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Smallholder agricultural realities and imaginaries in western Guatemala's context of agrarian extractivism

Authors: Claudia Radel*, Utah State University, Birgit Schmook, El Colegio de la Frontera Sur, Mexico, Lindsey Carte, Universidad de la Frontera, Chile, Richard Johnson, University of Arizona
Topics: Cultural and Political Ecology, Latin America
Keywords: Green Revolution, smallholders, land, agriculture, hunger
Session Type: Paper
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


In many places across the world, semi-subsistence, smallholder farming activities exist side-by-side largescale, industrial and extractivist agriculture as an outcome of the Green Revolution unfolding in simultaneously uneven and dualistic terms. Over the last decade, Guatemala has witnessed a notable rise in extractivist agricultural production, including of sugarcane in the Pacific lowlands. Our research, in five smallholder farming communities in the Department of Retalhuleu, explores the realities and imaginaries of community members who have found themselves surrounded by expanding sugarcane cultivation on large consolidating tracts of land, with little to no state support for their smallholder production. Simultaneously, these communities have experienced increasing vulnerability to drought and steady emigration of residents to the United States. We draw on a survey of nearly 200 households, 17 in-depth interviews, and 4 focus groups, from fieldwork from 2013 to 2015, with re-visit in 2018. As residents attempt to face challenges of falling harvests and growing food insecurity, they work hard to try replicate the "modern" approaches of the Green Revolution and blame themselves for inadequate knowledge, expressing a hunger for the technical assistance of the state. Despite being surrounded by industrialized agriculture, with all its negative effects on their own production and wellbeing, smallholders wish for improved seeds, pesticides and fertilizers to increment their own production and produce beyond subsistence. Our research illuminates how smallholders’ imaginaries for their own agricultural success internalize and are deeply entrenched in a modern green revolution that continues to depend on their marginalization.

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