A Discussion on the Issues of Large-Scale Production in Latin American Agriculture and the Methods to Solve Them

            The assumption that large-scale, industrial agriculture is necessary to ‘feed the world’ is greatly flawed. It has been seen throughout the world that this type of production does not only leave food insecurity unalleviated in areas/communities where it is most severe, but also does not contribute to the reduction of poverty in these places. This idea of feeding large amounts of people, which came about during the Green Revolution of the 1960s, seldom reached the most needy populations due to transportation/storage and inaccessibility issues. Even in accessible areas, hunger increased in areas where crop yields increased as a result of the new farming techniques (Class Notes, 2/24). The negative costs outweigh the benefits, especially with the involvement of free trade agreements.

            Production practices of large-scale, industrial agriculture create a chain of factors that prove the above assumption incorrect. Due to advanced cultivation/harvest technologies and a higher focus on capital than product, this method of farming provides very little employment opportunities for those in the farm community. In Latin America, twenty percent of the labor force is within the agricultural sector; unfortunately with the increase of productivity often comes a decrease in employment on farms and in post-production processing (Class Notes, 1/27). In Brazil, for example, “the dominance of capital-intensive, mechanized production [of soy] has had severe negative impacts on rural employment. Between 1985 and 2004, a period in which production nearly tripled…employment in the sector fell 80%” (Perez et al. 12). This unemployment leads inevitably to wide scale poverty.

            Impoverished communities are the most susceptible to food insecurity. Industrial agriculture causes food insecurity (ironically) because of their few employment opportunities. It has been noted that poverty is a main cause of food insecurity due to a lack of equitable global distribution and local accessibility. This implies that conventional, intense agriculture is actually unnecessary, for food insecurity still exists where food is abundant (Chappell & LaValle 6). The reason for this is an inability to purchase food due to high prices. In Latin America and around the world, the average prices of rice, wheat, and maize available for consumption increased 217%, 136%, and 125% respectively between 2006 and 2008 (Shepard 2). This is obviously the reason for food security in countries like Guatemala and Honduras “where poor households allocate nearly 70 percent of the spending on food,” as well as Haiti where a single sack of ride exceeds the wage of one day of work (Ibid. 3). Large-scale agriculture seems to not benefit those who should be receiving the welfare of the ‘feed the world’ assumption.

            Poor communities have even lacked access to the privileges associated with FTAs. Capitalist plans like NAFTA only benefited agribusiness in the already developed export sectors of Mexico, leaving small producers to fend for themselves. In addition, although food prices are high nowadays, NAFTA eliminated all competition for local Mexican producers by creating an influx of cheap commodity crops from the US, which destroyed any success in their business/livelihoods (Ibid. 11). Export agriculture strives to compete in the global market, one that smallholder subsistence-based farms cannot even touch. They also do not focus on local livelihoods and internal development, but solely on income. Neoliberal policies in Bolivia caused their tradable smallholder products to fall 30% in price in the 1980s, a punch that farmers struggled to recover from due to limited access, scarce capital, and natural limits (Perez et al. 17). Industrial agriculture may not even be necessary to ‘feed the world.’

            Self-sustainability should be the goal in feeding the world, specifically in those parts most hungry and food insecure. It has been published, “small farms almost always produce higher output levels per unit area than larger farms” (Chapell & LaValle 8). Further, yields, although increasing globally with advanced technologies, is not the solution for alleviating food insecurity as proven by those areas with major food production farms—unemployment, which leads to poverty, which leads to food insecurity are all in the way of yield increases being the solution.

            It requires much deliberation and prioritized planning in order to restore efficiency and resiliency to this rural village in Guatemala. Area farmers and regional leaders must work together to strategize keeping all factors in mind—economic development, climate change adaptation, advanced farming procedures, and rural livelihoods. Before any final decisions are made, it would be useful to perform an impact assessment that gauges the environment and its outcome as a result of the proposed projects. USAID’s process would be suggested; its strict requirements such as constant program monitoring typically render positive results that avoid environmental failures and maximize environmental benefits (Skype Guest Speaker, 3/24). Further, those living in the rural village must be heavily considered in all decisions; their quality of life and livelihoods will guarantee the efficiency of all results of the project into the future.

