Document Type



Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Global and Sociocultural Studies

First Advisor's Name

Guillermo Grenier

First Advisor's Committee Title

Committee Chair

Second Advisor's Name

Liliana Goldin

Third Advisor's Name

Laura Ogden

Fourth Advisor's Name

Richard Tardanico

Fifth Advisor's Name

Mahadev Bhat


alternative food network, rural development, sustainability, Guatemala, organic agriculture, agroecology, participatory development, globalization, non-traditional agricultural exports, diffusion of innovations

Date of Defense



The current research considers the capacity of a local organic food system for producer and consumer empowerment and sustainable development outcomes in western Guatemala. Many have argued that the forging of local agricultural networks linking farmers, consumers, and supporting institutions is an effective tool for challenging the negative economic, environmental, and sociopolitical impacts associated with industrial models of global food production. But does this work in the context of agrarian development in the developing world? Despite the fact that there is extensive literature concerning local food system formation in the global north, there remains a paucity of research covering how the principles of local food systems are being integrated into agricultural development projects in developing countries. My work critically examines claims to agricultural sustainability and actor empowerment in a local organic food system built around non-traditional agricultural crops in western Guatemala. Employing a mixed methods research design involving twenty months of participant observation, in-depth interviewing, surveying, and a self-administered questionnaire, the project evaluates the sustainability of this NGO-led development initiative and local food movement along several dimensions. Focusing on the unique economic and social networks of actors and institutions at each stage of the commodity chain, this research shows how the growth of an alternative food system continues to be shaped by context specific processes, politics, and structures of conventional food systems. Further, it shows how the specifics of context also produce new relationships of cooperation and power in the development process. Results indicate that structures surrounding agrarian development in the Guatemalan context give rise to a hybrid form of development that at the same time contests and reinforces conventional models of food production and consumption. Therefore, participation entails a host of compromises and tradeoffs that result in mixed successes and setbacks, as actors attempt to refashion conventional commodity chains through local food system formation.





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