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ABSTRACT

This article investigates the seemingly contradictory policies adopted by the Brazilian state to prevent land grabs in one region while encouraging agribusiness investments in another. The government recently initiated a programme intended to regularize titles of 300,000 homesteaders in unassigned public land in the Amazon region. This effort in state making over a largely illegible landscape is aimed at offsetting large-scale illegal land grabs and ongoing (though significantly curtailed) deforestation. In contrast, legal large-scale agribusiness investments are exacerbating deforestation and the concentration of land ownership in the Cerrado region through well-established state mechanisms. While the imposition of legibility may regulate land concentration and degradation, legible landscapes also facilitate investments that drive both concentration and degradation. The author argues that the regularization programme undertaken in the Amazon structures land grabbing nationally — not because large amounts of public land are in fact being privatized through regularization, but because it actively undermines land redistribution programmes elsewhere in the country and consolidates transportation and production infrastructure in the Amazon–Cerrado transition zone. The state-making framework developed here captures the heterogeneity of global land grab processes, indicating the ways in which these are obstructed but not discarded by different government agencies, stalled but not yet overturned by Brazilian civil society.