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2 Rondônia and the Fate of

Small Producers
George Martine


The once-prevalentnotion that the Amazon region possessed vast riches and
that it would provide unlimited opportunities for agricultural expansion has
been rather thoroughly discredited by recent events in Brazil. Successive
grandiose settlement schemes, whether through government-oriented or
privately-owned colonisation projects, or through large-scale capitalistic
enterprises, have produced rather dismal results. The one exception to the
general disenchantment with the chances for wide-scale development in the
Amazon would appear to be Rondonia. This recently-created state seems to
have somehow managed to survive the onslaught of migrant hordes and,
apparently, emerged as a bustling if not prosperous frontier region.
The present chapter addresses itself to the issue of Rondonian growth.
What factors account for its expansion? How successful has settlement really
been? How have small agricultural producers fared in the overall scheme of
things? What are the perspectives for the future maintenance and/or expan-
sion of small farms in Rondonia? How does Rondonia itself fit within the
more general pattern of regional development and population distribution?


The state of Rondonia is located in the south-west portion of the Brazilian

Amazon, covering about 5 per cent of that region (see Figure 2.1). Its land
area is roughly equivalent in size to that of West Germany. The region's
physical characteristics are highly variable. The dominant type of vegetation
is upland wet forest although cerrados cover some 9 per cent of the total and,
wet varzea forest, another 7 per cent. The climate is, for the most part, hot
and humid, with a rainy season lasting from September to May and an
annual rainfall between 2,000 and 2,200 mm.
The topography is varied. A wide diversity of soil groups can also be
found, several of which are considered to be appropriate for both perennial
and annual crops, as well as for pasture and forestry. Contrary to the
situation found in most of the Amazon, areas of varzea in Rondonia are held
to be of relatively little use for agriculture. The most promising soils are

D. Goodman et al. (eds.), The Future of Amazonia
© David Goodman and Anthony Hall 1990

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Figure 2.1 Rondonia

Source: INCRA