Abstract

Oil palm (Elaeis guineensis) has become one of the most rapidly expanding crops in the world. Many countries have promoted its cultivation as part of a broader rural development strategy aimed at generating paid work and producing both export commodities and biofuels. However, oil palm expansion has often occurred at the expense of ecosystems and subsistence agriculture, and on lands riddled with tenure conflicts. In this article, we analyse the implications of the combined effect of labouring in oil palm plantations and land access on households, and we discuss how these implications affect human well-being in two indigenous communities of the Polochic valley, Guatemala. Combining participant observation, semi-structured interviews, and land-time budget analysis at household level, we reveal how oil palm cultivation increases incomes for plantation workers' households, but decreases the productivity of maize cultivation, reduces the time that household members have available for other activities and, particularly, reduces women's resting time. In contrast, households that focus more intensively on maize cultivation show higher degrees of food security and women can allocate more time to social activities. However, our results also show that maize consumption per capita has not decreased in households working in oil palm plantations since such crop is considered sacred by the Q'eqchi' and plays a central role in their diet and culture. In conclusion, we argue that while working for an oil palm cultivation can increase specific elements of the basic material conditions for a good life, other aspects such as food security, health, freedom of choice, and social relationships can become deteriorated. © 2014 Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)841-871
JournalEnvironment, Development and Sustainability
Volume16
Issue number4
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2014

Keywords

  • Gender
  • Guatemala
  • Indigenous communities
  • Palm oil
  • Societal metabolism
  • Well-being indicators

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