Deforestation in Rondônia, Brazil: Frontier Urbanization and Landscape Change
James Kezar IV Hayes-Bohanan, Ph.D.
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Chapter V: Conclusions
I undertook the research presented in this dissertation because of a long-standing concern about the literarture on deforestation in the Amazon region of Brazil, particularly in the state of Rondônia. That concern centers on the fact that the Brazilian stateís promotion of rural settlement in Rondônia was understood as a major cause of deforestation, but that deforestation was continuing even after those policies ended, and in deed after a majority of the population was living in urban places. My objectives were both to find out what these new urban places are like and, more importantly, to examine the ways in which their their continued growth might be connected to ongoing deforestation.

In order to meet these objectives, I undertook a research project framed in terms of contemporary critical realism. The research combined intensive, local research based in direct observation and progressive, rolling interviewing techniq ues with extensive, regional research based in more traditional methods of hypothesis testing. The research process was an iterative one, with preliminary results from the intensive phase forming the basis of the subsequent research activities. Both phases of the research drew heavily on knowledge obtained through various means during a period of fieldwork in Rondônia itself.

The purpose of this concluding chapter is to comment on the findings presented in Chapter IV above, to elaborate the th eoretical implications of these findings, to assess the usefulness of the theoretical perspectives and methodologies employed, to comment briefly on the process of field research in Latin America, and to describe further research that is suggested by the outcomes of this project.
  • Comments on Findings
        1. The Urban Landscape
    The existing literature available prior to the beginning of the fieldwork described in this dissertation did not describe the urban landscapes of Rondônia in much detail, because urban places have only very recently become dominant on the landscape. Because of the pace of change in the region, many of the accounts that were available did not prove to be descriptive of current urban conditions. Even as the populations of Rondôniaís cities have burgeone d, they have become in many ways more settled, more ordinary, and at the same time perhaps more interesting.

    In many ways, for the people of Rondôniaís cities the rural frontier is ancient history, and even boom towns are a fading memory in most places. The people of Rondônia have set about creating a new urban environment for themselves. In Ouro Preto and Rolim de Moura, this is manifested in a cultural landscape that honors both a pioneer past and familial ties to the regions from whi ch those pioneers came less than a generation ago. In Porto Velho and to a lesser extent in the smaller cities, the cultural landscape reflects an orientation toward a future that promises to be increasingly outward-looking. Throughout the state, the connection to the rain forest, which originally overwhelmed all other aspects of daily life, is becoming more tenuous as the forest recedes and occupations are increasingly independent of the land.

        1. Urban Sprawl
    Urban sprawl was identified early in the project as an admittedly obvious means by which urban growth could be associated with deforestation. Indeed, during the intensive phase of the research, evidence was found of deforestation resulting directly from the expansion of urban settlements. For this reason, the extensive phase of the research attempts to address the question of whether urban sprawl is associated with deforestation on a state-wide basis in Rondônia. The results presented in Chapter IV indicat e that urban sprawl is indeed significantly and positively correlated with deforestation at the municipio level. It is important to recognize, however, that the very low value of b (near 0.02) suggests that the magnitude of urban sprawl is very small relative to total deforestation. The significant correlation between urban sprawl and deforestation, may be attributable in part to factors that covary with urban sprawl, such as the size of the population migrating into the cit y from recently cleared rural lands.
        1. Hydroelectric Power Generation
    Because of the abundant stream power in the Amazon region and the high cost of fossil fuels, it is apparent that the future energy needs of Rondôniaís urban populations will be met primarily through hydroelectric power. Browder and Godfrey (1997) have shown that the environmental costs of hydroelectric projects in the region have been catastrophic in some cases, in no small part because low topographic relief makes large-scale facilities woefully inefficient.

    Browder and Godfrey (1997) argue that the planning and construction of the Samuel Dam in Rondônia has benefitted in part from the experience of larger, more environmentally destructive projects elsewhere in the Amazon region. It is important to recognize, however, that the project has been far from benign. For example, many of the animals that were "rescued" prior to the inundation of the reservoir did not survive , and in fact remain in the power plant itself as a reminder of the habitat that was lost in its construction.

