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Rural change and multidimensional analysis of farm’s vulnerability: a case study in a protected area of semi-arid northern Nicaragua

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This paper presents an empirical research in a protected area of northern Nicaragua, aimed at: (a) classifying predominant narratives surrounding present and future pathways of the local rural system, drivers of change, features of livelihoods’ vulnerability; (b) understanding current functioning of local metabolic patterns of rural systems by developing a typology of farms and (c) comparing types’ vulnerability to current drivers of change. To achieve these objectives, we integrated qualitative and quantitative analytical approaches. The different visions of rural spaces, which emerge from the analysis of the narratives, and the five types of farms, characterized by specific land-time budget and energy and monetary flows, suggest two emerging dynamics of local restructuration in protected areas: (1) a dominant land re-concentration process which is generating increasing inequality in access to resources and a progressive marginalization of the self-sufficient economy of landless and subsistence households; (2) an emergence of a paradigm of ‘environmentalization’ of rural spaces together with a valorization of small and medium-scale diversified economies. Moreover, the vulnerability assessment focuses on multidimensional features of types’ sensitivity to crisis, i.e. risk unacceptability, production instability, economic inefficiency, food and exosomatic energy dependency, as well as capacity to buffer and adapt to change, i.e. access to assets, including labour for men and women, social safety nets and degrees of economic diversification. The discussion highlights the occurrence of trade-off between the solutions adopted by farms within different development paths, suggesting the relevance of the proposed framework of analysis at the interface between science and policy.

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  1. 1.

    Milpa is a corn–bean–squash cropping system used throughout Mesoamerica, based on Maya slash and burnt agriculture methods. In Nicaragua, milpa is referred to the field and to corn as staple crop.

  2. 2.

    The latifundio–minifundio land tenure system referred, in Latin America countries, to large estates of lands administered by few families with a patronage system scattered by tiny land plots.

  3. 3.

    An opportunistic management implies the exploitation of natural forestry-pastoral systems and pasture. The stoking rate and duration of pasture depends on economic and climatic conditions.


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We thank the farmers from the studied area who participated actively in the research. We are grateful to colleagues from FAREM-Estelí (Nicaragua) for their support in field work. We would specially acknowledge to Jampel Dell’Angelo and Gonzalo Gamboa for their comments. Funding for this research was provided by Catalan Agency for Development Cooperation (ACCD). The writing of this paper was enabled through funds from the Alliance for 4 Universities.

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Correspondence to Federica Ravera.



See Table 6.

Table 6 One-way ANOVA to compare performances between the five types of farms identified (N = 37) for the set of indicators selected within the two dimensions of vulnerability (i.e. sensitivity and capacity). We assigned a value (from very high to very low) with reference to a set of defined thresholds. (Note: The direction of the indicator means: ↑= increasing of value as better performance; ↓= decreasing of value as better performance; ↓↑= a better performance obtained when the value is balanced)

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Ravera, F., Tarrasón, D. & Siciliano, G. Rural change and multidimensional analysis of farm’s vulnerability: a case study in a protected area of semi-arid northern Nicaragua. Environ Dev Sustain 16, 873–901 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10668-014-9531-z

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  • Central America dry corridor
  • Metabolic pattern analysis
  • Multicriteria assessment
  • Rural system
  • Vulnerability