Yann le Polain de Waroux

Associate Professor
Yann le Polain de Waroux
Contact Information

Burnside Hall Room 311

Email address: 
yann.lepolaindewaroux [at] mcgill.ca
Research areas: 
Land use and land cover change
Environment and development
Latin America
Current research: 

My research focuses on issues related to land-use and land cover change, the environment, and development, mostly in and around agricultural frontiers of Latin America. Much of my recent work has centered on the Gran Chaco region in Paraguay, Argentina and Bolivia, but students in my group also work on issues related to land use and livelihoods in other areas. I have three main research projects at the moment.

Understanding the expansion of agricultural commodity frontiers
The challenges and contradictions of sustainable development are nowhere more apparent than in agricultural commodity frontiers — places where commodity agriculture expands over natural environments —, which some see as an opportunity for economic growth, while other experience as an ecological and social catastrophe. Agricultural frontiers have been studied for a long time, but their dynamics are changing: in recent decades they have been increasingly driven by capitalized agriculture operating with minimal government intervention. We study the implications of this shift through the case of the Gran Chaco, a dry woodland ecosystem that has experienced among the highest deforestation rates in the world over the last two decades (see our papers on commodity frontiers and on transnational producer cohorts in the Gran Chaco).

Resilience and sustainability of smallholders in commodity frontiers of the Gran Chaco
Commodity frontiers undergo rapid changes in social and environmental conditions, which make them particularly vulnerable to environmental degradation and social conflicts. In this context, smallholders who inhabit these frontier areas often cannot compete on equal terms with expanding commercial agriculture. While some manage to halt expansion locally, e.g., by successfully filing land claims, in most cases they are forced to develop alternative livelihood strategies to accommodate these new landscapes. In this line of investigation, we try to understand the many ways in which these people adapt their livelihoods in rapidly evolving frontiers (see our papers on smallholder access restrictions in commodity frontiers and their impacts on smallholder livelihoods).

Mennonite colonies and the role of culture in land use change
Studies of land use change commonly assume that decisions to use land in a certain way are made by economically rational actors trying to maximize profits. This assumption ignores the fact that many of the decisions people make are influenced by values, beliefs, norms - things that, for lack of a better word, we call "culture". In order to approach the question of how culture influences land-use, we study the land-use dynamics of Low-German Mennonites, a religious group with a long history of migration and territorial expansion in Latin America. Looking at the way that religious and cultural imperatives guide land-use decisions in this particular community can, we believe, help scholars of land use change better understand how culture may shape land-use decisions worldwide (see our papers on the role of culture in land system science and on Mennonite expansion in Latin America).

For more information on my and my group’s research, please refer to the lab’s website: https://lendev.weebly.com/.

Selected publications: 
  • del Giorgio, O., Robinson, B.E. and le Polain de Waroux, Y. (2022) Impacts of Agricultural Commodity Frontier Expansion on Smallholder Livelihoods: An Assessment through the Lens of Access to Land and Resources in the Argentine Chaco. Journal of Rural Studies 93 (July 2022): 67–80. Versión en castellano aquí.
  • del Giorgio, O., Messager, M.L. and le Polain de Waroux, Y.. (2021) Fenced off: Measuring Growing Restrictions on Resource Access for Smallholders in the Argentine Chaco. Applied Geography 134: 102530. Versión en castellano aquí.
  • le Polain de Waroux, Y., Garrett, R., Chapman, M., Friis, C., Hoelle, J., Hodel. L., Hopping, K., and Zaehringer, J.G. (2021) The Role of Culture in Land System Science. Journal of Land Use Science, July 25, 2021, 1–17.
  • le Polain de Waroux, Y., Neumann, J., O’Driscoll, A., and Schreiber, K. (2021). Pious Pioneers: The Expansion of Mennonite Colonies in Latin America. Journal of Land Use Science, December 15, 2020, 1–17. Versión en castellano aquí. Deutsche Version hier. Data available here.
  • le Polain de Waroux, Y. (2019). Capital has no homeland: The formation of transnational producer cohorts in South America’s commodity frontiers. Geoforum 105: 131-144. Versión en castellano aquí).
  • le Polain de Waroux, Y., Garrett, R. D., Graesser, J., Nolte, C., White, C., & Lambin, E. F. (2019). The restructuring of South American soy and beef production and trade under changing environmental regulations. World Development 121: 188–202.
  • le Polain de Waroux, Y., Baumann, M., Gasparri, N.I., Gavier-Pizarro, G., Godar, J., Kuemmerle, T., Müller, R., Vázquez, F., Volante, J.N. & Meyfroidt, P. (2018) Rents, actors, and the expansion of commodity frontiers in the Gran Chaco. Annals of the Association of American Geographers 108(1):204-225. Pre-print pdf. Versión en castellano aquí.
  • le Polain de Waroux, Y., Garrett, R., Heilmayr, R., & Lambin, E.F. (2016). Land use policies and corporate investments in agriculture in the Gran Chaco. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 113(15): 4021-4026.
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