    More importantly, it is apparent that the significant local impacts of hydroelectric power may be multiplied throughout the state of Rondônia in coming years. Each of the 43 hydroelectric plants under consideration will undoubtedly be smaller than the Samuel plant, and will have more modest environmental consequenes. The aggregate effect, however, may be even more significant than tha t of the Samuel plant itself.

        1. Food Consumption
    During the course of the intensive phase of the research project, I discovered that a significant amount of the food consumed in Rondôniaís cities comes either from outside of the state (contributing to the very high cost of packaged foods in Rondônia), or from urban gardens, particularly in the case of fruit. Conversely, many of the crops grown in Rondônia are cash crops that are primarily consumed elsewhere. Because the demand for food in urban places is potentially a more important driver of deforestation than is the need for land on which to settle, part of the extensive phase of the research was devoted to an effort to characterize the relationship between urban demand for food and the amount of land devoted to its production.

    Ideally, this question would be resolved by examining the import and export of food at the state level, in order to determine the source of pressure on Rondôn iaís cropland. These data being unavailable, spatial patterns in population were compared to spatial patterns in the dedication of land to food crops, and no correlation was found between the two.

        1. Wood Consumption and Processing
    A weak but positive correlation was found between urban demand for timber (based on prevalant housing types, housing sizes, and population) and total deforestation. As with the analysis of food production, covarying factors might explain part of the correlation. More important than the trend of this relationship is the absolute magnitude of local timber demand relative to forest clearing. An average of 8.95 hectares of forest have been cleared for every cubic meter of wood needed for housing construction in Rondônia. The positive correlation between timber demand and deforestation, therefore, is perhaps best ascribed to other factors that covary with population size, especially labor availability.

    If demand for timber to supply local populations is minor, the demand for timber to supply growing industries is not. The diversification of the timber industry described in Chapter IV above may have profound implications for demand on forest resources in the future. Throughout the state, the need to absorb surplus labor, combined with a shift in available supply from premium species such as m ahogony to lower-value tree species, is likely to lead to increased consumption of wood products. This combination of factor endowments clearly has motivated economic-development authorities to devote significant resources to the expansion of wood-processing industries. It is through the labor market, rather than the timber market, then, that urban population growth may place the greatest pressure on rain forest resources.

        1. Economic Diversification
    In the history of urbanization in Latin America, it has not been unusual for urban settlements to emerge in the wake of the development of resource frontiers. The extent to which these urban places develop into robust parts of the cultural landscape has varied. Some of Brazilís long-established urban networks began as outposts on mining frontiers, while the boom towns of other frontiers have faded soon after the resources were depleted. It is too early to hazard a guess about the ultimate fate of Rondôniaís cities and towns, but evidence obtained during this research -- particularly the proliferation of foreign-language training academies and internet connectivity -- suggests that they are becoming places that are becoming more closely connected with one another and more fully integrated with the outside world.

    The question of whether this network now conforms to an ideal central place hierarchy is perhaps at some level spurious, but the degree to which Rondônia evidences a vibrant and complex service economy is impressive. A unique aspect of Rondôniaís history is clearly one reason that it will never conform to models developed for the isotropic plain: the historic importance of Rondôniaís development along the old telegraph route to Porto Velho is reflected in every map of the state.

