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Political economic barriers to global change adaptations: a study of agrarian rural development in northwest Costa Rica

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This is a study of the plight of smallholder agriculture in Northwest Costa Rica. More specifically, this is the story of 689 rice farms, of an average size of 7.2

This is a study of the plight of smallholder agriculture in Northwest Costa Rica. More specifically, this is the story of 689 rice farms, of an average size of 7.2 hectares and totaling just less than 5,300 hectares within the largest agricultural irrigation system in Central America. I was able to define the physical bounds of this study quite clearly, but one would be mistaken to think that this simplicity transfers to a search for rural development solutions in this case. Those solutions lie in the national and international politics that appear to have allowed a select few to pick winners and losers in Costa Rican agriculture in the face of global changes. In this research, I found that water scarcity among smallholder farms between 2006 and 2013 was the product of the adaptations of other, more powerful actors in 2002 to threats of Costa Rica's ratification of the Central American Free Trade Agreement. I demonstrate how the adaptations of these more powerful actors produced new risks for others, and how this ultimately prevented the rural development program from meeting its development goals. I reflect on my case study to draw conclusions about the different ways risks may emerge in rural development programs of this type. Then, I focus on the household level and show that determinants of successful adaptation to one type of global change risk may make farmers more vulnerable to other types, creating a "catch-22" among vulnerable farmers adapting to multiple global change risks. Finally, I define adaptation limits in smallholder rice farming in Northwest Costa Rica. I show that the abandonment of livelihood security and well-being, and of the unique "parcelaro" identities of rice farmers in this region define adaptation limits in this context.

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  • 2014