By Chris Arsenault
RIO DE JANEIRO, April 5 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - A Brazilian government programme to formally distribute land to thousands of small-scale farmers is helping the country protect its vast forests, according to research presented to lawmakers on Wednesday.
Launched in 2009, the Legal Land Programme has distributed more than 20,000 property title deeds to farmers in the Amazon rainforest in Latin America's largest country.
Independent analysis of the programme based on satellite maps and government data, shows that land where title deeds had been distributed had 2 percent more forest left intact compared with territory lacking in titles.
"The programme is an effective way to reduce deforestation," said Dimitri Szerman, a senior analyst with the Climate Policy Initiative research group in Rio de Janeiro, which carried out the analysis.
Two percent might sound small, but against high rates of deforestation, it was significant, said Szerman, who presented the findings of his research to government officials in the capital Brasilia on Wednesday.
"There is no silver bullet on deforestation," Szerman told the Thomson Reuters Foundation. "Two percent is actually an aggressive result."
Brazil, which is home to the Amazon, the world's largest tropical forest, is losing the equivalent of two football fields of forest each minute, according to the former head of the country's forestry service.
After years of declines, the rate of deforestation shot up by 29 percent last year compared to 2015, according to Brazil's National Space Research Institute (INPE).
Analysts say a lack of property rights has fuelled the recent increase in deforestation.
Vacant lands and public areas which are not officially owned by anyone, make up more than one fifth of Brazil's total area, according to the Climate Policy Initiative.
These lands are often illegally occupied by individuals or investors, said Szerman.
"In the long-term you need to solve the problem of property rights to bring down deforestation," Szerman said.
(Reporting by Chris Arsenault @chrisarsenaul, Editing by Katie Nguyen.; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights, climate change and resilience. Visit http://news.trust.org)