      1. Implications
        1. Frontier Development on the Semi-Periphery
    This research contributes to the literature on world systems by illustrating the maturing of a regionís incorporation into the world system. Population growth in Rondônia was initially associated with its classical role as an extractive periphery. Because of the rapid depletion of the resource frontier, and because of the apparent lack of options elsewhere in Brazil, thi s population has become a predominantly urban population, creating an urban labor surplus where a rural surplus had existed less than a generation ago. Drawing on both the formal and the structuralist perspectives on frontier urbanization presented in Chapter II, this research has shown that frontier urbanization is both more complex internally and better articulated externally than had been the case at the end of the 1980s. Through the consumption described above and the planned expansion of secondary economic activities described in Chapter IV, Rondônia has become further connected to the core of the world economy. This is an important lesson for those who argued for the cessation of environmentally destructive activities on the resource frontier during the 1980s. Such calls did not adequately address the need to absorb labor in order to prevent the region from becoming even more thoroughly incorporated into the world economy, thereby compounding pressures on the environmental resources of the region.

    At a macro level, urbanization in Rondônia is understood here to have arisen over a period of about a quarter century from the confluence of political, economic, and ecological circumstances. Brazilís geopolitical objectives, particularly during the period of military rule from 1964 to 1985 were among the principal factors responsible, but Brazilís semi-peripheral position in the world economy is seen here as equally influential. Roughly coincident with Brazilís military regime was the emergence of an approach to development that included investment of state resources in the extraction of the natural resources, including those of the Amazon region. After the decline of these programs, migration to Rondônia continued to be encouraged by other policies promoting the efficiency of agricultural production in other regions. This in turn resulted in part from Brazilís critical need for foreign exchange as a result of its external debt cris is.

    Population growth in Rondônia was an intended consequence of the government programs mentioned above, but an urban landscape was never envisioned. Urban centers were to be established to provide services for rural residents, who would comprise the majority of the population, and who would set about putting the natural resources of the region to productive use. Two related factors prevented the realization of this Jeffersonian vision. The first of these was that the soils of the region were not suited to their planned uses. Fantastic stories of crop yields from the first season or two following a clearing undoubtedly contributed to the reluctance of many to recognize that the settlement programs were not suited to the place. In that sense, a contingent, place-specific factor contributed to the failure of programs to reach their objectives of rural settlement. The related factor was the recapitulation of Brazilís minifundio-latifundio land-tenure pattern on the frontier. This created a land shortage in the region that was supposed to provide land for the landless, contributing to the decision of many rural settlers to migrate to Rondôniaís cities.

    A significant implication of this research is that a reversal of processes at the macro level will not necessarily reverse the micro-level processes that result from it. Incentives to settle in Rondônia and to engage in ranching activities contributed to deforestation, but the curtailment of these incentives did not curtail d eforestation. Rather, the incentives had led to the urbanization and thence to a variety of contingent relationships that were not intended by the original incentives and were not subject to reversal when those incentives were removed.

        1. Political Ecology
    Political ecology is concerned with interactions between human beings, especially as they are organized into political and economic systems, and the environment upon which humans rely for survival. The articulation of a political ecology is made both necessary and difficult by the very fact that so much scholarship treats environmental and human systems as separate. The paradox of political ecology is that drawing attention to connections between the human and the environmental is both essential and at the same time spurious. That is to say, the drawing of these connections reinforces the very idea that political ecology hopes to negate, which is that humans stand as a separate category from the environment.

    This dissertation contributes to the literature of political ecology by describing such a connection, that between urbanization and deforestation in Rondônia. Existing literature describes connections between deforestation and the growing rural population of Rondônia, and between deforestation and primary-sector activities such as mining, ranching, and timber. This dissertation has demonstrated that deforestation has more recently been related to the demands created by the economies of urban places in the region. These demands include the need for land, energy, food, and building materials. It has also shown that the growth of urban places itself arose in part from environmental conditions. What was intended as a rural-settlement program led to rapid urbanization at least in part because of the environmental limitations on agriculture.

    The importance of describing these linkages is that the hitherto described linkages between the world econo my and the environment of Rondônia could be thought of as distal, in that the exploitation of resources and the disruption of ecological connections were taking place in a pristine, frontier zone far removed from the centers creating demands for resources of that zone. Even the exploitation of resources by rural settlers in Rondônia has been understood as resulting from displacements in Brazilian agriculture, which in turn were brought about by economic events far removed from the Amazon region itself. As the results outlined in Chapter IV make clear, the world economy has in a very real sense been brought to the frontier itself, and the linkages are no longer so distal.

