Performing Legality Under Contract: State and Non-State Interactions in Palm Oil Governance in the Brazilian Amazon

Authors: Diana Cordoba*, Queen's University
Topics: Environment, Cultural and Political Ecology, Latin America
Keywords: RSPO, Palm Oil, Contract Farming, Brazil
Session Type: Virtual Paper
Day: 4/10/2021
Start / End Time: 9:35 AM / 10:50 AM
Room: Virtual 21
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


State and Non-state governance mechanisms have been applied worldwide to mediate palm oil socioenvironmental impacts. Surprisingly, little attention has been paid to the interaction between these governance frameworks in the context of Contract Farming (CF) schemes. We examine the interaction between Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) and state-driven regulatory frameworks and how this interaction influences CF schemes in Brazil. Using political ecology as a conceptual tool to connect micro-political and global and national political-economic processes, we focus on Northern Pará state, a region characterized by an uneven landscape where both domestic and export markets contract farming schemes are implemented. We find that interactions between state and non-state governance create incentives to improve socio-environmental outcomes in oil palm cultivation. However, the changes RSPO require for certification could create negative economic outcomes for farmers under CF and even tension between farmers and agribusiness. RSPO’s requirement of compliance with applicable laws emerged as a particular point of tension, especially as the CF mechanism transferred the burden of legality compliance to small contract farmers. This analysis underscores the complex and contested nature of “legality,” a putatively simple concept that lies at the nexus between state and non-state land governance schemes.

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