The political ecology of peasant sugarcane farming in northern Belize
AuthorHiggins, John Erwin, 1954-
AdvisorSheridan, Thomas E.
MetadataShow full item record
PublisherThe University of Arizona.
RightsCopyright © is held by the author. Digital access to this material is made possible by the University Libraries, University of Arizona. Further transmission, reproduction or presentation (such as public display or performance) of protected items is prohibited except with permission of the author.
AbstractThe Belizean export sugar industry is dominated by small family farmers who produce the nation's most important cash crop in terms of area under cultivation, employment, and export earnings. These peasant farmers control both cane cultivation and the harvest transport system and receive the lion' s share of the proceeds from the sale of Belizean sugar. The origins of this anomalous industry can be traced to the regions' long history of peasant resistance to exploitation. Sugarcane was brought to Belize by refugees of the Mayan Caste Wars in the mid-nineteenth century who began producing sugar for the local market using swidden technology. Sugar production was briefly taken over by British plantations; however, the peasants were never fully proletarianized despite attempts to turn them into a plantation labor force. The peasantry's historical resistance to proletarianization is the result of several factors. Colonial officials and capitalists found it difficult to control either the movements or the labor of these independent cultivators. Low rural population density, peasants' refusal to give up subsistence farming, sugarcane's compatibility with swidden farming practices, and the peasantry's politicization all contributed to the dominance of small-farmer cane production during this century. During the 1950s plantation production was resurrected in order to meet the colony's recently acquired Commonwealth Sugar Agreement export quota. Colonial planners assumed that plantations were more efficient and competitive than peasant farmers. Nevertheless, in 1972 the state sponsored plantations were forced to shut down due to competition from independent small cane farmers. Peasant sugarcane farming has proven to be remarkably resilient in the face of crises spawned by chronic fluctuations in the price and demand for cane sugar. Most farmers depend heavily on family labor to minimize their production costs. Because they have minimal capital inputs to production, they can sustain negative profits from cane and still survive by deploying family labor into other income and/or subsistence producing activities. The viability of peasant farming families that allows them to compete successfully with large-scale capitalist sugarcane farmers contradicts the Marxian notion of the inevitability of polarization into capitalist farmers and proletarian workers.
Degree ProgramGraduate College