The papers in this special issue address a major challenge facing our society: feeding a population that is simultaneously growing and increasing its per capita food consumption, while preventing widespread ecological and social impoverishment in the tropics. By focusing mostly on the Amazon's most dynamic agricultural frontier, Mato Grosso, they collectively clarify some key elements of achieving more sustainable agriculture. First, stakeholders in commodity-driven agricultural Amazonian frontiers respond rapidly to multiple forces, including global markets, international pressures for sustainably produced commodities and national-, state- and municipality-level policies. These forces can encourage or discourage deforestation rate changes within a short time-period. Second, agricultural frontiers are linked systems, land-use change is linked with regional climate, forest fires, water quality and stream discharge, which in turn are linked with the well-being of human populations. Thus, land-use practices at the farm level have ecological and social repercussions far removed from it. Third, policies need to consider the full socio-economic system to identify the efficacy and consequences of possible land management strategies. Monitoring to devise suitable management approaches depends not only on tracking land-use change, but also on monitoring the regional ecological and social consequences. Mato Grosso's achievements in reducing deforestation are impressive, yet they are also fragile. The ecological and social consequences and the successes and failures of management in this region can serve as an example of possible trajectories for other commodity-driven tropical agricultural frontiers.