Coffee Labor Regimes and Deforestation on a Brazilian Frontier, 1915–1965*
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In this paper I analyze the relationship between coffee labor relations and deforestation in Sao Paulo state, Brazil, using new empirical data from judicial archives and a microeconomic approach stressing transaction costs. Contractual planting, sharecropping, and mixed wage-piece rate schemes encouraged rapid conversion of forest and woodland (Cerradǎo) to coffee by a wide range of landowners. Factors of labor quality, costly supervision, information asymmetries, and risk shaped the labor relations that speeded the creation of coffee groves. Tensions existed within labor relations schemes regarding usufruct, debt, and the definition of work. The findings suggest that greater attention should be given to the particular nature of labor arrangements in affecting environmental resource use.
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