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Author ORCID Identifier



Open Access Dissertation

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Degree Program


Year Degree Awarded


Month Degree Awarded


First Advisor

J. Mohan Rao

Second Advisor

Mwangi wa Githinji

Third Advisor

Krista Harper

Subject Categories

Growth and Development | Other Economics | Political Economy


This dissertation explores the successes and failures of a community-driven development project, São José Agrário (SJA), conducted in Northeastern Brazil. The project was co-funded by the World Bank and the State of Ceará and co-directed by a social movement (the Landless Workers Movement, MST) and the State of Ceará. The dissertation employs a mixed methods approach based on eight case studies, a census survey of six communities, and interviews with a wide variety of actors connected to the project.

I address the problem of elite capture, either by non-targeted communities or by an elite within the targeted communities disproportionately benefiting from projects. Case study communities met project targeting criteria. I found no evidence of elite capture of project funds or subproject benefits in the case studies. I then evaluate the free rider problem. The settlers, for the most part, overcame problems of free riding in both their collective work and in the SJA subprojects. Solving the challenges of free riding depended on the community and collective work institutions, such as clear, enforceable rules, monitoring, and graduated sanctions. Accompanying groups, such as the Landless Workers' Movement, agricultural workers' unions, local and state governments, and technical agencies assisted in preventing or resolving free riding problems.

I found that even when the problems of elite capture and free riding were avoided, three of the eight subprojects I studied had failed, and one had been suspended for two years. I trace the source of subproject failure to problems of subproject design. First, subprojects required a greater skill set and knowledge base than the participants had. Power differentials between the participants and the private actors created dependency and allowed for participants to be taken advantage of rather than creating empowerment. Second, the duration of technical assistance for productive subprojects was too short and private technical agencies sometimes provided low-quality subprojects. Third, participants had little ability to accurately forecast their costs and benefits of subproject participation, resulting in subproject attrition.