Whether and how the vast lowlands of South America can be gainfully exploited is a matter of vigorous dispute. Most natural scientists contend that the soils and climate are incompatible with intensive agriculture; others argue that underpopulation, poor communication, disease, lack of incentive, and other nonenvironmental factors explain the failures of efforts at “development.” Moran attempts to shed light on the controversy by analyzing the program of planned colonization conducted along the Transamazon highway by the Brazilian government between 1970 and 1974.

As background for discussing the Transamazon scheme, the author reviews the characteristics of the lowland tropical forest ecosystem, varieties of aboriginal adaptation, and colonization policies between 1850 and 1970. He then focuses on Vila Roxa, a typical planned settlement near the junction of the Transamazon with the Rio Xingú. Employing different criteria than those used by the planners for classifying the colonists and judging their success, he reveals managerial and cultural variables overlooked or misjudged in designing the project and assessing its results. Inappropriate criteria for selecting colonists, prejudices against the resident caboclos and consequent failure to take advantage of their expertise, assumptions about the uniformity of soil conditions, and production priorities set by the central government are among the factors contributing to disappointing results. When appropriate strategies were employed, specifically, when the most fertile soils were matched with the most suitable crops, and special ecological conditions were used rather than combatted, the outcome was positive. The most successful colonists were the Amazonian caboclos, whose fields were smaller (6.3 hectares versus 8.0 for outsiders), but whose income per household was higher (Cr$ 3,370 versus Cr$ 1,968) because they diversified their crops, keeping the land in constant production and continuously protected from leaching and erosion.

Moran concludes that the Amazonian lowlands can be made more productive, but only if the diversity and heterogeneity of the soils are recognized and site-specific strategies for their utilization are employed. This microlevel approach requires time and research; whether the shortterm goals of the national government are compatible with a longer-term, multifaceted solution to developing the Amazon is a question the author raises, but does not attempt to answer.