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6.1. Understanding the human dimensions of landscape change

In modern human history, the loss of forest cover has been a persistent phenomenon. Civilizations have systematically 'cleared' extensive areas previously covered by forests as a way to occupy their territories (FAO 1999). Many causes, consequences, and responses to these processes have been suggested, depending on the culture and environment under analysis. In the tropics, where the trend of deforestation remains consistent, the subject has stimulated violent discussions (Whitmore 1998).

B. Turner et al. (1993) have proposed four categories of driving forces affecting LULC change: variables that affect demand, variables that determine the intensity of land use, variables that reflect access to resources, and variables that create incentives. Others have emphasized specific aspects related to these categories, such as environmental conditions and accessibility, macroeconomic changes, cultural characteristics influencing patterns of colonization and development, economic aspects (i.e. demand and value of timber and non-timber forest products), tenure security, institutional arrangements, among others (Angelsen 1995, Kaimowitz et al. 1999, Mertens et al. 2000). As a counterpart of the process, afforestation dynamics (i.e., the return of forest cover to lands previously deforested) have also been noted (Moran et al. 1996). The ever-increasing information about LULC processes has helped to draw a better picture about past dynamics and future scenarios within forest environments. The attractive subject has been the focus of several research initiatives (Skole et al. 1994, Turner et al. 1994, B. Turner et al. 1995, National Research Council 1998).

Landscape change in the Brazilian Amazon has been associated with land occupation in agroecological frontiers (Moran and Brondizio 1998, Woods and Skole 1998). Facing the biocomplexity of those lands and the adversity of living there, local communities and migrants to the region have used different strategies to cope with the needs of production and subsistence (Uhl and Subler 1988, Hecht and Cockburn 1990). The subject has attracted a great deal of attention, not because it is a new phenomenon but because important environmental and socioeconomic outcomes are linked to this discussion (Schmink and Wood 1992).

Several causes of deforestation have been discussed for the Amazon region (Fearnside 1989a, Southgate et al. 1991, Moran 1993b, Painter and Durham 1995, Pfaff 1999). In particular, ultimate and proximate causes have been analyzed as variables defining the structure of incentives toward land-use decisions. The latter gives rise to or controls the proximate causes, which have direct effect on decision-making situations regarding the use of natural resources (Turner et al. 1990). Development strategies and socioeconomic dynamics due to geopolitical reasons, population migration, line credits, and tax incentives have been indicated as general ultimate forces driving LULC change within the region (Fearnside 1987, Binswanger 1991). The conversion of forests to pasture seems to be a general outcome in both small and large properties (Hecht 1993, Walker et al. 2000).

Institutional arrangements and rules-in-use among local social actors may function as proximate causes defining opportunities and constraints to individuals in regard to the use of environmental resources (FAO 1999, Gibson et al. 2000). A broad way to define 'institutions' is through a 'set of formal and informal rules and norms that shape interactions of humans with others and nature' (Agarwal and Gibson 1999). Institutional factors can influence incentives toward land-use decisions through the implementation of a system of rules or through the rearrangement of rules. The former are given starting (or turning) points that strongly define (or redefine) the social and biophysical context in which land-use decisions take place. They shape incentives to users by delineating the initial boundaries for decision-making processes. The latter are dynamic changes in social and biophysical context that continuously modify the structure of incentives toward the use of natural resources according to each user group.

A major challenge in understanding this double-sided trajectory is to depict how multi-tiered rules affect individual decisions regarding landscape transformation (Moran et al. 1998, Leach et al. 1999). For instance, while the initial establishment of rules, such as the land-titling system, the architectural design of settlements, the access to infrastructure, and rules for the use of natural resources may define land access, other rules shaped during the process of colonization and development may affect the type of use (or lack of use) by each user group. As a result, the diversity of situations involving multiple actors, biophysical features, and rules leads to a mosaic of land-use trajectories and landscape patterns.

In the Brazilian Amazon and particularly in Rondônia, government-sponsored projects of rural settlement represent an illustrative example of how institutions can trigger a complex landscape-change process. These rural settlements have been implemented through a pre-defined institutional design, which includes initial rules affecting the path to land-use decisions. Despite their primary goal of providing land for small farmers, the establishment of settlements typically brings along a complex social structure including multiple actors, such as loggers, extractivists, and cattle ranchers. As the initial institutional design is adjusted to local realities, new incentives and constraints arise, creating distinct patterns of interaction and variation in land-use decisions. As a result, landscape-change processes vary according to the combination of user groups involved and the ruling system in use. On the other hand, the environmental context including the architectural design in which actors interact defines resources to be used or limits factors with which to cope.

Chapters 4 and 5 discussed the outcomes of colonization processes in Machadinho and Anari regarding LULC dynamics and landscape change. This chapter analyzes factors interfering in these processes from an institutional perspective with focus on how different architectural and institutional designs have produced distinct outcomes in Rondônia. The itinerary includes a discussion of ultimate driving forces and proximate causes of landscape change. Not always is the interrelation between causes and outcomes direct or easily identifiable. However, a hierarchical approach helps to understand the intricate mosaic of interactions between people and environment. In particular, as a study of 'human-altered landscapes,' the chapter explores national-to-local level factors affecting the study areas, the historical role of people causing landscape disturbances, and the differences and similarities between the two settlements under investigation.

Most of this chapter is based on extensive fieldwork and interviews with local individuals in both Machadinho and Anari urban and rural areas. More than one hundred people were interviewed during 6 weeks in 1999 and 4 weeks in 2000. The interviewees included farmers, loggers, rubber tappers, politicians (e.g., mayors, cabinet staff, city councilors), the catholic priest, evangelic ministers, governmental and non-governmental heads, local leaders, and individuals in general.

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