Brazil’s Cuiabá- Santarém (BR-163) Highway: The Environmental Cost of Paving a Soybean Corridor Through the Amazon

  • Philip M. FearnsideEmail author


Brazil’s Cuiabá-Santarém (BR-163) Highway provides a valuable example of ways in which decision-making procedures for infrastructure projects in tropical forest areas need to be reformulated in order to guarantee that environmental concerns are properly weighed. BR-163, which is slated to be paved as an export corridor for soybeans via the Amazon River, traverses an area that is largely outside of Brazilian government control. A climate of generalized lawlessness and impunity prevails, and matters related to environment and to land tenure are especially unregulated. Deforestation and illegal logging have accelerated in anticipation of highway paving. Paving would further speed forest loss in the area, as well as stimulate migration of land thieves (grileiros) to other frontiers. An argument is made that the highway should not be reconstructed and paved until after a state of law has been established and it has been independently certified that sufficient governance prevails to secure protected areas and enforce environmental legislation. A waiting period is needed after this is achieved before proceeding with the highway paving. Above all, the logical sequence of steps must be followed, whereby environmental costs are assessed, reported, and weighed prior to making de facto decisions on implementation of infrastructure projects. Deviation from this logical sequence is a common occurrence in many parts of the world, especially in tropical areas.


Amazonia Brazil BR-163 Deforestation Environmental impact Highways Roads Santarém-Cuiabá Soybeans 



Brazil’s National Council for Scientific and Technological Development (CNPq) provided funds for travel in the BR-163 area (Grant 52.0177/2003-7 to M. Torres and 557152/2005-4 to P.M.F.). CNPq (AI 470765/01-1) and the National Institute for Research in the Amazon (INPA PPIs 1-3620 and 1-1005) also provided financial support. Rede GEOMA (MCT) provided an overflight of the BR-163 area in May 2006. An earlier Portuguese-language version of part of this discussion was presented before the Interministerial Working Group on Deforestation (Casa Civil) and appears in a book published by CNPq (Fearnside 2005b). R. I. Barbosa, P. M. L. A. Graça, B. Soares-Filho, M. Torres, V. H. Dale, and four reviewers made useful comments. I thank P. M. L. A. Graça, A. Carneiro, and J. Costa for help with the figures.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Instituto Nacional de Pesquisas da Amazônia-INPAManaus-AmazonasBrazil

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