by Guilherme B. R. Lambais 

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Establishing the foundations of human development without deforestation is undeniably one of the backbones for safeguarding the economic system and the preservation of the species. Today it is known that life on Earth is a complex system and, henceforth, on the threshold of order and disorder. If unrestrained deforestation continues to occur and this threshold is surpassed, while endangering numerous species, it will also create new risks to the environment and the process of evolution itself, including the continuity of human life.

The Earth can be conceived as having nine thresholds, which together form the planetary boundaries in relation to a safe operating space for humanity. These are considered to be: (1) climate change;
(2) the rate of biodiversity loss (terrestrial and marine); (3) the interference with the nitrogen and phosphorus cycles; (4) stratospheric ozone depletion; (5) ocean acidification; (6) global fresh-water use;
(7) the change in land-use; (8) chemical pollution; and (9) atmospheric aerosol loading. The boundaries in three systems— the rate of biodiversity loss, climate change and the human interference with the nitrogen cycle—have already been exceeded (Rockström et al., 2009). Deforestation is assumed to be one of the main causes for exceeding these boundaries.

This issue of Policy in Focus contributes to the growing literature that aims at analysing human development while also preserving forests in the Global South. This means examining how to create value, conserve and sustainably use the biodiversity that forest areas have to offer, and how to establish the long-term conditions so that forests are considered to be more valuable standing rather than cut down and commodified. The frontier areas of forests are one of the main loci of interaction between biophysical and human elements, which, in turn, determine the rate of landscape transformations. Forest frontier regions are peculiar because they also demarcate areas of internal expansion of a country, given that external (political) borders are usually already well-defined.

It is useful, therefore, to outline the concept of the frontier. This is an issue that is often overlooked, despite its importance for understanding the reality of these areas and enabling feasible political propositions. The authors Vitor Fernandes and Bastiaan Reydon undertake this task in the first article of this issue. Despite the considerable geographic and historical specificity of this concept, the authors’ analysis takes into consideration the main theoretical underpinnings for the understanding of the frontier concept, which can be applied to most frontier regions of the world. Defined broadly, the frontier can be conceived of as the expansion front in the anthropological sense of clashing societies (indigenous populations, small-scale farmers, loggers, large landowners etc.) combined with the pioneer zones in the economic sense of land-use change directed by modern capitalist structures.

Organising the geographic space in these areas remains a great challenge, because of the broad spectrum of issues involved therein; these forest frontiers are:

    • the areas of the most biodiversity in the world;
    • the home to established indigenous populations;
    • the main migration route for poor smallholders in search of opportunities;
    • the pioneer zones where international and domestic market forces reach out to, in the hope of high profits originating from natural resources (mining, agriculture and energy); and
    • the places where large landowners set to expand their activities (cattle-ranching and agriculture).

Following the 1992 Rio Conference, the Northwest region of the Brazilian state of Mato Grosso was chosen to be a focal point for various pilot projects, including a major project funded by the Global Environment Facility (GEF) with a set of activities dealing with alternatives to deforestation and local sustainable development under the coordination of Carlos Castro of UNDP Brazil. The second article by Jorge Luis Vivan (in memoriam) et al. analyses the UNDP project (financed by a GEF grant) employing primary and secondary data on biophysical, socio- economic and institutional parameters on small farms and land reform settlements. As one of the main findings, the authors state that certain individual small farms with intensive agroforestry land use demonstrate up to 63 times the revenue per hectare than cattle ranching—an impressive achievement from a socio- economic standpoint. However, projects that best demonstrated forest preservation across the landscape did so through support for cooperative infrastructure and institutional arrangements, including certification, for forest extractive and agroforestry commodity supply chains. Rather than designing incentives around individual farm properties, such supply chain interventions were structured over longer time periods and involved an entire land reform settlement as well as several indigenous territories in the region.

