Sustainable sourcing of agricultural commodities, spill-over effects, and global-local relations

PhD fellow: Pin Pravalprukskul

University of Copenhagen (Denmark)

My current research interests are in sustainable and just agrarian transitions, especially for smallholder farmers and marginalized groups. Before joining COUPLED, I was a research associate at the Stockholm Environment Institute in Bangkok. My work addressed sustainable development issues in Southeast and South Asia, including climate change adaptation and mitigation, gender and social equality in natural resource management, agriculture and rural livelihoods, sustainable production and consumption, and urbanization. I have a bachelor’s degree in environmental studies from Wellesley College and a master’s in sustainable agricultural development from the University of Copenhagen and Montpellier SupAgro. My master’s thesis examined the climate change mitigation potential of agroforestry smallholders in Kenya.

COUPLED is an exciting opportunity for me to examine agrarian transitions in the Mekong region of Southeast Asia, my home region, and the environmental and social impacts of these rapid, large-scale changes. I will focus on maize-growing areas in the marginal uplands of Thailand and neighboring countries. There, smallholders are at the center of conflicting agribusiness, development and conservation interests, and their land-use decisions dramatically transform landscapes and livelihoods. I aim to examine these processes of change and their outcomes by integrating place-based approaches with broader systems and power analyses. I would like my research to challenge private and public stakeholders to think beyond dominant development and conservation narratives when considering the impacts of their policies and decisions.

As a researcher, I am exploring feminist and decolonizing approaches to research, with the goal of transforming both the process and substance of research for more inclusive and just outcomes. I also care deeply about communicating scientific and environmental issues in engaging and impactful ways.

My research will examine how efforts to source commodity crops more sustainably in one place may cause unsustainable crop production systems to spillover to other places, and how land use and livelihoods change as a result.


Cash crop booms for export markets have transformed much of the forested uplands of mainland Southeast Asia. However, the localized nature of these crop booms masks the dynamics of why and how these crop booms spread, especially across country borders. This project takes point of departure in Thailand, where smallholder maize cultivation has expanded across the northern uplands to feed a rapidly growing livestock industry that exports to other Asian countries and the EU. Yet, as agribusinesses seek an ever-increasing supply of maize, sustainability advocates in Thailand seek to curb its cultivation, as its expansion has caused widespread deforestation and increased chemical use, soil erosion and haze from residue burning. Conflicting pressures such as these are thought to be shifting the sourcing of maize away from Thailand, causing maize booms to spillover to neighboring countries, often in an ungoverned manner. Therefore, sustainable sourcing efforts in Thailand may lead to the expansion of systems that are considered unsustainable elsewhere, as well as unintentional feedback effects. This project aims to dissect the complex cross-border connections between these land-use systems by tracing the changing flows of maize between Thailand and neighboring countries, examining how these flows are governed through a network of actors, and exploring the associated place-based land use, environmental, and livelihood outcomes on both sides of the border.

The research will lead to

  •  Creation of knowledge on how to analyze flows that link cross-border land systems

  • Development of new approaches that integrate place-based data sets of a multidisciplinary nature with flow-based analyses

  • Development of methodologies to attribute impacts to drivers in telecoupled land use systems

Principal Supervisor: Thilde Bech Bruun (University of Copenhagen, Section for Geography, Department of Geosciences and Natural Resource Management)


Pin Pravalprukskul

University of Copenhagen, Section for Geography
Øster Voldgade 10, 1350 København K, Denmark