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Deutsches Institut für Japanstudien

Dying Geese: The International Political Ecology of the Asian Shrimp Aquaculture and Eucalyptus Plantation Industries

June 28, 2000 / 6.30 P.M.

Derek Hall, Cornell University

The mid-to-late 1980s witnessed the emergence in Southeast Asia of an intensive shrimp-farming industry and of eucalyptus plantation forestry oriented to the production of paper pulp. The development of these sectors was spurred initially by the Japanese market for shrimp and paper, and later by rapid economic growth in the Eastern Asian region as a whole. Both industries were strongly supported by national governments, international lenders, and local and multinational capital. Shrimp farming in particular came to dominate large sections of Southeast Asian coastline and became a key source of foreign exchange for several countries, and at one point the government of Thailand envisioned planting vast swathes of the country’s surface to eucalyptus monoculture.

However, both sectors have been plagued by problems which have prevented them from achieving the heights envisioned in the late 1980s, and which have limited their ability to supply Japanese demand. Across Southeast Asia, shrimp farming has been characterized by boom-and-bust cycles as disease epidemics, salinization, and water pollution have forced the industry to relocate in a quote;slash-and-burnquote; pattern. In Thailand, attempts to evict quote;squattersquote; living in reserve forests to make way for eucalyptus plantations led to a state of near civil war in the Northeast, and a number of projects were canceled as a result of anti-eucalyptus protest.

In this talk, I will argue that the field of International Political Economy (IPE) cannot come to terms with cases such as these without considering sectoral environmental particularities as important causal forces. IPE writing on the environment has largely been limited to the analysis of the politics of international environmental agreements, and has thus failed to address the causal power of actual environmental change. However, explaining these cases of regionalization requires the use of insights gained from studies of quote;political ecologyquote; and industrial environmental particularities in other fields. I will also show that the involvement of the Japanese government and of Japanese corporations in Southeast Asian shrimp farming and eucalyptus plantations has been shaped by sectoral environmental particularities. Finally, I will argue that these two sectors force us to reconsider quote;flying geesequote; models of regionalization and demand that the process of regionalization be conceptualized in part as the spatial expansion of capitalist relations in land.

Derek Hall is a Ph.D. Candidate in Government at Cornell University and currently a Visiting Researcher at the University of Tokyo’s Institute of Social Science.