Globalization and commodity exports have a long history in affecting land use changes and land rights on the tropical forest frontier. This paper reviews a century of social and environmental discourse around land issues for four commodities grown in the humid tropics—rubber, cocoa, oil palm and bananas. States have exercised sovereign rights over land and forest resources and the outcomes for deforestation and land rights of existing users have been quite varied depending on local institutional contexts and political economy. In the current period of globalization, as land use changes associated with tropical commodities have accelerated, land issues are now at center stage in the global discourse. However, efforts to protect forests and the rights of local communities and indigenous groups continue to be ad hoc
and codification of minimum standards and their implementation remains a work in progress. Given a widespread failure of state directed policies and institutions to curb deforestation and protect land rights, the private sector, with the exception of the rubber industry, is emphasizing voluntary standards to certify sustainability of their products. This is an important step but expectations that they will effectively address concerns about the impact of tropical commodities expansion might be too high, given their voluntary nature, demand constraints, and the challenge of including smallholders. It is also doubtful that private standards can more than partially compensate for long standing weaknesses in land governance and institutions on the forest frontier.
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