Brazil

An image of the country's flag.

In Brazil, inequality of land distribution, inadequate access to land by the poor, and insecure tenure are contributing factors to land degradation, destruction of forests, rural poverty, violence, human rights abuses, exploitation of rural workers, and migration to crime-ridden slums and shantytowns in urban areas. In spite of numerous programs to facilitate access to land, issues remain, particularly for landless peasants.

Brazil is an economic giant, with one of the world‘s 10 highest gross domestic product (GDP). In recent years, sound macroeconomic policies have brought about stability and growth; and innovative social programs and inclusive economic growth have reduced both poverty and income inequality. The World Bank reports reductions in poverty (defined as US $2 per day measured in purchasing-power parity terms) from 20% to 7% of the population, and in income inequality (as measured by the Gini index) from 0.596 to 0.54 between 2004 and 2009. Despite these achievements, inequality remains at relatively high levels for a middle-income country (World Bank 2010).

A significant part of Brazil‘s economy relies on the use of its immense natural resource base. As a consequence, Brazil faces the challenge of productively harnessing its resources and realizing the benefits of agricultural growth while still ensuring adequate environmental protection and achieving development that will be sustainable. Brazil possesses 12% of the world‘s reserve of available freshwater. Geographically, these resources are extremely unevenly distributed, with nearly three quarters concentrated in the sparsely populated Amazon River Basin. Brazil‘s wetlands are under pressure, and water pollution and availability issues exist in southern Brazil. With support from international donors to govern its freshwater resources more efficiently, Brazil has managed to increase water supply and sanitation coverage to poorer sections of the population, but affordability remains a question. Brazil hosts extensive forests, grasslands, and wetland ecosystems. Despite legal provisions to provide protection to an estimated 3.7 million square kilometers of public and private lands, there are significant human and development pressures on all of these areas. Governance responsibilities are spread throughout Brazil‘s legal framework for the environment and forest areas, resulting in disputes between various state- and federal-level institutions.

Brazil has one of the largest and most well-developed mining sectors in the world. However, it is still working to clarify precise roles and responsibilities of the federal, state, and municipal governments in administering the mining sector to avoid confusion and conflict. Laws and policy on small- and medium-sized mining companies also need clarification. Although artisanal miners are recognized in the Constitution, the laws and policies remain vague regarding their rights over certain minerals (e.g., industrial minerals). Also, mineral deposits often lie within indigenous lands, creating conflicts, sometimes violent, between indigenous communities and artisanal miners.

KEY ISSUES AND OPPORTUNITIES FOR INTERVENTIONS

USAID programs in Brazil focus on environment and natural resources management, health, job creation for disadvantaged youth, and clean energy. These include programs supporting conservation efforts in the Brazilian Amazon and strengthening indigenous organizations. Given that all USAID activities in Brazil respond to directed funding from Congress, USAID is not currently engaged in land and resource tenure-related activities and has no future plans to do so.

SUMMARY

Brazil has one of the highest levels of inequality of land distribution in the world. Inadequate access to land by the poor and insecure land tenure are factors behind rural poverty, violence, human rights abuses, and exploitation of rural workers in conditions of servitude. Lack of available land causes thousands of Brazilians to settle in slums and shantytowns in urban areas controlled by gangs engaged in drug trafficking and violent crime. Pursuant to the Constitution, Brazil has initiated numerous programs to facilitate access to land for the landless through state-led approaches involving expropriation and redistribution of idle or unproductive lands, settlement on government-owned lands, market-assisted land reform providing subsidized loans to the landless for purchase of farms, and tenure regularization for indigenous and Afro-Brazilian communities.

