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Commercial agriculture for food security? The case of oil palm development in northern Guatemala

Anastasia Hervas and S. Ryan Isakson ()
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Anastasia Hervas: University of Toronto
S. Ryan Isakson: University of Toronto

Food Security: The Science, Sociology and Economics of Food Production and Access to Food, 2020, vol. 12, issue 3, No 5, 517-535

Abstract: Abstract Development practitioners and policymakers often posit that promoting cash crop expansion to generate rural employment has the potential to alleviate poverty and improve food security. Focusing upon the recent expansion of oil palm production in the northern lowlands of Guatemala, we critically evaluate this claim. To do so, we draw upon survey data collected in two neighbouring villages – one where oil palm is the main land use, another where maize and secondary forest are prevalent – to investigate how the expanding cultivation of the cash crop shapes local food access and rural livelihoods. We find that oil palm has improved food access for some households with oil palm employment. However, number of beneficiaries is relatively small and the practice does not lift them from the ranks of the food insecure. For most households in the village where oil palm is prevalent, the ability to access food has decreased, as the expansion of oil palm has displaced staple grain production and eliminated relatively more inclusive forms of agricultural employment. In contrast, households from the village where staple maize production remains predominant are notably more food secure. We conclude that, in the absence of deep changes that address the underlying causes of widespread vulnerability in Guatemala’s northern lowlands, the self-provisioning of maize and other staples will continue to serve as a cornerstone of food security, while the promotion of cash crops like oil palm will exacerbate inequalities in households’ ability to access food.

Keywords: Food access; Oil palm; Guatemala; Maize; Contract farming; Commercial agriculture (search for similar items in EconPapers)
Date: 2020
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DOI: 10.1007/s12571-020-01026-x

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