Coffee Agro-ecosystems, Land-use and the Politics of Re-regulation in Veracruz, Mexico
Committee ChairRobbins, Paul
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PublisherThe University of Arizona.
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AbstractVolatile coffee markets during the 1990s plunged many of the world’s 25 million producers into dire economic straits. In this, Mexico’s smallholders were far from exceptional: market decline combined with institutional restructuring drastically reduced their access to the capital and inputs needed to earn a decent living from the coffee landscape. In the state of Veracruz, where the national coffee parastata--Inmecafé--had been headquartered since the 1960s, smallholders were immediately affected by the dismantling of state programs. In the breach, however, coffee producers developed rather sui generis strategies to weather the impacts of economic transformation, ranging from crop conversion to political activism. Such heterogeneous practices, moreover, possess different implications for Veracruz’s biologically diverse shade-grown coffee systems. Using mixed methods—from ethnography to remote sensing—this dissertation examines the livelihood strategies employed by smallholders following coffee sector restructuring and links these practices to land-cover change and state formation. I found that while coffee farmers indeed developed new tactics to whether economic shocks (e.g. land sales, agro-forestry projects, conversion to other cash crops) these practices did not result in large-scale land-cover conversion. Based on analysis of Landsat images from 1996 and 2003, I found 82% of the coffee canopy remained intact during this seven-year period (a time that corresponds with the most severe years of the coffee crisis.) Based on ethnography with state officials, moreover, I argue the government must now grapple with the socio-ecological complexities that emerged in its temporary absence. Following failed attempts to territorialize and control coffee producers since 2001, my results indicate official strategies are beginning to move in a more participatory direction in the newest phase of coffee re-regulation. This dissertation provides important insights into the ways commodity production, everyday practices, environment, and state-society relationships have recombined in the post-NAFTA era, and the effects of this recombination on people and landscape.