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Emilio Moran
ACT Director

Steve Chaplin
University Communications

Last modified: Monday, December 1, 2008

IU's ACT receives $2.9 million grant from NIH for Amazon agriculture study

Dec. 1, 2008

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- The effects of Amazon deforestation where agriculture production has been ramped up through increased mechanization will receive further study by an Indiana University anthropology professor thanks to a $2.9 million grant from the National Institutes of Health.

Emilio Moran, an IU distinguished professor of anthropology and director of the university's Anthropological Center for Training and Research on Global Environmental Change (ACT), said the funding will allow researchers to hopefully answer the controversial question over what are the best types of economic development in certain environmental settings.

"The project will explain the direct and indirect effects of two types of economic development," Moran said. "Whether large scale, mechanized agriculture benefits local communities in terms of employment, income, health, education, or whether small scale farming does this better."

The five-year study will follow small scale farm owners and focus on how they are impacted when externally-capitalized, large scale farm owners bring highly-mechanized processes to the region. Large scale agriculture and ranching have been cited as a prime driver of deforestation in the Amazon Basin, Moran said, but some scientists believe that sustainable development can be accomplished in the region by combining intensive agriculture with strong forest protections.

The Brazilian government, according to Moran, continues to believe small scale farming operations are the primary contributor to rain forest deforestation, while most researchers disagree. This research is intended to help determine which form of agricultural development leads to the more sustainable type of development.

"The policy implications are enormous for developing countries and for our own," said Moran.

The research will include an effort to help inform on whether or not economic development increases off-farm opportunities for local communities and if small scale farmers benefit from selling their properties. A similar transition occurred to small scale farmers in the U.S. Midwest in the 19th Century as farming became more mechanized, Moran pointed out, and it may occur again if biofuel production continues to increase.

With those same dynamics now playing out in the Amazon, and since rain forest deforestation is one of the largest contributors to carbon emissions, the relationship between agricultural development and environmental conservation has become a matter of global concern, he added.

Moran was appointed to the IU faculty in 1975 and has since been recognized for his work on the human causes and consequences of environmental change and for his use, as a social scientist, of satellite remote sensing and geographic information systems to further that research. Also noteworthy has been Moran's ability to obtain external funding -- more than $20 million in the past 16 years -- to support his work. This most recent grant is from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, an institute with the NIH.

Moran can be reached directly at 812-855-6182 or, or through Steve Chaplin (IU Office of University Communications), 812-856-1896 or