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Study Region

Site Overview

Our study takes place in Rondônia, a region of agricultural colonization settlements in the western Brazilian Amazon, where there is evidence that deforestation is altering precipitation patterns and relationships between land and atmosphere. Rondônia is located in Northern region of Brazil on the border with Bolivia, and has a mixture of tropical forests and agricultural land. Our previous research focused primarily on Ouro Preto do Oeste, but has since expanded to include other parts of Rondônia. We divide Rondônia into three areas of interest: Northwest (Buritis), Central (Ouro Preto do Oeste), and Southeast (Pimenta Bueno). These study sites are located along east-west and north-south gradients to capture differences in precipitation patterns, climate, soils and biophysical factors, while displaying consistent socioeconomic conditions, including settlement history, production practices, and level of development.


The Rondonian field sites include 17 municipalities:

Northwest / Buritis



Campo Novo de Rondônia

Monte Negro

Central / Ouro Preto do Oeste
Ouro Preto do Oeste

Mirante da Serra

Nova União



Vale do Paraíso

Southeast / Pimenta Bueno


Primavera de Rondônia

Pimenta Bueno

Rolim de Moura

Santa Luzia d'Oeste

São Felipe do Oeste

Historical Context

We focus our field work on government-sponsored agrarian settlements because of their importance for deforestation and the agricultural economy. The National Institution of Colonization and Agrarian Reform (INCRA) allocated properties to households with the expectation that those households would farm the land, and thereby generate improvements in family welfare. From 1964 to 2005, INCRA settled 84,434 families in the state. However, many have argued that the cleared land in these settlements supports agricultural incomes only in the short term. The Brazilian government has sought to address these concerns by identifying the most appropriate regions for agricultural development through zoning, clarifying land titles under the Terra Legal initiative, and encouraging more intensive uses of land with subsidized credit and technical assistance. The success of these efforts will depend on whether intensification raises agricultural returns and how it affects vulnerability to variability in green and blue water.

Physical Context

Our three field sites are located along the federal highway BR-364. The state can be divided into three broad agricultural climatic sub-regions from north to south according to intensity and timing of precipitation. In the north, including the Buritis field site, temperatures and precipitation patterns result in a wet season of between eight and nine months. In the Pimenta Bueno region of the drier south, the wet season is two months shorter; between six and eight months, and the dry season is drier. The Ouro Preto do Oeste (OPO) area falls between these extremes. The Ouro Preto do Oeste region includes the most favorable soils with a “good to average” ability to support agriculture, while most of the soils in Pimenta Bueno have an “average” ranking and Buritis’ municipalities contain the poorest initial soil conditions, including those with an “average to restricted” ability to support agriculture.

Socioeconomic Context

Socioeconomic conditions are similar across the three field sites: all were occupied during the initial settlement phase, with the oldest municipalities being founded in the 1970s and the youngest in 1990s. The three study sites are similar in terms of production portfolios, levels of income, access to education and health status. Production is focused on dairy and more recently, aquaculture. Milk production saw its greatest surge in in the 2000s, and although declines are noted in Outro Preto do Oeste after 2000, this region remains the dairy center of the Amazon. Beef production is not as important; however, this sector did see a modest 4% increase after 2000. Aquaculture is of increasing importance to the regional economy since 2000. Rondônia is now the largest producer of farmed fish in the Amazon. The Human Development Index (HDI) suggests the region has developed steadily since 1991, as measured by improvements in income, literacy, and health.

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