The political ecology of peasant sugarcane farming in northern Belize

Persistent Link:
http://hdl.handle.net/10150/288803
Title:
The political ecology of peasant sugarcane farming in northern Belize
Author:
Higgins, John Erwin, 1954-
Issue Date:
1998
Publisher:
The University of Arizona.
Rights:
Copyright © is held by the author. Digital access to this material is made possible by the University Libraries, University of Arizona. Further transmission, reproduction or presentation (such as public display or performance) of protected items is prohibited except with permission of the author.
Abstract:
The Belizean export sugar industry is dominated by small family farmers who produce the nation's most important cash crop in terms of area under cultivation, employment, and export earnings. These peasant farmers control both cane cultivation and the harvest transport system and receive the lion' s share of the proceeds from the sale of Belizean sugar. The origins of this anomalous industry can be traced to the regions' long history of peasant resistance to exploitation. Sugarcane was brought to Belize by refugees of the Mayan Caste Wars in the mid-nineteenth century who began producing sugar for the local market using swidden technology. Sugar production was briefly taken over by British plantations; however, the peasants were never fully proletarianized despite attempts to turn them into a plantation labor force. The peasantry's historical resistance to proletarianization is the result of several factors. Colonial officials and capitalists found it difficult to control either the movements or the labor of these independent cultivators. Low rural population density, peasants' refusal to give up subsistence farming, sugarcane's compatibility with swidden farming practices, and the peasantry's politicization all contributed to the dominance of small-farmer cane production during this century. During the 1950s plantation production was resurrected in order to meet the colony's recently acquired Commonwealth Sugar Agreement export quota. Colonial planners assumed that plantations were more efficient and competitive than peasant farmers. Nevertheless, in 1972 the state sponsored plantations were forced to shut down due to competition from independent small cane farmers. Peasant sugarcane farming has proven to be remarkably resilient in the face of crises spawned by chronic fluctuations in the price and demand for cane sugar. Most farmers depend heavily on family labor to minimize their production costs. Because they have minimal capital inputs to production, they can sustain negative profits from cane and still survive by deploying family labor into other income and/or subsistence producing activities. The viability of peasant farming families that allows them to compete successfully with large-scale capitalist sugarcane farmers contradicts the Marxian notion of the inevitability of polarization into capitalist farmers and proletarian workers.
Type:
text; Dissertation-Reproduction (electronic)
Keywords:
Anthropology, Cultural.; Economics, Agricultural.
Degree Name:
Ph.D.
Degree Level:
doctoral
Degree Program:
Graduate College; Anthropology
Degree Grantor:
University of Arizona
Advisor:
Sheridan, Thomas E.

Full metadata record

DC FieldValue Language
dc.language.isoen_USen_US
dc.titleThe political ecology of peasant sugarcane farming in northern Belizeen_US
dc.creatorHiggins, John Erwin, 1954-en_US
dc.contributor.authorHiggins, John Erwin, 1954-en_US
dc.date.issued1998en_US
dc.publisherThe University of Arizona.en_US
dc.rightsCopyright © is held by the author. Digital access to this material is made possible by the University Libraries, University of Arizona. Further transmission, reproduction or presentation (such as public display or performance) of protected items is prohibited except with permission of the author.en_US
dc.description.abstractThe Belizean export sugar industry is dominated by small family farmers who produce the nation's most important cash crop in terms of area under cultivation, employment, and export earnings. These peasant farmers control both cane cultivation and the harvest transport system and receive the lion' s share of the proceeds from the sale of Belizean sugar. The origins of this anomalous industry can be traced to the regions' long history of peasant resistance to exploitation. Sugarcane was brought to Belize by refugees of the Mayan Caste Wars in the mid-nineteenth century who began producing sugar for the local market using swidden technology. Sugar production was briefly taken over by British plantations; however, the peasants were never fully proletarianized despite attempts to turn them into a plantation labor force. The peasantry's historical resistance to proletarianization is the result of several factors. Colonial officials and capitalists found it difficult to control either the movements or the labor of these independent cultivators. Low rural population density, peasants' refusal to give up subsistence farming, sugarcane's compatibility with swidden farming practices, and the peasantry's politicization all contributed to the dominance of small-farmer cane production during this century. During the 1950s plantation production was resurrected in order to meet the colony's recently acquired Commonwealth Sugar Agreement export quota. Colonial planners assumed that plantations were more efficient and competitive than peasant farmers. Nevertheless, in 1972 the state sponsored plantations were forced to shut down due to competition from independent small cane farmers. Peasant sugarcane farming has proven to be remarkably resilient in the face of crises spawned by chronic fluctuations in the price and demand for cane sugar. Most farmers depend heavily on family labor to minimize their production costs. Because they have minimal capital inputs to production, they can sustain negative profits from cane and still survive by deploying family labor into other income and/or subsistence producing activities. The viability of peasant farming families that allows them to compete successfully with large-scale capitalist sugarcane farmers contradicts the Marxian notion of the inevitability of polarization into capitalist farmers and proletarian workers.en_US
dc.typetexten_US
dc.typeDissertation-Reproduction (electronic)en_US
dc.subjectAnthropology, Cultural.en_US
dc.subjectEconomics, Agricultural.en_US
thesis.degree.namePh.D.en_US
thesis.degree.leveldoctoralen_US
thesis.degree.disciplineGraduate Collegeen_US
thesis.degree.disciplineAnthropologyen_US
thesis.degree.grantorUniversity of Arizonaen_US
dc.contributor.advisorSheridan, Thomas E.en_US
dc.identifier.proquest9829375en_US
dc.identifier.bibrecord.b3855530xen_US
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