Capitalism and Climate Change: Critical Perspectives on the Livelihood Experiences of Jamaican Smallholder Specialty Coffee Farmers

Authors: Anne-Teresa Birthwright*, The University of the West Indies
Topics: Rural Geography, Global Change, Social Theory
Keywords: Jamaica, Coffee, Power, Vulnerability, Climate Change, Capitalism
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/6/2019
Start / End Time: 9:55 AM / 11:35 AM
Room: Regency Ballroom, Omni, West
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Coffee is at the heart of Jamaica’s history, culture, geography and economy. Historically, its coffee producing landscapes were once shaped by the political economy of colonial production through European capitalist establishment and expansion, which thrived in shaping the dependency of the sector. This has since been maintained in what may now be considered as a modified capitalist coffee plantation system, with distinct hierarchal landscapes. The sector therefore operates in a socio-economically complex environment shaped by power relationships among direct and indirect actors, while positioned within the broader framework of a changing climate and the global capitalist system.
Using a mixed methods approach, this paper presents findings on how the Jamaican specialty coffee sector is already experiencing the projected impacts of climate change, through increased temperatures, variable rainfall and increased incidences of pest and diseases. Smallholder coffee farming livelihoods have recently become increasingly sensitive and vulnerable to these changes. Additionally, as farmers engage in an imperfect capitalist structure, they also become exposed to the demands of the global market, even as the advancement of neo-liberal policies continues to inform national strategies that promote unjust outcomes. Hence, smallholder farmers constantly face the battle of safeguarding their livelihoods through the midst of occupying marginal lands, increasingly high levels of capital investments for farm inputs, and meager returns in the coffee value chain. These smallholder coffee farmers who are environmentally constrained, lack market power (knowledge) and sufficient resources to increase their adaptive capacity, therefore have limited or no ‘exit strategies’ into other livelihood options.

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