results and a more diverse and forested landscape than those of the larger landholders. However, this only happens when certain conditions are present. These are i) short distance to main roads, allowing smallholders easy access to markets and basic services; ii) existence of fertile soils, which despite not being very abundant in some cases were randomly used to settle smallholders during initial colonization of the region; iii) the intensity and density of land ownership consolidation, with better smallholder performance in areas with strong density of smallholder farms than in areas where large and small landholders share the space; iv) strong associative culture crystallizing in smallholder unions and political rights movements; and v) access to agrarian policy incentives for production after the initial governmental investments for colonization and agrarian reform. These conditions were observed to reinforce each other in a virtuous circle.