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Impacts of a large-scale titling initiative on deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon


Across carbon- and biodiversity-rich tropical forests, titling initiatives are implemented with the goal of regularizing land tenure and decreasing deforestation. However, the effect of tenure security on deforestation is theoretically ambiguous, and credible empirical evidence is lacking. We analyse the responses of 10,647 landholders between 2011 and 2016 to a large-scale land-titling programme called Terra Legal in the Brazilian Amazon, set to regulate an area as big as Germany and France combined. Using a fixed-effects regression modelling strategy and property-level data, we managed to explore the causal chain between land titling and deforestation. Contrary to expectations, we find evidence that small and medium landholders increased deforestation in response to the programme, whereas large landholders remained largely unaffected. Landholders with property titles deforest more as crop and cattle prices increase, indicating greater market integration at the expense of conservation. Our results suggest that titling alone without greater coordination with other policies will not yield the expected environmental benefits.

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Fig. 1: Event study on the effect of receiving a title on deforestation.
Fig. 2: Time-specific effects of titling for plots of different sizes.

Data availability

The data that support the findings of this study are available from SERFAL, but restrictions apply to the availability of these data, which were used under license for the current study, and so are not publicly available. The data are, however, available from the authors upon request and with the permission of SERFAL. Source data are provided with this paper.

Code availability

The code is available from the corresponding author upon request.


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Authors and Affiliations



B.P., A.B. and A.K. contributed equally to the paper. T.N.P.d.R. was responsible for the collecting the deforestation data and revising the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Andreas Kontoleon.

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The authors declare no competing interests.

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Supplementary Figs. 1–7, Tables 1–3, notes and references.

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Probst, B., BenYishay, A., Kontoleon, A. et al. Impacts of a large-scale titling initiative on deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon. Nat Sustain 3, 1019–1026 (2020).

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