In This Review

Titles, Conflict, and Land Use: The Development of Property Rights and Land Reform on the Brazilian Amazon Frontier
Titles, Conflict, and Land Use: The Development of Property Rights and Land Reform on the Brazilian Amazon Frontier
By Lee J. Alton, Gary D. Libecap and Bernardo Mueller
University of Michigan Press, 1999, 227 pp

How can a government respect land rights while encouraging settlers to adopt productive and rational land-use practices? Against the background of Brazil's highly unequal land ownership, the authors examine the role of bureaucracies and changing property rights in land distribution in the eastern Amazon state of Para and the southern state of Parana -- two states with rural violence and countless poor farmers seeking access to land. With sophisticated analysis and well-marshaled evidence, the book shows how policies regulating land use and ownership rights have often led to a vicious circle: bungled strategies escalate into conflicts between squatters and landowners; government agencies are then pressured to grant more land titles without the appropriate resources, which in turn motivates large landowners to cut down forests and prove they are putting their land to use to avoid expropriation. A sorry tale of the unintended consequences of flawed institutional solutions. The authors recommend several sound measures to encourage greater voluntary land distribution and reduce violence: increasing the costs of holding idle land, improving the land rental market, and easing land transfers through improved access to credit. A sensible advance in the policy debate over one of Brazil's most contentious problems.