Alejandra grew up in the periphery of Mexico City. Moved by an authentic concern for nature, she studied biology and earned an M.S. in Restoration Ecology in Mexico. She realized that science is not enough to overcome the environmental crisis, she turned her attention to the root causes of degradation in the countryside. She began her PhD exploring the link between nature care practices and agroecology and its impact on the peasant territories. Her PhD taught her the need of supporting peasants as protagonists of their territory consolidation, and the responsibility of scholars to be active allies.
Towards transformative agroecology: Participatory Action Research and Diversification with farmers members of coffee cooperatives in Mexico and Nicaragua
The livelihoods of smallholder coffee farmers need to move beyond incremental changes towards a transformative agroecology process. This work aims to understand the extent to which diversification activities can be contribute to a transformative agroecology that advances food sovereignty. The PAR process described took place over four years with participants associated with two smallholder cooperatives, CESMACH in Mexico and PRODECOOP in Nicaragua, and included mixed methods. We found that most families experienced an annual period of food scarcity, with an average of 2.5 and 3.3 “thin” months reported for Mexico and Nicaragua, respectively. We found evidence of the early stages of a transformative agroecology within both cooperatives. Diversification was prevalent among families with a significant effect on their food sovereignty.
Diversification activities were carried out as a continuation of traditional practices or, in some cases, as an activity adopted from past projects. The biggest contribution of our PAR process was on the capacity building of community facilitators/promoters, co-creation of questions and knowledge relevant for the strategic planning by cooperatives, and popular education materials. Transformative agroecology and PAR processes also must engage uneven power relations including the role of researchers and diverse participants in these processes, and thus require that we critically reflect on them. In the case of these coffee farmers, we conclude that diversification is an important element of using agroecology to advance food sovereignty. However, diversification is not a linear process: there are many trade-offs and balances that should be considered through long-term and collective processes.
Affiliation: University of Vermont, USA