Farming and resistance : survival strategies of smallholder farmers in Puerto Rico




Avilés-Vázquez, Katia Raquel

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Agriculture in Puerto Rico has declined sharply since industrialization of the island in the early part of the 20th Century. Rural towns withered as people migrated to the cities, and the landscape was transformed with forested areas increasing as agricultural land decreased. Reduction in the farming population and loss of agricultural lands in concert with increases in forested areas has led to a discourse that agriculture is a thing of the past and antagonistic to economic progress. This dissertation draws from cultural and political ecology, as well as critical ethnography and rural sociology, to analyze the present-day status of small holder farmers in Puerto Rico and ascertain some of the production strategies and tactics utilized by these farmers. I worked with agricultural organizations in order to determine the networks and adaptations that farmers employ in adapting to an increasingly difficult socioeconomic environment. The greatest threats to these smallholder farmers are a lack of access to land, loss of community networks and knowledge, and one size fits all policies designed for larger land holdings and based on antiquated economic systems that depend on “cheap”, heavily subsidized labor. To survive, small-scale farmers have: (1) redistributed their social capital, (2) diversified both the use of their farms and household income, (3) expanded the geographic reach of their networks using tools such as the internet, and (4) created new marketing chains to access consumers directly. On the landscape, smallholder farmers are intensifying their use of small plots of land while leaving larger tracts in reserve. I use the findings and observations of this research to present recommendations for breaking out of the cycle of subsistence poverty. Finally, just as small-scale farmers are adapting the ways they interact among themselves and with the land, the findings of this study suggest that the way farmers are viewed and defined must be reconsidered in order to create policies that serve the agricultural sector.


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