However, issues remain, particularly for landless peasants. Meanwhile, large farms continue to displace smallholders who lack formal land titles, resulting in social movements that pressure the government to promote reform. Brazil possesses 12% of the world‘s reserve of available freshwater. However, geographically, these resources are extremely unevenly distributed. Nearly 73% of Brazil‘s freshwater is concentrated in the sparsely populated Amazon River Basin. Brazil supports a section of the Pantanal wetland, one of the largest continuous wetlands in the world, which is under pressure from expansion of large soy and sugar plantations. Water pollution and availability issues exist in the industrialized south and southeast, which is home to nearly 60% of the population. Brazil has attempted to decentralize governance of freshwater resources but continues to struggle with inclusion of local institutions in decision-making. In terms of water supply and sanitation, Brazil is increasingly promoting private sector partnership with support from international donors. This is increasing coverage to poorer sections of the population, but affordability for the poor remains a question.

Brazil hosts extensive forests, grasslands and wetland ecosystems. These include: the Amazon forest, which comprises nearly 49% of the national territory; the Atlantic rainforest; the Cerrado (tropical grassland in the central and southwestern); and the Caatinga (dry shrubland and thorn forest in the northeast). Brazil‘s rainforests account for nearly one-half of the world‘s remaining rainforests. The Amazonian ecosystem in particular provides critical national and global services. It serves as a major carbon reservoir and regulator of climate in the region, and it is a producer of freshwater and other aquatic ecosystem services. It also supports some of the greatest biodiversity in the world in terms of species of plants, insects, fishes, birds, and mammals. Studies suggest that reduction in Amazon forest would mean significant loss in global biodiversity, reduced basin wide precipitation and water cycling (including long-range water transport to neighboring countries), and would contribute significantly to global warming (World Bank 2008; Fearnside 2005).

Economic growth and agricultural policies have allowed opening up the forest frontier and clearing of forests for soybean and cattle-ranching. Meanwhile, to address land-related inequities and the high levels of landlessness, small farmers have been provided forest lands for cultivation. The current legal framework provides some form of protection to an estimated 3.7 million square kilometers of public and private lands in the form of conservation units (protected areas), indigenous lands, permanent preservation areas (APPs), and legal reserves. Despite the legal provisions, significant human and development activities continue to put pressure on all of these areas.

In particular, the APPs and legal reserves on private lands have been subject to widespread illegal land-use, many of which fall within agricultural landscapes. Both state and indigenous forest lands have been sites of large infrastructure development, settlement of landless people, and allocation of lands to latifundios (large plantation farms) or large-scale cattle-ranching.

Brazil‘s legal framework in the environmental and forestry areas spreads governance responsibilities among a number of state- and federal-level institutions, which can create confusion, resulting in disputes between the state and federal-level institutions. Numerous government initiatives are attempting to conserve the country‘s forest resources. These include the Inter-Ministerial Working Group for the Reduction of Deforestation in the Legal Amazon. Established in 2003, this group is playing an important role in coordinating policies affecting the Amazon region. In addition, USAID, the World Bank, and the Global Environment Facility (GEF) are supporting a number of conservation programs in each of the principal biomes in Brazil.

Brazil has one of the largest and most well-developed mining sectors in the world. Minerals are managed by the National Department for Mineral Production (DNPM) within the Ministry of Mines and Energy. Through concessions and permits, the DNPM grants rights to extraction of mineral resources to mining companies and artisanal miners (individuals or cooperatives). The laws also assure landowners, municipalities, states, and the federal government a share of exploited mineral resources in their respective territory or compensation for this exploitation. However, laws defining the precise roles and responsibilities of the union, state, and municipal governments in the granting, administration, monitoring, and enforcement of mineral concessions and mines can be confusing, resulting in conflict between the various layers of the government. Laws and policy on small- and medium-sized mining companies are also contradictory at times. Although artisanal miners are recognized in the Constitution, the laws and policies regarding their rights over certain minerals (e.g., industrial minerals) remain vague. Mineral deposits sometimes lie within indigenous lands, and violent clashes between indigenous communities and artisanal miners have been reported.

Published / Updated: May 2011

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