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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Harnessing the community capacity of small farmer organizations to reduce pesticide-related environmental health risks : a case study in an indigenous community in the southern ranges of Ecuador, 2007-2008 Cabarcas, Fabio


This work aims to better understand the capacity of small farmers, their organizations and other social players in the Ecuadorian indigenous communities of Quilloac and San Rafael to reduce pesticide-related environmental health risks. I used a multi-method approach that included Pierre Bourdieu’s field theory along with a 187-household survey, ethnographic methods, and participative approaches in 2007-2008. This study analyzed community capacity-building as social relationships co-determined by human agency and social structure in local and global contexts. By mapping community stakeholders’ differential access to cultural, social and economic capital, this study reveals connections between the degree of access to resources and health vulnerabilities. Four key findings emerged. First, in a context in which workers were forced to diversify their income through strategies such as emigration and urban employment, families had reduced time for their crops and increased reliance on pesticides. Members of households with fewer people applied pesticides more times. Elders from poor households were left to care for crops and experienced more problems with pesticide handling and symptoms. Children experienced increases in accidental pesticide poisoning cases that coincided with a period of high farmer migration to find work. Second, despite numerous well-intended efforts by community leaders, farmers with the highest participation in agriculture had less contact with community organizations. Third, structural factors such as inequitable land distribution, unfavorable market policies, and limited state support for small farmers represent critical barriers for harnessing the capacity of small farmer organizations. Fourth, community leaders tended to adopt peasantry-focused strategies that were likely to further marginalize some vulnerable families who combined non-agricultural activities with their farming, which was characterized by consumption crops with low workforce and high pesticide use. My findings provide theoretical and practical contributions for understanding the causes of environmental health inequities. Results from this research informed the development of several community-based initiatives (workshops, a radio show). My approach described important contextual barriers that need to be addressed by national and international stakeholders in order to harness the capacity of local organizations. It also identified specific social mechanisms that could increase health inequities despite great efforts by community organizations.

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