Land tenure Institutions

Posted March 1996

Evaluation and planning of development support activities for settlement areas in the State of São Paulo, Brazil

by Paolo Groppo
Land Tenure Officer, Systems Analysis
Land Tenure Service (SDAA)
FAO Rural Development Division


FAO approved an agreement with Land Institute of São Paulo, Brazil (ITESP) with the objective of carrying out an in-depth diagnosis of the production systems in a pilot area, Gleba XV de Novembro, and in other selected areas, and formulating a strategy and programme document for promoting sustained agricultural development in the settlement areas. More particularly, an FAO team - with the collaboration of local counterparts - developed a typology of peasants households, identified technical itineraries for the main agricultural and livestock activities, analysed production and livestock systems, identified main bottlenecks and made proposals for overcoming these bottlenecks.

In order to fulfil this commitment, the FAO team decided to implement a methodology based on Agrarian Systems Diagnosis (see: A brief on Agrarian Systems Diagnosis), which looks firstly for information at farm level and, thus, allows an understanding of the logic, reasoning and perspectives of settlers within the land policy strategy and socio-economic context. This means that the history of the settlers and the context of their relationships with the region are taken into account for the purpose of arriving at recommendations on new economic activities.

The main field areas of this research are:

This note contains a summary description of the methodology applied in the execution of field research in Gleba XV and other settlements, and further criteria used to process data, elaborate tables and analyse results. It also outlines major findings from the field research, highlighting the history of the region and the settlements, and the natural endowment of the region.


The selection of the sample did not follow a random criterion, due to the fact that economic indicators, though important, are not the only goal of the research, which is mainly oriented toward qualifying categories of producers and identifying the rationality of their economic and social actions. The selection of the settlers to be interviewed took into account a preliminary typology of settlers, in three groups: The different groups were identified according to indicators such as productivity in the last harvest and the cropping areas of each settler. The final definition of the groups and the sample itself were submitted, discussed and reviewed in cooperation with some key informants (including government officials, long-term settlers and leaders previously interviewed in two field visits). As a result of this process, 39 settlers were selected from Gleba XV, six from Santa Rita, 14 at Agua Sumida and 10 of Areia Branca.

In the case of Gleba XV, the selection was roughly parallel to the distribution of population and soils in the settlement. The settlement is divided into five sectors, four of which have similar soils and population size and are devoted to similar agricultural activities (maize, manioc, beans, cotton, castor oil plant, coffee, sericulture). The fifth sector has poorer soils (and is therefore mainly devoted to livestock production) and has a smaller population. Therefore, the sample of 39 settlers represented the settlement quite well. They included six settlers in sector 1 (three for Type 1, three for Type 2, and three for Type 3), nine in sector 2 (same distribution), six in sector 3, nine in sector 4 and six in sector 5.

Agrarian systems diagnosis of the region means understanding, among other factors, the relationships established by the settlers with other economic and political agents. The kind of relations established within the regional context usually has an important influence on the settlers' decisions and on their production systems. Thus, the following agents were interviewed (following simple guidelines):

Further, the diagnosis of Gleba XV included analysis of relationships established between the settlers, through associations, machinery groups and other groupings.

Data collected in the field allowed identification of some analytical categories needed for the diagnosis of production systems in the region, such as agricultural income, poverty lines, anticipatory capital and amortization of fixed capital.

Summary and major findings

Land distribution and rural settlements in the region

The Pontal region is a sparsely populated area dominated by extensive livestock latifundia. The publicly owned natural forest was cleared by private operators over past decades in order to create large "fazendas"; these were established without any legal rights on the land, and had a very little impact on employment and on the economy of the region. At the same time, large state-promoted public infrastructural works (dams and hydroelectrical plants) created temporary employment for unskilled workers. These works also created the need to resettle people from villages submerged by the new artificial reservoirs ("riberinhos").

At present three factors are responsible for a high pressure on the land:

To relieve pressure on land, the state of São Paulo decided to liberate part of the illegally used land and to establish settlement schemes for small producers. Since 1984, seven areas have been distributed to about 2,000 families in the region (3,600 families in the whole state of São Paulo).

