Skip to Main content

Commodity frontiers

The search for materials to supply the countries at the centre of the global economy has already extended into the most remote corners of the world. To some extent, this is due to resource scarcity, as the most accessible deposits have been exhausted. Since we are very near the Hubbert peak in oil extraction, the search for oil has expanded to pristine territories such as the Amazon, and under the world’s oceans into the sea bed.

These ‘commodity frontiers’ (Moore, 2000) are sometimes inhabited by indigenous peoples who have conserved biodiversity. In South America, some of these peoples have not been previously contacted by the outside world. The ‘commodity frontiers’ for metals are places where the ores are rich, however distant they are from the centres of consumption.

Mining companies move into new territories looking for old or new metals or other materials (coal, gas, uranium). At other times, the ‘commodity frontiers’ are situated in new territories suitable for their climate conditions for crops or other materials for the production of inputs for global economic centres. Sugarcane, tea, coffee and soybean plantations are examples of commodity frontiers, as are tree plantations for rubber or cellulose, or oil palm plantations for biodiesel. ‘Land grabbing’ comes from the expansion of the frontiers of extraction. The advance of commodity frontiers is driven by economic growth and population growth. However, even without these sources of growth, there would be need for fresh supplies of fossil fuels, metals and biomass. This is because when energy is spent it cannot be recycled (see ‘entropy’), and because materials can only ever be recycled to a limited extent.


Moore, J.W. (2000) Sugar and the expansion of the early modern world-economy: Commodity frontiers, ecological transformation, and industrialization, Review: Fernand Braudel Center, Vol. 23 pp.409 – 433.

Comments are closed.