Oil palm expansion in the Brazilian Amazon: The challenge of reconciling conservation and development

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The recent Amazon fire crises and the emerging anti-environmental governmental rhetoric across some important countries have again brought to the fore discussions on tropical forests, climate change, and sustainable development. It is more crucial than ever to find viable models that both protect forests and stimulate socioeconomic development as intertwined goals in tropical landscapes. Among the proposals to address that aim--for example, payments for ecosystem services, forest and landscape restoration, and sustainable forest management--sustainable agricultural production has assumed a vital relevance. This dissertation focuses on that relevance. More precisely, it discusses the extent to which sustainable oil palm expansion can be a viable option to reconcile conservation and development in the Amazon. The book's eight chapters analyze in great detail an expansion process shaped by a unique governance context characterized by robust measures to prevent the deforestation of primary forests and to use degraded lands, and to support the inclusion of smallholder farmers in the business through contract farming schemes. It does so grounded in extensive fieldwork activities carried out between 2014 and 2015 in the Amazonian state of Pará, where the bulk of Brazil's agricultural investments are located. Brazil has achieved remarkable outcomes in terms of preventing deforestation and stimulating a fairer and more equitable distribution of benefits. This shows that oil palm expansion is not necessarily associated with devastating consequences, such as those observed in Southeast Asia. Yet, the Brazilian model does have some important limitations in terms of inclusivity and viability, which questions its socio-environmental orientation in the long run. By discussing the observed merits and failures, the case study presented here provides an interesting example of the existing challenges and dilemmas encountered when attempting to align agricultural development, poverty alleviation, and forest conservation. As such, this dissertation contributes to global debates on agricultural sustainability governance, smallholder farming, and rural development in general.

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