Left Behind: A Farmer’s Fate in the Age of Sustainable Development Dissertation

(2010). Left Behind: A Farmer’s Fate in the Age of Sustainable Development . 10.25148/etd.FI10120302

thesis or dissertation chair


  • Melo, Cristian J.


  • Globalization is eroding the livelihoods of small farmers, a significant and vulnerable class, particularly in the developing world. The cost-price squeeze stemming from trade liberalization places farmers in a race to the bottom that leads to displacement, poverty, and environmental degradation. Scholars and activists have proposed that alternative trade initiatives offer a unique opportunity to reverse this trend by harnessing the power of the markets to reward producers of goods with embedded superior cultural, environmental, and social values. Alternative trade via certification schemes have become a de facto prescription for any location where there is a need to conciliate economic interest with conservation imperatives. Partnerships among commodity production farmers, elite manufacturers and wealthy northern consumers/activists do not necessarily have win-win outcomes. Paradoxically, the partnerships of farmers with external agencies have unexpected results. These partnerships develop into dependent relationships that become unsustainable in the absence of further transfers of capital. The institutions born of these partnerships are fragile. When these fledging institutions fail, farmers are left in the same situation that they were before the partnership, with only minor improvements to show after spending considerable amounts of social and financial capital. I hypothesize that these failures are born out of a belief in a universal understanding of sustainability. A discursive emphasis on consensus, equity and mutual benefit hides the fact that what for consumers it is a matter of choice, for producers is a matter of survival. The growth in consumers’ demand for certified products creates a race for farmers to meet these standards. My findings suggest that this race generates economically perverse effects. First, producers enter into a certification treadmill. Second, the local need for economic sustainability is ignored. Third, commodity based alternative trade schemes increase the exposure of communities to global shocks. I conclude by calling for a careful reassessment of sustainable development projects that promote certification schemes. The designers and implementers of these programs must include farmers’ agenda in the planning of these programs.

publication date

  • November 8, 2010


  • Ecuador
  • agriculture
  • cacao
  • cocoa
  • development
  • farmer
  • international
  • sustainable

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)