Neoliberal agricultural frontiers, defined as export-oriented farming areas motivated more by global demand and land privatization than by government subsidies, present at least two major challenges for environmental researchers: estimating land change and understanding governance types and outcomes. Environmental governance, the “filter” between human and biophysical systems, is considered in terms of two models in light of empirical evidence from a neoliberal frontier in the Brazilian Cerrado (savanna) ecoregion. Land-change analysis indicates that agricultural land uses increased from 12% of the study region in 1986 to 44% in 2000 and 55% in 2005, with a corresponding loss of native Cerrado. A prominent farming organization formed in 1990 has participated in or led several environmental policy initiatives. Evidence of both governance models is found, and dilemmas facing environmental activists and managers, as well as the farming sector, are presented. For organizations representing large commercial farmers, compliance with environmental regulations may be seen as both a cost to be borne by the farming sector and as a means to establish environmental credentials. Suggestions are made for future longitudinal work on compliance, information, agenda-setting, and discursive strategies of nonstate actors in neoliberal frontiers.
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Vol. 38 • No. 3