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Highly Optimized Tolerant (HOT) Farms in Rondônia: Productivity and Farm Size, and Implications for Environmental Licensing

Andrew Reid Bell, School of Natural Resources and Environment, University of Michigan


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This paper operationalizes the concept of highly optimized tolerance (HOT) for the case of smallholder agriculture in Rondônia, Brazil. It seeks to understand how characteristics of family farms shift as a function of property size, arguing that as production intensifies, properties move closer to a HOT state. In this state, resources are committed to maintaining robustness against expected disturbances, such as shifts in yields or crop prices, making property more vulnerable to other unexpected disturbances, such as shifts in input prices or availability. The shifts in production, labor, and costs that occur across scale in the Ji-Paraná River Basin in Rondônia were measured using a survey instrument on a sample of farmers in the basin. Study results show decreasing production intensity with increasing property size in the sample, coupled with decreasing contracted and family labor use intensity, as well as decreased income diversification and off-farm labor. Farms smaller than 60 ha in the sample differed markedly in production and cost structure from those that were larger. For these smaller properties, meeting the requirements of Rondônia’s new environmental licensing program (LAPRO) may lead to an increase in the sale of land parcels to cover debts and a speeding up of land consolidation in the region.

Key words

Amazon; environmental licensing; highly optimized tolerance; property size; ranching; Rondônia

Copyright © 2011 by the author(s). Published here under license by The Resilience Alliance. This article is under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License. You may share and adapt the work for noncommercial purposes provided the original author and source are credited, you indicate whether any changes were made, and you include a link to the license.

Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087