The Faustian Bargain of Tropical Soybean Production

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I use three case studies in this essay to show that policies promoting commercial soy production in the tropics involve a Faustian Bargain. Faustian Bargains, strictly defined, comprise a conflict one faces when a decision-maker trades one’s ‘‘soul’’ for greater knowledge. Applied more liberally in the context of soybean development, commercial crop technologies, like soybean, offer the potential for improved labor productivity over traditional staples, and as a result, they can provide a pathway out of poverty traps. However, they also may cause considerable changes to traditional norms, cultivation practices, market relationships, natural resources, and the natural environment, hence, the Faustian Bargain. Relevant to this special issue of Tropical Conservation Science, the three case study examples demonstrate how and why commercial crop production requires a shift to intensive input usage. Thus, promoting commercial crops means introducing chemical fertilizers and herbicides into environments where heretofore traditional methods involved little or no inputs other than labor. The Faustian framework involves the tradeoff between potentially greater economic opportunities, but at a cost to traditional norms, practices, and potentially the natural environment.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1-4
Number of pages4
JournalTropical Conservation Science
StatePublished - 2017


  • bargain
  • commercial
  • faustian
  • soybean
  • tropical

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology
  • Nature and Landscape Conservation


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