The Gleba XV area is the biggest settlement in the region, with 560 families. The distributed plots are of 15 to 18 ha in sectors 1 to 4, and of 40 ha in sector 5, which is used for livestock pasturing. The CESP hydroelectric authority, the ITESP and the local municipalities have been the main institutions involved in land distribution and rural development of this settlement scheme. In coming years, it is planned to distribute about 60,000 hectares of land to another 3,000 families. Despite the poor quality of soils in the region, the settlement program could have a high potential for development of agriculture, agro-industry and rural-urban areas. The neighbouring northern region of the Paraña state, with similar ecological constraints, represents an interesting example of the socio-economic potential of an agricultural system based on small family farms.

From results of the sample survey carried out by the project in the Gleba XV settlement, a picture of the settlers' socio-economic conditions emerges. Notwithstanding the still inadequate provision of basic infrastructures (housing, water, electricity), the observed distribution of income groups among the settlers interviewed is rather encouraging:

In summary, 74% of the settlers have incomes above the minimum poverty line, and almost half of them have an acceptable monetary income. In the first group, 62% of income comes from the sale of the cash crops and livestock products. The above revenue groups reflect partially specific production systems (livestock and food crops), but the short history of the settlement does not yet permit clear correlations in this area.

At present, the main problem of the Gleba XV settlement, together with the low quality of soil, is the great turn-over of settlers. Incomplete data show a settlers' turn over of about 50% since the beginning of land distribution, and cases of illegal sale of land titles are also recorded. The stabilization of the settlement is strongly dependent on the generalization of viable farming systems and of acceptable revenues among settlers. In the establishment of the Gleba XV settlement, one also notes a low degree of technical and social preparation, institutional weakness in the provision of adequate support services and the negative tendency of delivering assistance free of charge. In general, settlers seem to be very much "institutions-oriented", rather than market-oriented.

Present trends in rural development in the project area

Cropping patterns in the Pontal region are dominated by livestock raising: pastures occupy 85% of the land, while crops (mainly cassava, beans and maize) cover just 15%. The present trend is towards increased livestock production: during the last decade pastures increased by 8% and crop land diminished by 2%. The highly constraining soil conditions of the area - and the absence of crop rotation, pH-correction and fertilization - are responsible for significantly declining yields of agricultural crops (maize, cotton, mulberry and others). The main soil problems are related to high sand content, acidity and the very low content of organic matter.

The region's agrarian system has not stabilized, but there is a clear tendency among settlers to maintain a portion of land utilized for staple food crops (cassava, rice, beans) and to develop a cash-cow production system capable of providing monetary income for the family. The cash production system is based mainly on milk, silk cocoons, cotton and castor-oil. However, the structural shortage of financial resources within the farm has created competition between expenditures for the family and expenditures for crop/livestock management.

Since 1989-90, there has been significant development of silk/mulberry production, involving about 60 producers in the Gleba XV. However, negative trends in silk cocoon prices and falling yields in mulberry cultivation (due to inappropriate cultivation practices) have discouraged many of producers. At present, only about 30 producers find revenue attractive enough to continue.

Within Gleba XV there is a net tendency towards increasing livestock production (especially of milking cows). This is happening not only in sector 5, which is particularly used for pasture, but also in sector 1 to 4, where settlers produce mainly crops. The dominant livestock production system is mixed meat/milk, with a trend towards milk specialization. However, for the moment, this has not implied the use of the rational organization of animal feeding and management. On the contrary, there is often competition between the two products, with a negative impact on long term stock productivity. Also, livestock purchases are often the settlers' preferred means of saving and investing.

While animal traction and transportation is widespread in the Gleba XV, mechanization is rapidly increasing. Even though there are only about 15 tractors, a large part of the land is prepared by them. At the beginning of the settlement, mechanization was subsidized; however, it has been introduced without technical and social empowerment of the beneficiaries. Associations have been created to buy tractors, mainly to overcome the problem of the existing individual credit ceilings, and without preparation of members in management of common mechanized groups. The results, at present, is the non-replacement of capital within these groups.

If decapitalization is taking place in the settlers' groups, it is however possible to observe capitalization in individual cases or in family groups. Social differentiation is appearing in the Gleba XV: some settlers are able to rent land from others, and the mechanized farmers are able to extend their cropped land. Such differentiation could begin negative process of land concentration, but it is also a sign of the possibility of developing more viable rural patterns. Transportation services, small markets and rural trade are also growing. The growth of a complex rural society is thus the first sign of rural development in the area.

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