Human Ecology

, Volume 41, Issue 4, pp 603–614 | Cite as

Shifting Cultivation and Fire Policy: Insights from the Brazilian Amazon

  • Rachel CarmentaEmail author
  • Saskia Vermeylen
  • Luke Parry
  • Jos Barlow


Fires in humid tropical forests are increasingly frequent due to severe dry seasons, forest degradation and agricultural expansion. One agent implicated in current discourse surrounding tropical forest fires is the small-scale farming peasantry who rely on fire in swidden (shifting cultivation, slash-and-burn) agriculture. The environmental degradation associated with fire has led to government responses at multiple scales (international, national, state, regional) via policies aimed mainly at managing ignition sources. However, continued increase in forest fires suggests that these policies may be having limited impact and a fresh evaluation of current policy approaches to fire management is needed. We review fire policy measures with insights of caboclo farming practices and perspectives from Eastern Amazonia and examine the congruence between policy and practice. We demonstrate a significant disparity between policy requirements such as firebreaks and actual fire management practices, in which measures rarely meet requirements outlined in legislation. We explore the origins and the impacts of these disparities, focussing on smallholder farm-level management measures and local capacity. Incomplete knowledge coupled with marginal awareness of legal requirements served to propagate widespread erroneous beliefs in what these are. This analysis at multiple scales (international, national, state, regional) will contribute to developing greater congruence between fire policies and smallholder farming practices.


Swidden agriculture Shifting cultivation Caboclo Fire management Amazon rainforest Brazil Legislation Slash-and-burn 



This research was funded by NERC-ESRC grant ES/F012500/1, Darwin Initiative grant no. 17–023. We wish to thank the Instituto Brasileiro do Meio Ambiente e Recursos Naturais Renováveis (IBAMA), Instituto Chico Mendes de Conservação da Biodiversidade (ICMBio) and Federação das Associações de Moradores e Comunidades do Assentamento Agroextrativistas da Gleba Lago Grande (FEAGLE) for supporting this research and authorising the study. We gratefully acknowledge the Arapíunense smallholders for their time, kindnesses and for their conversation. Finally, we thank two anonymous reviewers for their comments on a draft of this paper.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • Rachel Carmenta
    • 1
    Email author
  • Saskia Vermeylen
    • 1
  • Luke Parry
    • 1
  • Jos Barlow
    • 1
  1. 1.Lancaster Environment CentreLancaster UniversityLancasterUK

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