Similarly, Peter May et al. turn to the same projects as the previous article but do so from an analytical policymix perspective. This analytical framework sets out to examine the existing policies in an integrated and dynamic manner, because one level of policy intermingles with another, both horizontally (economic, agricultural and environmental policies) and vertically (the municipal, state and federal government levels as well as the project and landscape levels). The authors highlight the positive effects of the projects at the landscape and municipal levels, such as the reduction of deforestation and the establishment of community governance, although they point out that further work still needs to be done in this field. Analyses demonstrate that adequate governance is essential for the establishment of the possibility of development without deforestation.

The fourth article, by Frederico Lopéz- Casero et al., provides an innovative approach for developing the forestry- sector and REDD+ (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation) governance. The authors explore, through action research in Nepal, how the development of a multi-stage, multi-stakeholder and multi-level process can ensure effective and legitimate governance for forest carbon emissions trading. Fundamental for proper REDD+ governance and for curbing deforestation is land governance itself. Bastiaan Reydon and Vitor Fernandes, in the fifth article, clearly demonstrate why land governance is essential for the sustainable development of the Amazon: their research shows that, on average, cleared areas are worth four times more than they would be worth as standing forests. This indicates that land governance should be one of the first measures to be taken when implementing any type of policies that aim at preventing deforestation, because, first and foremost, any possibility of profiting illegally from cleared land (through logging and the speculation of land assets) must be eliminated.

In a related discussion, Aldicir Scariot describes the international debate about policies opposing land sparing—that is, the total protection of some areas, prohibiting any form of land use—and land sharing, which is the sharing of activities, including protection, in a given area. Scariot takes the position that total land sparing is not feasible in areas of indigenous populations because this type of policy would penalise them the most. Therefore, it is desirable for both policies to be integrated into what the author proposes as a mixed strategy.

It should be evident by now that there are many instruments for achieving human development without resorting to deforestation. The seventh article—by Raoni Rajão et al.—provides a critical assessment of the instruments for controlling deforestation. The objective is to go beyond the ‘panacea’ of the search for an ‘optimal’ instrument.

Most likely there is no such thing as an optimal policy regarding this issue, and we are best served by engaging with an informed mix of various types of policies, described by the authors.

In the eighth article, Jean-Marie Baland and Dilip Mookherjee take the issue of deforestation back to the Himalayas to the forest region that stretches across Nepal and India. The authors provide a critical assessment of the issue therein, providing a review of theory and evidence, using an extensive and detailed variety of micro-level data sets, in order to evaluate the causes and the rate of forest degradation in the region, thus providing short- and long-term policy recommendations.

Some socio-economic issues pertaining to frontier regions are dealt with from the ninth to the twelfth article. The ninth article by André Sant’Anna and Carlos Young, analyses the age-old problem of the interrelationship between property rights, deforestation and violence.
The authors, through rigorous analysis, point to the immediate necessity of dealing with the issue of property rights in order to curb both deforestation and violence at the frontier regions.
The tenth article, by Gabriel Lui, describes the consequences of social policies, mainly Bolsa Familia and social security, for decisions regarding land use in the Amazon. The author finds evidence that social policies contribute towards controlling deforestation by changing such decisions.

In the eleventh article, Mauro Soave Jr et al. take on the defence of an alternative social policy: the establishment of sustainable settlements in the Amazon region. The authors argue that since most of the new settlements in Brazil today are in the Amazon region, evidence points to the necessity of curbing deforestation within the settlements themselves.
The authors thus propose establishing a model of low carbon agriculture for such settlements. Furthermore, the twelfth article by Donald Sawyer introduces an issue that is important for all other policy recommendations set forth in this issue— that is, the marketing of agro-extractive products, delineating its problems and some proposed solutions.

Finally, the thirteenth article sees Britaldo Soares-Filho and Raoni Rajão return with their modelling of deforestation scenarios for the Northwest region of Mato Grosso. The authors compare three scenarios: business-as-usual, historical tendency and with the establishment of governance. As a result, they demonstrate that if improved governance is not urgently adopted, the region will endure severe losses.

We hope that this issue of Policy in Focus can help to further discussions around the halting of deforestation, while also contributing to human development and to the improvement of public policies, in
order to prevent any worst-case scenarios from taking place worldwide.