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Development, livelihoods and food security in Guatemala: Using primary and secondary data to better understand household well-being.


Traditional development perspectives follow the modernization paradigm and international development research has largely focused on urban and rural spaces as distinct entities. Recently however, the academic community has recognized the necessity of understanding how households in the developing world utilize different types of spaces to make a living, but little research has explicitly addressed this. This dissertation helps to fill this gap by using mixed-methods research in Guatemala to determine how household occupations are changing over time for both rural and urban households, and whether this change is improving household well-being.

Analysis of both secondary data and data originally collected by the author are utilized to address research questions. Three time points of nationally representative survey data from Guatemala (2006, 2011, and 2015) are used in chapter two to determine if the prevalence of households in different occupation types - operating their own farm, working as paid agricultural labor, or working outside of agriculture - are changing over time. In chapter three, the 2015 nationally representative survey data is used to determine if household occupation type (as classified in chapter two) associates with food insecurity. Last, in chapter four, household survey data collected in four peri-urban communities in the department of Peten, Guatemala are used to expand understanding of how occupation type impacts food insecurity. Instead of classifying jobs into three occupation types, working outside of agriculture is split into two occupation types based on the location of work, either urban or rural, creating four occupation types to include in statistical models examining associates of food insecurity.

The results of the dissertation highlight development trajectories in Guatemala. Results from chapter two indicate that working as paid agricultural labor is increasing in prevalence in Guatemala while neither the prevalence of own-farm operation or working outside of agriculture are changing over time. Results from chapter three suggest that households working as paid agricultural labor are the most likely to be food insecure, followed by households working outside of agriculture, and last, by households operating their own farm. Last, results from chapter four (field work data) suggest that households working in urban areas are the most food insecure and that there are no differences in food insecurity between households that operate their own farm, work as paid agricultural labor, or work outside of agriculture in the rural space.

In conclusion, despite following the neoliberal economic model of many developed countries, household well-being in Guatemala, at least as measured by food insecurity status, is not improving. Within rural areas, more and more households are relying on paid agricultural work, but this type of work is associated with the greatest likelihood of food insecurity. Furthermore, while the share of the country’s population living in urban areas is increasing, working in urban areas isn’t associated with better food security, suggesting that this aspect of the development modernization paradigm is not holding true. It seems that subsistence agriculture (own-account farming) creates the greatest amount of food security for households in Guatemala, yet it receives little support from the Guatemalan government. In light of these findings, it may benefit household well-being in Guatemala if governmental and non-governmental organizations increase support for agricultural laborers. While more research is needed to verify mechanisms to do so, raising minimum pay, limiting the maximum number of hours in the work day, and enforcing these standards may benefit individuals and households in rural and peri-urban communities.

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