My research in this area examines how political-economic processes and policies shape extractive agrarian capitalism from the rise of flex crops and commodities complexes at different scales in Latin America. Governments in this region have deployed ambitious projects for the expansion of higher-value commodities advocating for the “mutually reinforcing … relationship of economic growth, nature protection and social equity objectives”. In agriculture, sustainability is predicated upon the combination of the efficient use of modern cultivation techniques, agroecological zoning to avoid deforestation and increased labor control through contract farming and international certifications. Using the oil palm expansion in Brazil and Mexico as a paradigmatic case of extractive agrarian capitalist initiatives I focus on two aspects: (a) negotiations and conflicts between local communities, small farmers, the state and agribusiness regarding sustainable policies and practices and social justice; and (b) the impact of these policies and arrangements in the human well-being of the communities living close to the plantations.


My current SSHRC-funded research, for example,  proposes a transdisciplinary methodology that brings social knowledge on environmental degradation into dialogue with biophysical data sources, to explore the impact of recent large-scale oil palm expansion on water resources and local livelihoods in Latin America, with an initial focus on the Brazilian Amazon. Our previous research on community perceptions of environmental impacts of oil palm expansion in ten communities nearby plantations in the Amazonian state of Pará showed that community participants were mainly concerned about river and stream pollution, and the reduction of fish populations and game meat caused by monocrop expansion. Water resources are vital for livelihoods in these communities because they provide drinking water and serve as the main source of artisanal subsistence fishing and hunting for Quilombolas (Afro-Brazilians), riparian, and indigenous social groups.

I am conducting this research in partnership with colleagues at the Laboratory of Ecology and Conservation at the Federal University of Pará in Brazil and local leaders interested to know how oil palm expansion is related to illness and pollution, and access to livelihoods in the communities we study.


Córdoba, D., Juen, L., Selfa, T., Peredo, A.M., Fogaça-Montag L., and Sombra, D. (2019) Understanding Local Perceptions of the Impacts of Large-Scale Oil Palm Plantations on Ecosystem Services in the Brazilian Amazon.Forest Policy and Economics, 109.

Córdoba, D.

Selfa, T., Abrams, J. and Sombra, D. (2018) Family Farming, Agribusiness and the State: Building consent around oil palm expansion in post-neoliberal Brazil.

Journal of Rural Studies 57, 147-156 [PDF]

Popular Writing

Silva E. and Córdoba, D. Indigenous and Afro-Brazilian lands are under greater threat in Brazil during COVID-19. The Conversation, July 2, 2020.

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