The Politics of Flex crops and Commodities

Implications for research and policy advocacy
20 June 2014

Flex crops are crops that can be used for food, feed, fuel or industrial material. Their emergence as critical global commodities is integral to understanding today's agroindustrial economy. 

This paper is the first in our series about flex crops: Think Piece Series on Flex Crops & Commodities. 

This discussion paper offers a preliminary exploration of the concept and phenomenon of “flex crops and commodities”, building on an earlier and initial analysis and abbreviated idea put forward by some of the authors of this paper.

We discuss the dual concepts of the “multiple-ness” and “flexible-ness” of crops and commodities as two distinct but intertwined dimensions of some key crops and commodities.

These key crops and commodities are shaped by the changing global context that is itself (re)moulded in large part by the convergence of multiple crises and the various responses to those crises. Building on these dual concepts, we will identify and explain the minimum requirements for crop and commodity flexing.

We will also try to typologize the various types of crop and commodity flexing, namely, “real flexing”, “anticipated/speculated flexing”, and “imagined flexing”—to allow for a deeper examination of these interrelated processes.

The boundaries between these categories (multiple/flexible, real, anticipated and imagined) are not always clearly demarcated, requiring us to examine the issue of flex crops and commodities in a more interlinked manner.

We will focus our initial exploration on the political dynamics of such interactions and intersections, looking into the factors that encourage or discourage, facilitate or hinder maximization of the “multiple-ness” and/or “flexible-ness” of particular crops and commodities.

Finally, and as a way of closing, we will outline the implications of these dynamics for how we think of engaged research, public actions and policy advocacy, including a brief discussion of what we call “flex policy narratives” by governments and corporations.