Fragile Social Norms: (Un) Sustainable Exploration of Forest Products

Decio Zylbersztajn


The exhaustion of natural resources is a central problem in the international agenda. The particular case of Amazon forest is at the top on the international environmental debate. Two related problems are keys to be considered in the discussion of sustainable development in this region. First the predatory use of the natural resources of the forest mainly timber and genetic resources. Second the recognition of the existence of a population of around 20 million inhabitants in the region defined as “Legal Amazon Area”, aiming the improvement on the living conditions, enhancement of income level and acceleration of development. How to match both objectives is a puzzle faced by the present generation.

The region is populated by initiatives of international non-governmental-organizations, most of them carrying good intentions but lacking the necessary knowledge on local formal and informal institutions to find ways to reach sustainable development. The result is the accelerated process of natural resources depletion, and social disorganization. The case of the production of Brazilian Nuts stands as a corollary of the lack of an institutional structure of property rights that does not provide incentives for sustainable development. The opposite effect is being observed as a result of the fragility of observable institutional arrangements.

The case provides the counterfactual for the analysis of Ostrom (1990; 2008), where she presents virtuous cases of sustainable exploration of natural resources, mostly based on informal but solid institutions.


sustainable exploraiton of forest recources; social norms and sustainability; common pool resources

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ISSN 1869-6945


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