By Chris Arsenault
RIO DE JANEIRO (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - In Brazil's Amazon where no-one knows who exactly owns a swathe of territory the size of Ukraine, a lack of formal property deeds is causing conflict, greater deforestation and environmental damage, researchers said on Tuesday.
An area of 60 million hectares in Brazil's Amazonas state, 40 percent of the state's total area, is classified as vacant public land and lacks formal title deeds, the Climate Policy Initiative (CPI) said.
Without clear titles proving land ownership, farmers have less incentive to make new investments, improve productivity or protect the environment, said the CPI, a San Francisco-based group with operations in Rio de Janeiro.
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"There are consequences for the climate, the environment and the economy due to this lack of land tenure," CPI project manager Rita Damasceno told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
"People are actually dying because of this issue."
A lack of property rights have led to more than 15,000 land-related conflicts over the past 20 years in Brazil, leading to more than 700 deaths, the report said.
In 2014 alone, nearly 100,000 families were affected by land conflicts covering an area of more than eight million hectares.
When it comes to securing land rights, Brazil ranked 64 out of 128 nations on the 2016 International Property Rights Index.
The lack of a central, integrated database of who owns different pieces of land in Latin America's largest country is part of the reason for Brazil's poor score, the CPI said.
It also said that 11 federal government bodies were responsible for administering different aspects of land property rights leading to an inefficient system.
The lack of secure property rights was most acute in the Amazon and other rural areas, the report said.
In the Brazilian states of Para and Piaui fewer than half of rural properties are formally registered with the government, deterring farmers from ploughing money into their land and curbing efforts to fight poverty and boost economic growth, it said.
Brazilian officials have made some progress in improving land rights in recent years through the Legal Land Program which has provided about 20,000 title deeds to Amazon farmers, the CPI said.
Communication between officials at different government agencies responsible for registering land has also improved, Damasceno said, although progress has been slow.
(Reporting by Chris Arsenault; Editing by Katie Nguyen; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking and climate change. Visit news.trust.org)