During the last decade there has been an explosion of large-scale monocultural plantations in the Global South. Forest areas are increasingly being converted into massive plantions of cash crops, bio fuel and fast growing trees. This has been especially prevalent in Asia where growing populations and economies have spured the demand for plantation crops. When a plantation is established the land is first cleared of the earlier vegetation and both new high-yielding crops and laborers are brought in from elsewhere. To this end plantations carry a troubling history of slavery and exploitation of laborers. Moreover, plantations lead to the catatrophic destruction of ecosystems and undermine the livelihoods of indigenous peoples and other local communities. In this seminar we will discuss the expansion of agroindustries in Asia, taking the example of palm oil and tea plantions.   

Kevin Woods received his training as a political ecologist and human geographer at Yale University and UC Berkeley, currently an Adjunct Faculty at the Department of Geography and Environment, University of Honolulu at Mānoa, and Adjunct Fellow at the East-West Center in Honolulu, Hawai'I, with a focus on natural resources and ethnic-based conflict. His geographic focus is mainland Southeast Asia, particularly Burma (Myanmar), where he has worked for nearly two decades. In addition to his academic work he has also acted as a policy analyst for several international non-profits on environmental governance reforms in war and post-conflict settings, and he considers himself a scholar-activist in his collaborative and participatory research projects that have arisen out of deep engagements with the ethnic communities who live in armed conflict zones who wish to have help in narrating their predicaments and in better understanding the larger forces impacting their communities. For many years he worked as a Senior Policy Analyst at Forest Trends in Washington, DC, where he managed their resource governance decentralization and peace building program for Southeast Asia/Burma.

Bengt G. Karlsson is professor of Social Anthropology, Stockholm University. He has been guest researcher at the North-Bengal University, the University College London, the University of Chicago and the North-East Hill University and has also held the position as Director of the Nordic Centre in India (www.nordiccentreindia.com). Karlsson’s main research interest relate to the larger issue of society-environment interface, with particular focus on the politics of ethnicity and environment in India. Most recently he has completed a project on indigenous migration in Northeast India. The main publication of the project is the book Leaving the land: Indigenous Migration and Affective Labor in India (Cambridge University Press). Most recently Karlsson is leading a project entitled Assam Tea, Kenya: The Travel of Seeds, Clones and Science Between India and Kenya; with British Institute in Eastern Africa (BIEA), Nairobi, and Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS), Guwahati. Karlsson is presently also a senior research fellow at BIEA and is involved in the multi-authored book project called Nairobi Becoming.