The political economy of sugarcane flexing: Initial insights from Brazil, Southern Africa and Cambodia

Benedict Mckay, S Sauer, B Richardson, R Herre

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

36 Citations (Scopus)


In the context of rising resource demand, agricultural crops such as sugarcane are being promoted for their multiple uses in different commodity markets and as alternatives to fossil fuel equivalents (i.e. as a source of biofuel, bioelectricity and bioplastic). These commodities are also produced on an increasingly flexible basis, as sugarcane mills respond to price signals and switch between different crop uses. This paper offers a preliminary exploration into the politics of this latest development in the capitalist industrialization of agriculture. It does so by focusing primarily on flexing in Brazil and highlighting the role of the state in both creating markets for non-food products that sugarcane mills can now switch between and managing the tensions that arise from this. These tensions have concerned consumer prices for fuel, control of distribution infrastructure and conditions of land conversion, each prompting political interventions by the state. The paper then suggests how this same process is taking place, albeit shaped by different contexts, in Southern Africa and Cambodia. It concludes with some key questions for further research: is flexing eroding the distinction between crop regimes? How do primary processors decide what their product mix will be? And on what basis do state actors support flexing between agricultural products and investments in so-called bio-refineries?
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)195-223
Number of pages28
JournalJournal of Peasant Studies
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 13 May 2015


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