|Amazonia: Resiliency and Dynamism of the Land and Its People (UNU, 1995, 253 pages)|
|8. Land-use dynamics on the Amazon flood plain|
To reap the potential of flood plains for improving food production and rural incomes, more land-use surveys are needed to assess current uses, settlement patterns, and soil and vegetation types (Hiraoka 1989). An approach that combines fieldwork with remote sensing and GIS (Geographic Information Systems) would provide planners with a better sense of the land capability for different agricultural systems.
Greater accessibility to credit would help spur more intensive use of the land. In Brazil, only one-fourth of agricultural credit goes to small operators, who account for 70 per cent of farm produce (Santos and Cardoso 1992). Credit can be abused and heavily subsidized agriculture is an onus for society and often leads to inefficiencies and adverse environmental impacts, such as overuse of agro-chemicals. But carefully crafted incentives could encourage farmers to use such relatively benign technologies as solar-powered irrigation systems using windmills or photovoltaic pumps, and enable farmers to erect strong fences and purchase tree seedlings. Farmers on the flood plain and uplands would surely benefit from improved access to credit.
A major stumbling block for small farmers in their attempts to obtain credit is that they often do not have title to their land. Without documents establishing land ownership, banks will not consider granting agricultural loans. Redoubled efforts to provide titles to legitimate landowners would greatly facilitate efforts to promote more intensive and environmentally benign land-use practices. Without a clear system of property rights, few farmers will be motivated to conserve natural resources (World Bank 1992). For the most part, land conflicts are rare on the Amazon flood plain because land ownership is generally well recognized, even without official documentation. Still, lending agencies usually require title to the property to secure loans. If it is not feasible to distribute land titles to people who farm, fish, and/or raise livestock on the flood plain in the near future, then the exigency of land titles could perhaps be waived. In such cases, the state or federal government might offer a guarantee to the lending institution to cover any losses should the farmer default.
With a careful assessment of the potential and pitfalls of harnessing natural resources on the Amazon flood plain, this critically important environment could make a much greater contribution to the welfare of people living in Amazonia. A headlong rush to "develop" the Amazon flood plains, akin to some of the settlement and engineering schemes perpetrated on the uplands in the 1970s and 1980s, could lead to a bitter harvest. Although many ecosystems along the Amazon have already been dramatically altered by human activities, with proper management their long-term productivity could be greatly improved.