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The political economy of ‘flex trees’: a preliminary analysis

Kröger, Markus
The Journal of peasant studies 2016 v.43 no.4 pp. 886-909
bioeconomics, forest industries, forestry, politics, processing technology, products and commodities, trees
With the rise of ‘bioeconomy’, trees are receiving increasing attention. This contribution conducts a preliminary analysis of the trajectories and the main drivers of change in the rise of new, flexible and multiple uses of trees. It assesses the political dimensions involved in this transformation, which is simultaneously ongoing, anticipated and imagined. Notes are offered on the issues to be considered when the flex-crop framework is operationalized to include the study of trees, and additional conceptualizations that help in analyzing the political economy of tree uses are provided. Areas needing further empirical study are identified and a preliminary research agenda is suggested. The flexible and multiple use of trees and tree-derived commodities is having a large impact on power relations in the global political economy of forestry and the forest industry, the asymmetry of which is based on who is best able to flex or de-multiply, thereby controlling commodity webs and processing technology. It is argued that while flexing seems to increase diversity, in practice it typically increases this only for the processing industry; the converse occurs in terms of the unification of the productive base into monocultures. However, these two processes go hand in hand, and illustrate how flexing is a deeply capitalist process.