Decentralized governance can facilitate the participation of non-government actors in natural resource management. Yet efforts to increase participation can also enhance the power of existing elites. Here, the authors analyze the role of landowning elites in developing and operating a hybrid governance arrangement in response to the decentralization of anti-deforestation policy in the Brazilian Amazon.

By engaging state and non-state actors in a hybrid governance partnership, the local landowning elite in Paragominas, a municipality in the Eastern Brazilian Amazon, successfully achieved the specific goals set by federal policies to be removed from a high deforestation ‘Red List’.

Yet the local governors, together with the rural elite, transformed the crisis generated by inclusion in the Red List into an opportunity to shift the rural economy on a path towards more legalized large-scale agriculture. By aligning production and conservation objectives, the project attracted medium and large landowners, but also failed to prevent – or potentially exacerbated – the further marginalization of smallholders.

Rural elites can effectively mobilize hybrid government arrangements in pursuit of their own interests while also producing wider benefits such as a more stimulated urban economy and strengthened environmental compliance. However, inclusion of more marginalized populations in this process remains a severe and largely unaddressed challenge.

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