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Food Sovereignty on the Ground: Export Agriculture, Peasant Communities, and the Indigenous Movement in Ecuador


Food sovereignty is an alternative development model that values local, sustainable food systems. The national and international social movements that promote food sovereignty do so on behalf of small peasant farmers, whom they claim practice sustainable production for local consumption. Scholarly and activist discourse associates peasant and indigenous groups with environmental protection and resistance to globalization. Yet, doing so creates an essentialist image of this historically marginalized ethno-class that obscures contemporary market integration. Drawing on six months of field research with indigenous peasants in the highlands of Ecuador, this dissertation argues that the environmentalist goals of the food sovereignty movement do not reflect the lived realities of small farmers. Comparing quinoa, broccoli and dairy farmers with heterogeneous production practices and market links, this study finds that indigenous peasants want to supply the global market. Based on their negative experiences with local market intermediaries and positive experiences with export organizations, feeding fellow Ecuadorians is not a widespread ideal. In addition, respondents defend their reliance on agro-chemicals and imported inputs as necessary for their livelihood. Those who practice sustainable production methods do so in order to access a certified organic and Fair Trade export market that offers a better price. For these indigenous peasant farmers, on the ground, livelihood security is more important than environmental ideals. The food sovereignty tenets that resonate most with community members are the redistribution of resources and government investment in the small farm sector. As a continuation of the classic struggle for agrarian reform with a new environmentalist cloak, the food sovereignty movement must not lose sight of its economic justice roots. Initiatives to improve the global industrial food system through local, sustainable agriculture must also create viable livelihood options for poor communities of color.

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