Poverty dynamics, ecological endownments and land use among smallholders in the Brazilian Amazon

Gilvan R. Guedes, Brown University
Mariângela Antigo, Centro de Desenvolvimento e Planejamento Regional (CEDEPLAR), UFMG
Ana Machado, Centro de Desenvolvimento e Planejamento Regional (CEDEPLAR), UFMG
Eduardo S. Brondizio, Indiana University
Leah K. VanWey, Brown University

Poverty in rural environments has been traditionally approached by the view that poor adopt low-technological and ecologically threatening land use practices. Some authors probe this simplistic view on poverty-environment link, suggesting that instead of a consequence, environmental endowments may represent an important element of poverty dynamics. Using longitudinal household survey data and remote sense land use/cover data for a settlement area along the TransAmazon Highway in the Brazilian Amazon, and combining a variety of measurement techniques, such as FGT indexes, Markovian matrices and microsimulation, this paper takes a different view on poverty-environment link, emphasizing its endogenous relationship and analyzing how poverty changes and how it connects to biophysical constraints, natural capital and land use among rural smallholders. Building on theories of multiphase responses (Sherbinin et al., 2008; Davis, 1963) along with the capability approach (Sen, 1989), we depart from a traditional concept of poverty as insufficiency and expand it to a multidimensional view of poverty as lack of opportunity to invest (Reardon & Vosti, 1995). This working definition of the poor links poverty and environmental endowments within the rural livelihoods framework (Bebbington, 1999) and helps us to understand the responsiveness of rural poverty to these dimensions. Our results suggest that proper accessibility to the lot during rainy season is one of the most important drivers of transition out of poverty. Results also reveal the importance of some land use strategies, with varying consequences for the environment (for instance, expansion of pasture). This heterogeneity raises concern about policy interventions when scaling up local determinants of poverty alleviation in terms of ecological sustainability at the community and regional levels.

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Presented in Session 52: Population and land use in developing countries

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