Academic journal article Human Organization

Risk Takers, Risk Makers: Small Farmers and Non-Traditional Agro-Exports in Kenya and Costa Rica

Academic journal article Human Organization

Risk Takers, Risk Makers: Small Farmers and Non-Traditional Agro-Exports in Kenya and Costa Rica

Article excerpt

This article examines the effects of small farmers' competitive strategies on production relations in the non-traditional agro-export sector of the developing world. It uses a comparative case study approach involving cases with different commodity, institutional, and socio-historical features: one involving snow pea production in Kenya, the other involving chayote production in Costa Rica. Despite the contrasting characteristics of each case, small farmers in both areas responded to production and marketing risks by utilizing alternative markets. These strategies, however, decreased their ability to guarantee supply and quality to agro-export firms, which compelled such firms to develop alternative production arrangements that side-stepped small farmers. The findings reveal the limitations of non-traditional agro-export production as a rural development strategy. They also call into question the value of certain strategies as risk-reduction mechanisms for small farmers.

Key words: Non-Traditional Agricultural Exports, Contract Farming, Rural Development

Introduction

Since the 1980s, developing countries have pegged part of their economic growth on the expansion of non-traditional agro-exports, defined as agricultural products not exported previously from a country (Barham et al. 1992). Governments seeking to promote these exports do so with the hopes of earning foreign exchange and finding alternatives to economically stagnant traditional export crops. They also see the agro-export sector as offering some possibility for rural poverty alleviation as it provides market access for small farmers. To this end, development policies have encouraged partnerships between agro-export firms and small fanners so that the latter might access lucrative export markets. As a means to promote rural development, however, non-traditional agro-export promotion has proven problematic. In the short run, small farmers may face such risks as product rejection and price fluctuations. In the long run, they may encounter environmental degradation and land loss. Partnerships with export firms do little to mitigate these challenges and often exacerbate them. Given the limited economic options in rural areas of the developing world, however, many small farmers develop strategies to cope with these challenges rather than withdraw from this sector altogether. In some cases, social scientists have ignored these strategies altogether. In other cases, they have identified some of these strategies, but have failed to look at their impact.

To examine the effects of the competitive strategies developed by small farmers in the non-traditional agro-export sector, this study uses a comparative case study approach. It draws from two very different cases: one involving snow pea production in Kenya, the other involving the production of chayote in Costa Rica. Despite the contrasting characteristics of each case, small farmers in both areas responded to production and marketing risks by utilizing alternative markets for their produce. In both cases, however, these strategies decreased the ability of small farmers to guarantee a consistent supply of produce, quality assurance, and product traceability to agro-export firms. As a result, export firms sought alternative arrangements to procure exports, which side-stepped small farmers. The purpose of this article is to show how small farmers in cases with very different institutional, commodity, and socio-historical features responded to contemporary agro-export risks in a way that threatened their inclusion in global production networks. The findings reveal the limitations of non-traditional agro-export production as a rural development strategy. They also call into question the value of certain strategies as risk-reduction mechanisms for small farmers.

This article proceeds as follows. I first provide a review of the literature on non-traditional agro-export production. I then give background information on the two cases and the approach used in this study, followed by an in-depth look at small farmers involved in snow pea production in Meru, Kenya and chayote production in Cartago, Costa Rica. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.