Political Economy of Agriculture in the Yazoo Delta: How Federal Policies Shape Environmental Quality, Livelihood Possibilities and Social Justice

EPA Grant Number: F6C20117
Title: Political Economy of Agriculture in the Yazoo Delta: How Federal Policies Shape Environmental Quality, Livelihood Possibilities and Social Justice
Investigators: Mcdonald, Moira T.
Institution: University of Minnesota
EPA Project Officer: Lee, Sonja
Project Period: September 1, 2006 through September 1, 2009
Project Amount: $73,784
RFA: STAR Graduate Fellowships (2006) RFA Text |  Recipients Lists
Research Category: Academic Fellowships , Environmental Justice , Fellowship - Geography , Ecological Indicators/Assessment/Restoration


Research in US agricultural geography largely examines the global transformation of the food system, charting how changes in technology and transportation have restructured commodity chains across national boundaries. However, the role of national policy in supporting agricultural production as well as the socio-economic and environmental results of that policy are little studied. This dissertation examines the development and results of federal agricultural and flood control in the policy of the Yazoo Delta in the state of Mississippi. Specifically, this project explores whether federal agriculture and flood control policy play a role in perpetuating historical economic and environmental inequality – in particular disparately along racial lines.


This research examine a proposed flood control project in the Yazoo Delta as a case study through which to study the distribution of the benefits of federal natural resrouce policy. Three research questions guide this project:

  • What is the relationship among federal agricultural and flood control policies, economic and racial inequities, and regional environmental quality?
  • What key internal and external forces drive the ways that USDA and the Corps implement agricultural policy and flood control projects in the Yazoo Delta?
  • Do specific discourses around nature and race that enter into debates over flood control and agricultural intensification serve to obscure racial and economic inequality by pitting environmental and agricultural interests against one another

I will address these questions though a qualitative analysis of agency documents, print media, and archival materials. These materials are complemented by a series of interviews with personnel from the USDA and the Corps of Engineers, regional farmers and environmental groups to gain further insights into these questions. Finally, the project includes a spatial, quantitative analysis to examine the distribution of the benefits of flood control and agricultural policy with attention to the socio-economic results of these policies.

Expected Results:

I anticipate several results of my work. First, despite claims about globalization reducing the importance of nation states, my work will show that on the national level, governmental action and policy remain central to environmental issues. Second, interrogation of the meanings and implications of race, nature, and the state is essential in appreciating how social equity and environmental quality depend on discursive as well as material processes. Finally, this regional analysis will inform the debates on the costs and benefits of flood control policy by highlighting the socio-economic and environmental effects of flood control.

Supplemental Keywords:

Flood control, agriculture, Yazoo Delta, Corps of Engineers, US Department of Agriculture, environmental quality, racial disparity, economic inequality,, RFA, Economic, Social, & Behavioral Science Research Program, Scientific Discipline, Geographic Area, environmental justice, State, Social Science, socioeconomically disadvantaged, Mississippi (MS), cultural differences, demographics, political economy, low income community, marginalized communities

Progress and Final Reports:

  • 2007
  • 2008
  • Final