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Insecure land rights: a major problem in Brazilian rural areas

August 25, 2016

A new report from Climate Policy Initiative maps the social, economic and environmental costs related to land rights uncertainty in the country.

Land conflicts and murders, increased deforestation, unconventional land use decisions, lack of tenancy markets, and production inequality for small farms. These are the most urgent consequences of insecure property rights in Brazil, according to Climate Policy Initiative (CPI)’s new report.

The CPI summary shows that there are important social, economic, and environmental costs associated with the lack of well-defined property rights, and presents the many complexities within Brazil’s system of land governance that need to be addressed in order to improve the system.

The first part of the report highlights the repercussions uncertainty in land tenure brings. For example, land disputes between different interest groups in Brazil, particularly in remote areas, often results in violence. In the last 10 years, there has been an average of 30 homicides per year related to land conflicts with more than 700 homicides between 1994 and 2014.

Increased deforestation is another cost to insecure land rights. CPI analysts suggest the tension between the benefits of clearing and preserving land only increases the uncertainty surrounding the laws and property rights. With the land reform agency emphasizing productive use and the environmental agency promoting conservation, it is often unclear how landowners should proceed: the result has often been deforestation as an evidence of productivity. This reduces the risk of the land being confiscated for reform or occupied by groups of landless peasants.

The second part of the report introduces one of the main challenges to improving land rights: Brazil’s system of land governance. According to the CPI analysts, the institutional complexity is one of the problems.

“The system for managing land rights involves many institutions, resulting in complexity and inefficiency. At the federal level alone, 11 executive bodies are accountable for governing different aspects of land property rights,” says Juliano Assunção, director of CPI in Brazil and professor in the Department of Economics at PUC-Rio.

The lack of communication and coordination between the institutions, in addition to the absence of an authoritative, integrated database of public and private land, further aggravates the problem.

Irregularities in notarial services and an outdated real estate registry are also obstacles to secure land rights. It is estimated that, in the Brazilian states of Pará and Piauí, fewer than 50% of rural properties are formally registered. Moreover, the lack of resources and the capacity, together with the remote location of some areas, impede effective governmental oversight.

“Secure rural land rights would benefit the whole country, allowing citizens to manage their lands in a peaceful and organized way, and generating positive social and economic rewards,” Assunção says. “Through this discussion paper, CPI raises awareness about the challenges related to land rights in Brazil.”

This paper is part of a series of CPI publications that aim to provide a better understanding of the role property rights play in Brazil’s ability to increase its production and guarantee the protection of its natural resources. CPI work sheds light on the current state of property rights, maps legislative hurdles and provides evidence to inform and guide policy going forward.

Media Contact

Mariana Campos
mariana.campos@cpirio.org
+55 21 35272520 / 972993553