            The following recommendations must take into consideration the idea of Climate-Smart Agriculture. CSA not only promises the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions and climate change resilience, but also prioritizes yield, nutrition, and income (Class Notes, 3/19). Biodiversity should be a primary focus. Campesino a Campesino’s studies concluded, “resiliency to climate disasters is closely linked to the level of on-farm biodiversity” (Altieri & Toledo 596). Hurricane Mitch, Stan, and Ike all caused less damage on farms using diversification practices such as cover crops, intercropping, and agroforestry in Central America, Mexico, and Cuba respectively (Ibid. 597). Biodiversity also encourages natural enemies of pests via predators, which in turn can increase yields and economic development (Ibid. 588; Chappell & LaValle 12). The village could greatly benefit from strategies seen in other LAC countries that adapt to precipitation level and temperature change: early warning systems and climate change scenarios for planning (Mexico, Caribbean), conservation of mountain ecosystems to retain water (Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia), and installation of structures like waru-warus in Peru that yield crops despite floods, drought, and frost. The remaining agroecological suggestions—to maximize soil water infiltration and adapt to drought—rely on the residents, who must use their experience to achieve the other knowledge-intensive techniques and biodiversity (Altieri & Toledo 588; Vergara et al. 9). Along with continued data collection and research, these suggestions can benefit the village.

            The goals of the regional leaders really do not take in the best interest those most important in the rural village: the people. Reserving restored land for cattle ranching is not a good idea because of its establishment methods, low-productivity quality, and low employment as seen in other countries like Brazil and Colombia. Farmers tend to waste the land, either abandoning it or minimalizing its potential. Some of these issues can be alleviated with more advanced practices like rotational grazing and higher stocking rates, but others like unemployment are difficult to improve for the people and their livelihoods (Boucher 6-7, 10). Further, export crops tend to only benefit foreign consumers and those major companies present along the commodity chain, not the local livelihoods and food security. The leaders’ second use of the land, to create a PA, has also been seen as detrimental to the livelihoods, economic development food security of local communities. Although PA’s have improved biodiversity, it has also “imposed severe hardships on local communities through physical, economic, and cultural displacement” (Lele et al. 98). The region leaders should consider more the lives on the land than the income taken from it.

            In conclusion, climate adaptation strategies should be prioritized to benefit rural livelihoods and food security. Cattle ranching, export crops, and Protected Areas should be considered carefully within the rural village. The climate should be a prime concern, for it is projected “that annual agricultural exports in LAC could be expected to decline by around US$50 billion by 2050 solely on account of climate impacts…” Maize and beans, for example, could experience yield declines between 21% and 24% and 66% respectively in Guatemala (Vergara et al. 9). This would ruin the leaders’ hopes. Perhaps if they reduced their land use by three quarters for their ideas, would it be helpful for the community.

            The three main approaches to conservation and development are community-based (CBC), enterprise-based (EBC), and payments-based (PEC) conservation. After the original approach to conservation—exclusionary protected areas (PA)—did not succeed due to its qualities of being unenforceable, restrictive to local livelihoods, and typically too small to actually contribute to overall conservation, these three other systems were invented (Class Notes, 4/7).

            CBC was the first attempt at involving the local community in conserving their space. Biodiversity conservation via this participation was its main goal, utilizing historical traditions to achieve it. However, CBC did not eliminate ineffective PA’s, but gave locals governance over them through rule changes, financial subsidies, livelihood training, and community institutions. Poverty alleviation arose, but residents were treated more as “recipients of concessions and development assistance,” not leaders. This caused issues with power dynamics, undermining conservation as a result (Lele et al. 95-7). Bolivia featured several CBC areas that gave the government absolute responsibility over conservation and excluded international assistance programs under its 2009 constitution (Class Notes, 4/2). Income-oriented EBC also ran this way.

            EBC, a subset of CBC, established conservation-compatible activities. Ecotourism, safari hunting, and NTFPs, for example, were created as “economic returns” in hopes of creating “an incentive to protect the [environment]” (Lele et al. 96). In Ecuador, ecotourism was prioritized; EBC involved sustainable methods by locals in the market. Unfortunately, the goals of EBC often eliminated the most important aspect of development—local livelihoods. Business growth and competition, along with conservation and community benefits, diminished the priority of improving livelihoods and development (Class Notes, 4/2). The Bolivian government opposed this market-based approach for this reason: they considered it “mercantilization of nature” (Bryner et al. 7). Neither CBC nor EBC ideally connect the community to the environment via conservation.

