Public policies and private gains : integrated rural development in north-east Brazil
This thesis considers the pivotal role of the State in the process of agrarian change, through the analysis of a rural development project in North-East Brazil. The analytical model adopted here is the new institutionalism approach in development theory. New institutionalism emphasises the institutional context within which individuals preferences are determined. In development studies it argues that the capacity of the State to promote equitable development depends, not simply upon the utility maximising behaviour of actors, but also upon the nature of the States own institutions. To illustrate this argument, this thesis takes as a case study the Integrated Rural Development Project in the Northern Agreste of Pernambuco state. This was one of 43 area-based projects of the larger Programme for the Development of the Integrated Areas of North-East Brazil (POLONORDESTE). It was the major programme implemented by the Brazilian State, designed specifically to raise productivity and income of small farms in the region. This study provides historical information on the way the national and local political environment shapes the State's intervention and its role in agrarian development. In doing this, this study argues that to understand patterns of rural development, scholars should attach greater significance to the capacity for autonomous choice on the part of local level actors, both public and private, in shaping rural development policy. The information on the policy process and the achievements of the project was provided by unstructured and semistructured interviews, participant observation and informal contacts at project management level and local level, the archival sources of the project and oral histories of participants. The material on household farms was provided by a panel study of 340 sampled farms located in six selected municipalities of the Northern Agreste, undertaken at the beginning and at the end of the project. This analysis examined some of the transformations taking place in the Northern Agreste farming activities under the impact of State intervention and how the benefits of development policy were distributed among different classes of producers. It also examined economic and political interactions resulting from State action at local level. The limits and possibilities of peasants raising their standard of living are investigated, according to an analysis of their livelihood strategies and the support given by the project. The main conclusion of this thesis is that integrated rural development projects could result in strong support for the small farm sector, especially for those groups of small farmers with a sufficient resource endowment, particularly land, enabling them to respond to incentives to increase their market surplus. The non-interference of the project in the structure of land-distribution, has left a large segment of the landless rural population and some smallholder farmers without sufficient or secure land, since these groups were excluded from the project's agricultural components. For these peasants, the project led only to an increase in non-farm employment opportunities and access to collective goods provided to some villages. The State's physical presence in rural areas, however, has pluralized power at local level, breaking the former fusion of wealth and power of the local landed elite. Thus, patronage was "democratised" at local level as public goods were diverted to favour some rural poor.