Monday, February 20, 2017

Ranching and the New Global Range: Amazônia in the 21st Century

These researchers discuss the changing land-use of the Amazon Rainforest driven by global economic factors as the primary agent for the rapid rates of deforestation in this global biodiversity hotspot. Increasing demand for cattle products among emerging economies of the developing world adopting a more Western, meat-centric diet is at the core of the rapid pastoral conversion of the rainforest. This trend initially surprised many researchers because the rainforest ecosystem was considered to have poor agricultural development potential. Contrary to this initial idea, pastoral conversion for animal agriculture avoided the challenges posed my poor soil quality for crop production.

This pattern of deforestation initially began with a five-decade rubber boom that brought extreme wealth to the region followed by a bust that left behind a largely impoverished population that was now vulnerable to global market forces. The resulting vacuum of wealth primed the conditions for a new economy centered on cattle production to emerge. The livestock industry brought millions of people to reside in close proximity to rainforest regions and required a complete and vast change in land-use from diverse forest ecosystems to biologically-barren pastors for cattle raising. Unlike the rubber industry, the Amazonian cattle industry is showing no signs (market, political, cultural, or otherwise) of sun-setting at its fifty-year mark and is having inconceivable and irreparable impacts on one of the most biodiverse regions of the planet. 

The researchers in this article attempt to use Thunian land use theory based on location rents to explain the drivers, and potential solutions, of the current crisis. According to this theory, the actions of land managers or ranchers are explained by the influences of governmental decision-makers responding to a regime of capital accumulation that targets the capture of land rents. This essentially amounts to the dominant, existing pattern of ranching encroachment into the Amazon that results from the creation of location rents or subsidies by the state in the forms of reduced transportation costs, artificial demand stimulation through trade policies, and product quality enhancements. 

GIS is applied in this study to visualize the degree of land-use change from rainforest ecosystem to pastoral-based animal-agriculture over a fifteen year period. This trend, according to the researchers, is largely spurred by governmental policy-makers who artificially alter market conditions to enhance demand for livestock goods and inadvertently accelerate deforestation rates. 

Walker, R., Browder, J., Arima, E., Simmons, C., Pereira, R., Caldas, M., ... & de Zen, S. (2009). Ranching and the new global range: Amazônia in the 21st century. Geoforum40(5), 732-745.


  1. I am worried about HOW the governmental policy-makers artificially alter market conditions to enhance demand for livestock goods..

  2. And seeing as the Amazon rainforest is a major source of plenty of more important things (medicinal plants, home for tribes, and oxygen - hello?) it doesn't make much sense to enhance demand for livestock seeing as it takes so many resources to take care of so many cattle. This will just speed up the deforestation process.

  3. With the introduction of livestock and the effects of deforestation, I am curious to see if there is GIS research that compares the native species pre-livestock introduction and post? For instance, is there a movement of rain forest species into residential areas?