            It has been seen that PES truly unite providers and users through conservation efforts. It adds economic value to the upkeep and protection of forests and its advantages—clean air/water, wildlife, and carbon sequestration. Government payments, premiums, and use-restriction programs are all used as incentives to encourage community involvement. PES requires public engagement in every aspect of the program, including “setting prices to allow for broad participation of buyers and strong financial incentives for producers” (Elias 9-10). Bolivia’s COMSERBO is a great example of this that is mentioned later. However, sometimes PES does not seem pro-poor, for its main concern is efficiency, not equity. It makes broad assumptions about specific factors within an area that can affect the program’s outcome, which in turn may lead to payment for insufficient or incorrect conservation methods. Brazil’s situation with land grabbing and insecure/private tenure has negatively affected the outcome of PES systems there for these reasons (Lele et al. 97). Despite these challenges, PES systems appear to be most the most effective conservation system.

            In the context of Bolivia’s COMSERBO: its features exemplify how PES is the best overall program out of the three aforementioned ones. It does not enforce any specific rules; its true goal “is not to change community behavior in terms of forest management, but rather to provide incentives for current practices and create a long-term development plan” (Bryner et al. 20). COMSERBO allows flexibility by giving the locals as much power as possible with permission to choose one of three options: permanent conservation, production of non-timber products, or production of timber products. Their selection determines how much direct financial incentive is given (Ibid. 14). This flexibility is also seen in other LAC countries such as Costa Rica, Ecuador, Mexico, and Brazil, where governments purchase environmental benefits/services such as clean water access, biodiversity protection, and forest maintenance for their communities (Ibid. 5). Further, the program requires strong involvement to ensure its success. Local governments must provide the technical assistance and direct financial incentives to associated groups, while recipients must make their own financial management plan (Ibid. 16). Development requires local and governmental involvement to grow and achieve conservation and environmental goals. PES is the best method to accomplish this, as it requires complete integration of groups and flexibility to adapt to individual countries’ needs.


  1. Altieri, Miguel, and Victor Toledo. "The Agroecological Revolution in Latin America: Rescuing Nature, Ensuring Food Sovereignty and Empowering Peasants." The Journal of Peasant Studies 38.3 (2011): 588, 596-7.
  2. Boucher, Doug. "Chapter 5: Cattle and Pasture." The Root of the Problem: What's Driving Tropical Deforestation Today? (2011): 6-7, 10.
  3. Bryner, Nicholas, Shai Fierst, Jessica Ludwig, and Timothy Stackhouse. "COMSERBO: A Case Study of Community-Based Forest Conservation in the Bolivian Amazon." Latin American and Hemispheric Studies Program Master of Arts Capstone Research Project (2012): 2-26.
  4. Chappell, Michael, and Liliana LaValle. "Food Security and Biodiversity: Can We Have Both? An Agroecological Analysis." Agriculture and Human Values 28.1 (2009): 6, 8, 12.
  5. “Climate-Smart Agriculture.” Class Notes. 19 Mar 2015.
  6. “Conservation: Exclusionary Protected Area Issues.” Class Notes. 7 Apr 2015.
  7. Elias, Pipa, Katherine Lininger, Calen May-Tobin, and Sarah Roquemore. “Chapter 11: Development without Deforestation.” The Root of the Problem: What’s Driving Tropical Deforestation Today? (2011): 9-10.
  8. “Food Security.” Class Notes. 27 Jan 2015.
  9. Lele, Sharachchandra, Peter Wilshusen, Dan Brockington, Reinmar Seidler, and Kamaljit Bawa. "Beyond Exclusion: Alternative Approaches to Biodiversity Conservation in the Developing Tropics." Current Opinion in Environmental Sustainability 2 (2010): 95-8.
  10. Peréz, Mamerto, Sergio Schlesinger, and Timothy Wise. "The Promise and the Perils of Agricultural Trade Liberalization." (2008): 12, 17.
  11. “Results of the Green Revolution.” Class Notes. 24 Feb 2015.
  12. Shepard, Daniel. "The Food Crisis and Latin America: Framing a New Policy Approach." The Oakland Institute: Policy Brief (2008): 2-3, 11.
  13. “Types of Conservation Approaches.” Class Notes. 2 Apr 2015.
  14. “USAID’s Environmental Impact Assessment.” Class Notes/Guest Speaker. 24 Mar 2015.
  15. Vergara, Walter, Ana Rios, Paul Trapido, and Hector Malarín. "Agriculture and Future Climate in Latin America and the Caribbean: Systemic Impacts and Potential Responses." Inter-American Development Bank (2014): 9.