Governing intensification: The influence of state institutions on smallholder farming strategies in Calakmul, Mexico

Authors: Carlos Dobler-Morales*, Clark University, Rinku Roy Chowdhury, Clark Univeristy, Birgit Schmook, ECOSUR-Chetumal
Topics: Land Use, Cultural and Political Ecology, Latin America
Keywords: agricultural intensification, smallholders, land-sparing, swidden, conservation policy
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/5/2019
Start / End Time: 1:10 PM / 2:50 PM
Room: Coolidge, Marriott, Mezzanine Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Across forest frontiers, smallholder farming livelihoods frequently remain uneasily juxtaposed with conservation interests. In both research and policy arenas, agricultural intensification is often considered a viable means of reconciling competing environmental and livelihood objectives given its potential to concentrate agricultural production on less land. These 'land-sparing' strategies, however, may have unintended consequences such as the loss of resilient agricultural systems and degradation of fragile environments. The socio-ecological risks of smallholder agricultural intensification warrants a better understanding of its drivers. This study uses the case of Calakmul, Mexico, to examine the critical role that the state plays in intensification processes. Drawing from household survey data and key-informant interviews, the study traces the linkages between multiple state institutions and local farming practices. Statistical analysis and qualitative insights reveal how intensification is both incentivized and imposed by prevailing policies, the former via subsidies and the latter via regulations against crop field rotations. The outcome—longer cultivation periods between fallows and increased use of external inputs—may undermine the sustainability of smallholders’ agro-ecosystems, an undesirable consequence in a setting where viable livelihood alternatives remain limited.

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