    As the phenomenon of deforestation in Rondônia and elsewhere has become known in the core countries, the Brazilian state has come under pressure to end programs that have contributed to deforestation. This pressure has been political, but as those making claims on the Amazon have influence over banking institutions o n which Brazil relies, the pressure has also been economic. Just as Brazilís semi-peripheral status has been a factor contributing to deforestation, so it is also a factor contributing to the pressure to end deforestation. Ironically, the pressure comes at a time when the connection between the landscape of Rondônia and the expanding reach of the world economy has been cemented by the emergence in Rondônia of a growing population of consumers.

    Meanwhile, the political significance of Amazonian rain forest has been completely reversed. Throughout most of its history, Brazil was pressured to view Amazonia in terms that served the interests of the core, that is, as a commodity to be exploited and as an obstacle to be overcome: green hell and Eldorado. Resistance to this dominant view included early struggles between nationalists wanting to protect the forest and outsiders such as Ford, Ludwig and Volkswagen, and later was exemplified by the resistance of rubber tappers such as the mart yred Chico Mendes. Following ecopolitical change at the international level that culminated in the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, however, those Brazilians who view the Amazon rain forest primarily as a commodity find that this is no longer the dominant view in the core.

    Rondônia, then, is a place caught between two opposite pressures, both emanating from the core countries. Both weigh heavily because they do emanate from the core, and both are likely to increase. These are the pressure to preserve the rain forest and the pressure to participate in the world economy as consumers. Efforts to preserve the remaining rain forest in Rondônia must recognize this dilemma.

    Many of the people who have been in Rondônia for a decade or more find themselves in a very different relationship to the environment than when they first arrived. Several of my informants in Rolim de Moura, for example, had been involved in extractive activities when they first arrived. The man who worked f or the lumber mills when there were hundreds of them in the city now runs a record store. Others who were impressed with the crops of the first season or two now work as accountants and teachers. Their connection to the land has changed, but they do still rely, as all people do, on natural systems for their survival, and they continue to have an impact on the rain forest around them, through the consumption of land, food, building materials, and energy.
        1. Critical Realism and the Practice o f Geography
    This dissertation has been an exercise in the application of critical realism to the practice of geographic research. I view the exercise as successful, and the use of the realist approach as appropriate to the research objectives. The realist approach is desirable for geographic research of this kind for several reasons. First, for a geographer who is focused more on understanding problems than on building theory, it is rewarding to weave together theoretical ap proaches that can contribute to the illumination of a problem from a variety of perspectives. In this case, the focus in critical realism on questions of how and why processes are connected led to a better understanding of particular aspects of the problem of deforestation in Rondônia.

    More important for the geographic imagination, perhaps, is the ability within a realist framework to pursue research as exploration. Throughout the project, this has allowed me to treat the research question as a point toward which I could navigate, allowing the landscape to unfold around me. This required a certain degree of discipline, but ultimately yielded richer results, I believe, than would have been possible with a rigidly structured set of protocols. It was important, however, that the project combined intensive and extensive methods in an iterative process.

    As a geographer, one difficulty I encountered with the application of the realist framework is the question of scale. The terms "intensi ve" and "extensive" are intended to refer to a mode of inquiry, but they are also conflated with questions of scale. As used in this project, "intensive" has referred to those activities and observations carried out at a human scale; that is, direct conversations and observations, while "extensive" has referred to observations made indirectly through published data, maps, and the like. The question of whether this distinction is a necessary one remains open in my mind, and may warrant further exploration by other geographers who adopt critical realism in their work.

