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The Dynamic Interrelationships between Ethnicity and Agrobiodiversity in the Pearl Lagoon Basin, Atlantic Nicaragua

  • Author(s): Williams, Nicholas Enyart
  • Advisor(s): Stonich, Susan C
  • et al.
Abstract

This dissertation characterizes the ways in which increased global connectedness differentially impacts agricultural decisions among the ethnically-diverse farming households in Atlantic Nicaragua’s Pearl Lagoon Basin, with specific focus on farmers’ maintenance of agrobiodiversity. Research conducted in other parts of the world has shown correlations between a farmer’s ethnic identity and the agrobiodiversity they maintain within their farming systems. These trends remain even as small-scale farmers are connected to extra-local political and economic systems, which are cited as the drivers of global agrobiodiversity erosion. Yet, how ethnicity influences the maintenance of agrobiodiversity is poorly understood.

Employing a political ecology framework that integrates ethnographic, demographic, survey, and agroecological methods, this research identifies that ethnically-distinct planting strategies exist among the Pearl Lagoon Basin’s indigenous (Miskito), Afro-descendant (Creole and Garífuna), and mestizo farmers. Consistent with patterns identified by researchers elsewhere, farmers who identify with the area’s indigenous and afro-descendant “minority” groups tend to maintain more diverse farms than nearby farmers who identify as mestizo, particularly those who are recent migrants to the region. In contrast to the findings of previous studies, however, the most connected farmers in the Basin tend to have the highest levels of agrobiodiversity within their farming systems.

Qualitative and regression analyses reveal that ethnic patterns in the maintenance of agrobiodiversity are explained in part by the historical farming practices that characterize land use in the Basin and the agroecological knowledge that farmers develop over a lifetime farming in this socio-ecological context. Further, by acknowledging the plastic nature of ethnic identity, this research also highlights the importance of ethnic-based land rights in the Nicaragua’s Atlantic Autonomous Region as a critical factor that both directly and indirectly influences the ethnic identities of farmers in the Pearl Lagoon Basin and their abilities to participate in agricultural development projects whose extension activities promote agrobiodiversity conservation.

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