Agricultural and Social Resiliency of Small-Scale Agriculture to Economic and Climatic Shocks: A Comparison of Subsistence versus Market-Based Agricultural Approaches in Rural Guatemala
Abstract:Agricultural production is heavily dependent not only on climate but also on markets as well as on the social and community systems managing the agroecosystem. In addition, the ultimate goal of agricultural production, human food security, is also affected not only by net agricultural production but also by similar economic and social factors. These complex feedbacks assume a particular importance in the case of smallholder farms in the tropics, where alternative rural development policies have led to different and contrasting agricultural management systems. Current approaches at comparing such systems generally study their environmental, economic or social components in isolation, potentially missing important interconnections.
This research uses a participatory systems dynamics modelling (SDM) framework to compare two small-scale agricultural approaches in rural Guatemala which differ in their social, economic and ecosystem management decisions. The first case study community, in Quiché, has adopted a subsistence-based system that aims to use low levels of outside inputs to produce food for their own consumption, while the second, in Sololá, has opted for market-based agriculture that uses high input levels to obtain marketable crops in order to assure income for the purchase of food and other necessities. Each of these systems has its respective vulnerabilities; while the Sololá community suffers from more environmental degradation issues (soils and pests), the Quiché community, given lower monetary incomes, is more vulnerable to events whose responses require a significant monetary expenditure.
Through the SDM approach, we incorporate local stakeholder knowledge of the respective systems, including biophysical and socioeconomic variables, into a joint biophysical and socioeconomic model for each community. These models then allow for the comparison of the resilience of both types of socio-agroecosystems in the face of climatic, economic and biological shocks, as well as for the participatory use of the models as decision support tools for the participatory design of sustainable solutions to the identified vulnerabilities in each system.