Farmland abandonment in Rio de Janeiro state

Land use change in Brazil is often associated with a loss of natural habitat (Amazon, Cerrado, Pantanal,…) driven by farmland expansion. A current analysis by a team of Brazilian and German researchers (involving HeiGIT member Sven Lautenbach) shows that for Rio de Janeiro state farmland abandonment has been an important process. Approximately 1 million hectares of farmland were abandoned in Rio de Janeiro State from 1975 to 2017.

A time series analysis of the IBGE’s Agricultural census (CEAGRO) and Agricultural Production per Municipality showed that especially areas used for sugarcane production – the dominant crop in the region – decreased in several periods. Change points in the time series co-occur with political interventions and political shocks suggesting that these might be the underlying drivers for the farmland abandonment. The Pro-Alcohol program introduced in 1977 was associated with an increase in sugarcane harvest areas. The removal of subsidies for the rural credit system in 1986, the Collor plans and the discovery of oil reserves in the Campos basin antedated a strong decrease in sugar cane harvest areas. After a stabilization of areas in line with the stabilization plan a second strong decrease followed beginning around 2006 that co-occurred with the discovery of oil reserves in the Santos basin and the Growth Acceleration Program.

The interplay between underlying and proximate causes in land use change is always complex. Potential effects triggered by macro-economic developments involve the availability of credits for farmers and the concurrency between different sectors for the labor force, as well as comparative disadvantages in comparison to other sugarcane production regions in Brazil.

The study highlights the diversity of land use change in Brazil. While the farmland abandonment by no means counteracts the loss of pristine areas in other parts of Brazil it still offers interesting potential directions for regional development in the region.  Further details can be found in the published paper:

Castro, P, R Pedroso, S Lautenbach, and Vicens, R. “Farmland Abandonment in Rio de Janeiro_ Underlying and Contributory Causes of an Announced Development.” Land Use Policy 95 (2020): 104633.