Is Oil Palm Expansion a Challenge to Agroecology? Smallholders Practising Industrial Farming in Mexico

Antonio Castellanos-Navarrete*, Kees Jansen

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

29 Citations (Scopus)


Agroecology has become a powerful alternative paradigm for rural development. In contrast to conventional approaches, this paradigm shifts the emphasis from technology and markets to local knowledge, social justice and food sovereignty, to overcome rural poverty and environmental degradation. However, the spread of this approach faces several obstacles. This paper deals with one of these obstacles: the 'preference' of smallholders for industrial farming. We specifically analyse the widespread uptake up of oil palm by smallholders in Chiapas. Contrary to agro-ecological assumptions, oil palm proved favourable to smallholders in Chiapas because of historical and contemporary state-peasant relations and the advantageous economic circumstances within the oil palm sector. Based on this research, we identify four challenges for agroecology: (i) the existence of contradictory interests within the peasantry as a result of social differentiation; (ii) the role of the state in making conventional development models relatively favourable to smallholders; (iii) the prevalence of modernization ideologies in many rural areas; and (iv) the need for this paradigm to acknowledge smallholders' agency also when engaged in industrial farming. These challenges need to be tackled for agroecology to offer viable alternatives in a context of agro-industrialization.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)132-155
JournalJournal of Agrarian Change
Issue number1
Early online date2016
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2018


  • Agrarian change
  • Agroecology
  • Mexico
  • Political ecology
  • Smallholders


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