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SEI brief

Governing for sustainability in agricultural-forest frontiers: A case study of the Brazilian Amazon

This brief examines the challenges for sustainability governance in agricultural-forest frontiers – areas that still retain large areas of forest yet continue to be deforested through agricultural expansion – and provides examples from the Brazilian Amazon.

Javier Godar, Toby Gardner / Published on 7 December 2014

Gardner, T., J. Godar and R. Garrett (2014). Governing for sustainability in agricultural-forest frontiers: A case study of the Brazilian Amazon. SEI discussion brief.

Agricultural-forest frontiers are characterized by a very diverse mix of actors, coupled with a rapid pace of land use change and consolidation and often weak governance structures. These factors present both risks and opportunities for sustainable development.

The authors note that frontier development is a critical stage for a region, and the policy decisions made may define the region’s longer-term development opportunities and levels of social and environmental sustainability.

To be effective and fair, policies that aim to ensure sustainability in agricultural-forest frontiers need to account for the diverse and interconnected nature of these societies, explicitly and comprehensively. However, such considerations are more the exception than the norm in most frontiers, which may help explain why many existing policies are limited in their effectiveness and may result in unequal or even perverse outcomes.

Many of the most promising examples of frontier sustainability governance in the Brazilian Amazon have emerged from innovative multi-sector partnerships, often bringing together civil society and private enterprise, supported by local government. Establishing the institutions necessary to foster and secure such partnerships remains a major challenge and underscores the critical role of the state.

Agricultural-forest frontiers offer significant opportunities for innovative and proactive approaches to recognize and integrate the diverse needs, responsibilities and capabilities of different actors into regional strategies for sustainable land management. These include collective and participatory approaches to achieving legal compliance with environmental legislation, sharing of knowledge and technology on farming practices, and improvements in agricultural and forest-product markets through verticalization and supply chain development.

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SEI authors

Javier Godar
Javier Godar

Senior Research Fellow

SEI Headquarters

Toby Gardner
Toby Gardner

Senior Research Fellow

SEI Headquarters

Topics and subtopics
Land : Land use, Forests / Governance : Public policy

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