Document Type



International Relations

First Advisor's Name

Gail Hollander

First Advisor's Committee Title

Committee Chair

Second Advisor's Name

Juliet Erazo

Third Advisor's Name

Roderick Neumann

Fourth Advisor's Name

Patricia Price


cocoa, cacao, development, Ecuador, sustainable, farmer, agriculture, international

Date of Defense



Globalization is eroding the livelihoods of small farmers, a significant and vulnerable class, particularly in the developing world. The cost-price squeeze stemming from trade liberalization places farmers in a race to the bottom that leads to displacement, poverty, and environmental degradation. Scholars and activists have proposed that alternative trade initiatives offer a unique opportunity to reverse this trend by harnessing the power of the markets to reward producers of goods with embedded superior cultural, environmental, and social values. Alternative trade via certification schemes have become a de facto prescription for any location where there is a need to conciliate economic interest with conservation imperatives. Partnerships among commodity production farmers, elite manufacturers and wealthy northern consumers/activists do not necessarily have win-win outcomes. Paradoxically, the partnerships of farmers with external agencies have unexpected results. These partnerships develop into dependent relationships that become unsustainable in the absence of further transfers of capital. The institutions born of these partnerships are fragile. When these fledging institutions fail, farmers are left in the same situation that they were before the partnership, with only minor improvements to show after spending considerable amounts of social and financial capital. I hypothesize that these failures are born out of a belief in a universal understanding of sustainability. A discursive emphasis on consensus, equity and mutual benefit hides the fact that what for consumers it is a matter of choice, for producers is a matter of survival. The growth in consumers’ demand for certified products creates a race for farmers to meet these standards. My findings suggest that this race generates economically perverse effects. First, producers enter into a certification treadmill. Second, the local need for economic sustainability is ignored. Third, commodity based alternative trade schemes increase the exposure of communities to global shocks. I conclude by calling for a careful reassessment of sustainable development projects that promote certification schemes. The designers and implementers of these programs must include farmers’ agenda in the planning of these programs.





Rights Statement

Rights Statement

In Copyright. URI:
This Item is protected by copyright and/or related rights. You are free to use this Item in any way that is permitted by the copyright and related rights legislation that applies to your use. For other uses you need to obtain permission from the rights-holder(s).