      1. Field-based Research in Latin America
    Fieldwork has been an essential part of this dissertation, both because a visit to the region was required to obtain data and because direct observations in the regionís cities and interviews with their residents was required to know how to interpret these data, especially given the dearth of information about Rondôniaís cities in the existing literature. The fieldwork included archive searches, informal interviews with local residents in a variety of circumstances, observations in a variety of locations, and daily experience living in the cities that are the subject of the dissertation. The fieldwork experience provides lessons which may be of use to geographers planning research projects abroad, particularly in areas of Brazil or elsewhere in Latin America undergoing rapid change.

    Both the primary and the secondary data presented in Chapter IV were obtained in Rondônia itself during the course of fieldwork. Interviews and direct observations were essential to understanding food consumption and prices, the use of building materials, the consumption of electrical energy, and the patterns of land use described in Chapter IV. Geographers conducting research in Latin America should not disc ount the importance of locally available secondary sources. Even though the IBGE makes a lot of information available in its publications and on the Internet, for example, most of the information from IBGE used in this dissertation was obtained from the local IBGE office in Rondônia, and was not yet available in on-line or print documents.

    This research project addresses questions about Rondônia, Brazil, an area which has undergone extremely rapid population growth and landscape change s ince approximately 1970, and particularly in the decade of the 1980s. Despite the regionís increasing connectivity to the world economic system, reliable information about Rondônia remains difficult to obtain. Ironically, because most academic research about Rondônia has focused on deforestation, rural colonization, and ranching, its urban places are even more unknown than its rural areas.

    The proliferation of municípios is just one example of the kind of basic information that is inaccessible to researchers who do not visit the region. The number of municípios in Rondônia increased from seven to fifty-two between the formation of the state in 1977 and my fieldwork in 1996. Prior to my fieldwork, the most recent published source (IBGE 1991) indicated only twenty-three, and a listing of municípios on the IBGE World Wide Web site indicated only thirty. Only during the course of my research in Rondônia did I learn from IBGE that there were then 52 municí ;pios, and even so I was unable to learn the names or locations of the four newest additions.

    The complexity of Brazilís institutions, particularly its governmental bureaucracies, requires both patience and persistence on the part of a researcher. I spent a large portion of my time attempting to locate sources of data that were relevant to the research question, that I was certain existed, but which were difficult to obtain on the first attempt. The need to return repeatedly to the same archive or o ffice arose from several factors. Agencies often collect information for their own purposes, and even if the information is public, they are simply not used to being asked for it. Resistance might arise from the fact that an employee of the agency simply does not believe that the data available are what the researcher really needs. In such cases, the employee may offer to help by referring the researcher to another agency rather than providing the data in question. It is also true that some people simply do not trust foreign researchers, so repeated visits may be required in order to build a level of trust. Each time I returned to a given agency, I would find information that was not available on a previous visit.

    A few practical matters are important when obtaining information from government and quasi-government agencies in Rondônia. Many agencies are open only for short hours with a long lunch break, and often only one key person has access to the information needed. Going to an agency in the late morning, for example, might mean that the researcher will be able to work only for a few minutes before having to leave for a long lunch break. Bringing a laptop computer to a library or agency in order to record data directly helped to avoid problems with photocopying.

    The slow and patient development of an informal network of contacts was essential in obtaining most of the secondary data presented in Chapter IV. As mentioned in Chapter III, many of my interviews were with people connected di rectly or indirectly to people I met in Porto Velho, initially through the university there. This was true even of interviews in other parts of the state. Direct observation was also an important part of the research, and it often led to productive interviews. Taking an extended walk, with or without a camera in hand, remains an important technique for geographic fieldwork. Bus rides are also important. It was on such excursions that I came to understand the diversity of land uses and economic activities in Porto Velho for example. Walks are also important for the opportunity to conduct impromptu interviews. When I visited the Airport Garden neighborhood in Ouro Preto, for example, I asked several people about the origin of the neighborhood. Each referred me to another until I found the local ice-cream shop owner who could tell the whole story. Often I would find myself talking with somebody without having a particular question in mind, but simply telling them a little bit about my research project would alwa ys lead them to share some useful insights.

