Human Ecology

, Volume 35, Issue 3, pp 289-301

First online:

2001: A Household Analysis of Huastec Maya Agriculture and Land Use at the Height of the Coffee Crisis

  • Alexandra Gisele Ponette-GonzálezAffiliated withYale University Email author 

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Over the last decade, historically low market prices for Coffea arabica have affected smallholder shade coffee-growing households throughout northern Latin America. In an effort to better understand household response to the coffee crisis and associated landscape changes, this paper examines agricultural production choices and land use patterns among Huastec Maya coffee-growing households. Using data compiled from 47 household interviews, I describe the cultural-geographical landscape in which the Huastec Maya land use system is embedded. In addition, I examine the economics of household production through a financial cost-benefit analysis and through an exploration of the relationship between land availability and land use patterns. Results show that economic inputs and returns from agriculture are highly variable, and that, in 2001, coffee cultivation was not a viable cash-generating strategy for most households. Land availability was found to have a significant effect on land use decisions, especially the proportion of land area devoted to fallow. Most importantly, however, the case study suggests that a purely economic approach does not suffice in explaining why the Huastec Maya continued to grow coffee in 2001, after years of low prices. Household production choices and livelihood strategies must also be viewed within a cultural context.

Key words

Agricultural decision-making coffee crisis household analysis Huastec Maya land use