The Amazon is the largest tropical forest area on Earth, and has been undergoing rapid deforestation for the last four decades. In the Brazilian Amazon, large-scale pasture for cattle ranching and soybean production are the main land uses, leading to a yearly deforestation rate of 0.5%. These conversions are mostly located in frontier areas distributed along the so-called "arc of deforestation". Within this large zone, various land use change processes are interacting through several modes of land valuation and organisation. From several case studies in the State of Para (Brazil), the current project aims at analysing how landscape dynamics are related to infrastructure development, ecological conditions, zoning policies and to the evolution and the organisation of the production, consumption and marketing chains of livestock products. This paper presents the results for one test site, the region of Sao Felix do Xingu, South of Para. This region is the focus of land speculation, cattle expansion, and deforestation. Road construction, investments in electrical energy, financial credit for cattle, and the land reform policies have all fuelled this process. All these factors make this region one of the most dynamic agricultural frontiers in the Brazilian Amazon. The main objective of the paper is to improve our understanding of deforestation processes by crossing spatial analyses and livestock economics studies, and to characterise the role and impact of various natural and anthropic factors in the location and development of the main types of farmers, and their policy implications. © 2002 Elsevier Science B.V. All rights reserved.