Beyond the boom-bust cycle: An interdisciplinary framework for analysing crop booms

Related GLP Member: Jean-Christophe Castella, Juliet Lu, Cecilie Friis, Thilde Bech Bruun, Victoria Junquera, Christine Ornetsmüller, Pin Pravalprukskul


  • Crop booms spur land transformations, social change, and environmental degradation.
  • The speed, extent, and complexity of actors involved make them difficult to study and govern.
  • A new analytical framework based on empirical case studies and theories is presented.
  • The framework improves crop boom research through interdisciplinary approaches.
  • The framework facilitates identifying leverage points and sustainable alternatives.


The expansion of commercial agriculture is one of the primary drivers of livelihood and land-use changes in the world. Globalisation and other factors have intensified this expansion to the point where booms in single cash crops overtake entire regions before going bust, a pattern that is particularly pervasive in resource frontiers. Using case studies across the Mekong Region, a place which serves as a harbinger for crop booms globally, we propose a new analytical framework for understanding and governing crop booms. We combine multiple theoretical approaches to study crop booms and draw on insights from case study work conducted across temporal and spatial scales. The framework consists of three components: 1) the nested nature of crop boom-bust trajectories, 2) the cyclical spatial and temporal patterns of crop booms, and 3) the variegated pathways and impacts of agrarian change. The framework presents new insights into the processes of agricultural intensification in frontier spaces. As such, it facilitates a better understanding of the drivers, characteristics and impacts of crop booms for researchers and decision-makers alike with the intention of supporting efforts to develop more sustainable pathways in the region and beyond.