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Title: A political ecology of smallholder oil palm production and forest conservation in the Peruvian Amazon frontier : towards a balanced approach to development
Author: Bennett, Aoife
ISNI:       0000 0004 8507 6601
Awarding Body: University of Oxford
Current Institution: University of Oxford
Date of Award: 2020
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Through its meteoric rise to the top of the vegetable oils sector, palm oil has become one of the most contentious commodities on the planet. In recent years, the sector is increasingly spreading into new 'frontiers' in Latin America and Africa. There is concern about the prospect of oil palm projects being implemented in contexts where the socio-political and environmental dynamics of land and resource use are not adequately understood. This thesis presents a historical political ecology of oil palm in the Peruvian Amazon frontier region of Ucayali. The three pillars of the sustainable development agenda (social, environmental and economic) are used as a heuristic to facilitate the wider communication of the researching findings, with a focus on forests, livelihoods and society. The central premise of the thesis is that socio-environmental questions related to sustainable development are fundamentally political questions. The research deepens understanding about the scantily articulated dynamics and interaction between international commodity markets, land and resource access and use, and a poorly understood smallholder reality in the Amazon. A multi-methods approach including 450 surveys, 350 stakeholder interviews, visual remote sensing of 2,447 hectares of smallholder land and 14 months of participant observation is employed to critically explore social, environmental and economic aspects of smallholder oil palm production on the Ucayali forest/farm landscape. Empirical findings reveal that oil palm is having a profound, but not always negative socioenvironmental and economic impact in the study site, and that outcomes were highly dependent on specific modes of production, as well as international, national and regional policy that is not always directly related to oil palm. Political dynamics such as political regimes, unequal power dynamics, poorly planned and implemented decentralization of government power and vertical and horizontal multi-level governance contexts including trade and development agreements are important underlying drivers of environmental and social change in the region. However, common misconceptions about particular resource users (small and large holders) and crop types (e.g. oil palm) are other important political factors influencing socio-environmental change and acting as barriers to effective forest conservation and sustainable use in the region. Rural smallholders are highlighted as skilled resource managers that lack not in capacity, but rather in opportunity to engage with a sustainable development agenda. Many constraints to opportunity are policy and politics centred. Findings reveal opportunities for forest conservation and regeneration that can include these poorly understood smallholding groups without significantly altering or compromising their production strategies, crop choices, access to resources or cultural integrity.
Supervisor: McDermott, Constance ; Malhi, Yadvinder Sponsor: Centre for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) ; International Tropical Timber Organization ; Royal Geographic Society
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available