    Several researchers with experience in the region had warned against obtaining a research visa, and they were correct. For social science research that does not involve human subjects (especially on indigenous reserves), informal networking is a superior way to gain access to information. I found that my informal connection to a local university was essential, not only because of the friendships I forged and the contacts I gained, but also because of the r espect afforded academics in Brazil. The mention of a university connection frequently opened doors. On a practical level, the university connection afforded conveniences that made the work much more pleasant, including access to facilities such as an Internet account and free scrip for public transportation from faculty members who received it in abundance.

      1. Further Research

    Three months proved an adequate duration of fieldwork to obtain answers to the research question, but additional time in the field could have been put to profitable use refining some of those answers or pursuing additional questions raised by the fieldwork. These possible avenues of future research are described in this section.
        1. Urban System
    During the course of this research, it was apparent that the urban econom y of Rondônia has become far more complex than the existing academic literature in the United States suggests. Rondôniaís urban places have increased in size, number, and economic complexity since most of the literature was written. The notable exception, of course, is Browder and Godfreyís (1997) work on urban systems throughout the Amazon region. This text, which also employs critical realism, provides a robust framework for understanding the devlopment of Rondôniaís cities in relation t o each other. Unfortunately, the work in that volume on Rondônia itself is already due for an update, and the environmental consequences are not fully integrated into the discussion. Further examination of Rondôniaís unfolding urban economy with systematic consideration of some of the mechanisms outlined in this dissertation is clearly warranted.
        1. Agriculture

    Although I found no clear spatial relationship between population (food consumption) and the d evotion of land to food crops in Rondônia, the question merits more detailed future study. The fact that local agencies with an interest in the question have not yet devised a workable methodology suggests that the research will require extensive resources and careful planning. Another area warranting further study is question of urban residents who own farms and ranches. Browder and Godfrey (1997) conducted a survey of such people in Rolim de Moura without reaching definitive conclusions. During the intensive phase of my research, my encounters with rural and urban owners of agricultural land revealed a variety of attitudes toward its preservation and a variety of investment outlooks.
        1. Ecopolitics
    This research has described in some detail the importance of the ways in which the Amazon has been represented by outsiders, first by the earliest European explorers and more recently by environmentalists connected with international institutions. A research project comparing the treatment of the Amazon region in the U.S. and European media with its treatment in the Brazilian media would shed light on important questions of contemporary ecopolitics related to the differences in the social construction of resources belonging to the North and the South. In collaboration with a professor at the Federal University of Rondônia, I began work on a project of this kind during the first weeks of my fieldwork. If the project continues, it will build upon Barbosaís (1993) work on the ecopolitics of Brazilís policies in the Amazon region, and will contribute to the discussion of how Rondônia, among other places on the semi-periphery of the world economy, is caught between two competing imperatives, both emanating from the core: the expectation to participate as consumers in the world economy while at the same time preserving the local rain forest environment for the benefit of the world as a whole.
        1. Frontier Images
    A second, related project was inspired by a visit to a special exhibition at the Amon Carter Museum in Fort Worth, Texas prior to my fieldwork. That exhibition, entitled "Cities in Stone," showed how artists depicted and promoted the frontier cities of the North American West. Subsequent reading on other frontier cities (Hamer 1990; Reps 1979) has encouraged me to draw comparisons between the frontier urbanization of a century ago and contemporary frontier urbanization in Rondônia. Comparisons may be drawn on many levels, beginning with the economic role of these places within the broader frontier context, but continuing to include their ecological roles and the discourse about the places themselves.

    Such a comparison would have at least two benefits. First, the reminder of the transformation that took place in the urban frontiers of the North might serve to temper the hubris that sometimes overcomes those in the North who complain of environmental degradation in the South. Second, it could point to constructive ways to think about the frontier environment so that the destructive impact of modern frontiers can be reduced.

    Deforestation in Rondônia, Brazil: Frontier Urbanization and Landscape Change
    James Kezar IV Hayes-Bohanan, Ph.D.