Linking political ecology with ecological economics in tree plantation conflicts in Cameroon and Ecuador
Industrial tree plantations are rapidly expanding worldwide and notably causing a growing number of conflicts between companies and local populations. Such conflicts -- the focus of the article -- have been neglected by ecological economists although there is a proliferation of related reports by environmental non-governmental organizations. This paper uses empirical evidence to show how elements of political ecology and ecological economics can be combined for understanding the languages of valuation deployed in tree plantation conflicts in Southern countries. Combining qualitative fieldwork on a Cameroonian rubber plantation and an Ecuadorian eucalypt plantation with a methodological framework taken from the study of social metabolism, we find that both conflicts (although with different emphasis) arise because of land and biomass appropriation, ground clearing, pollution from agrochemicals, and water shortage and are expressed as conflicts on valuation. The metabolism of such tree plantations, through the exchanges of materials with the local environment, explains the bio-physical basis of such conflicts. In the Cameroon case, resistance is mainly sporadic and individual, while in Ecuador, a grassroots organization has been able to respond to rural demands in a structured way. Both patterns of resistance are found in other present-day resource extraction conflicts.
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