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Deconstructing homegardens: food security and sovereignty in northern Nicaragua

Abstract

Development scholars and practitioners are promoting food security, food sovereignty, and the localization of food systems to prepare for the projected negative impacts of climate change. The implementation of biodiverse homegardens is often seen as a way not only to localize food production but also as a strategy in alignment with a food sovereignty agenda. While much scholarship has characterized and critiqued food security and sovereignty conceptualizations, relatively little research has examined people’s lived experiences in order to test how such theoretical visions play out on the ground in farming communities. Based on a case study of four coffee cooperatives in northern Nicaragua, we examine a non-governmental organization (NGO)-supported project promoting food security and sovereignty through development of homegardens. We ask: To what extent are homegardens an effective strategy to reach food sovereignty? And, why may farmers be resistant to changing their food production and consumption strategies to embrace biodiverse homegardens when they improve food security? We discuss characteristics of agroecological homegardens, the distinctions between food security, food sovereignty and dominant discourses of development, the history of food sovereignty in Nicaragua, and farmer perspectives on homegarden implementation. Despite historic critiques, NGOs are poised to facilitate the transformation of food and agricultural development by employing counter development strategies, a necessary step if homegardens are to be successful in the long term. To conclude, we propose some strategies NGOs and communities might pursue to move forward with homegardens as a food sovereignty strategy. This research suggests that a food sovereignty approach still rooted in mainstream development models faces significant obstacles to moving beyond food security and into a farmer-led food sovereignty agenda.

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Fig. 1

Notes

  1. The second-level cooperative is grouped into the category of “NGO” for this research since they were charged with the implementation of the project strategies. Historically, this is the role of NGOs but organizations like ADECOOP have adapted since the height of fair trade supported projects that employed second-level coops with what were traditionally roles carried out by development NGOs.

  2. Marx and Engels applied the idea of metabolism, an exchange where an organism draws upon materials and energy from its environment and converts these by way of various metabolic reactions into building blocks necessary for growth, to society and saw a major disconnect or “rift” in the recycling of nutrients back to the soil, this was the basis of his arguments against a capitalist agriculture that could no way maintain a consciousness to regenerate the resources it was extracting from the soil (Foster 1999, pp. 382–384).

  3. Economists (Sen 1981, 1987) and development scholars (Ericksen 2008; HLPE 2012) have since sharply criticized this Malthusian notion.

  4. At the time of release of this research, PCaC had facilitated multiple exchanges of Segovian farmers to other regions of Nicaragua, Honduras, and elsewhere. PCaC is a farmer movement, or social process methodology developed in the 1970s in Mexico. The process employs a popular education methodology where farmers share with their peers innovative new solutions to problems that are common among many farmers. This method offers some direction in how to overcome development discourse by depending on local realities and ingenuity (Holt-Gimenez 2006).

Abbreviations

ADECOOP:

Pseudonym for a second-level coffee cooperative in Nicaragua’s Segovias region

ATSC:

Pseudonym for a local Nicaraguan NGO

NAC:

Pseudonym for a US-based NGO

NGO:

Non-governmental organization

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Acknowledgments

This research would not have been possible without the participation of the Nicaraguan respondents who took time away from their labors to participate in interviews, Erika Pérez who not only facilitated the connections with participating organizations but also provided necessary moral support, Christopher Bacon for inviting me to participate in the research and Maria Eugenia Flores for sharing perspectives and logistical support in dissemination of this research to the participating Nicaraguan cooperatives, Karen Sanchez for much needed methodological and moral support, the technicians at the second-level cooperative for collaborating and facilitating research while working overtime 6 days a week, and Roberta Jaffe and Steve Gliessman for sustained mentorship over the years. The authors would also like to thank Michael Carolan and Maria Fernandez-Gimenez for their mentorship, comments, and asking the hard questions that contributed to this paper. All errors are ours. Karie Boone received financial support from the Center for Collaborative Conservation to carry out this research.

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Boone, K., Taylor, P.L. Deconstructing homegardens: food security and sovereignty in northern Nicaragua. Agric Hum Values 33, 239–255 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10460-015-9604-0

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Keywords

  • Food sovereignty
  • Food security
  • Nicaragua
  • Development discourse
  • Homegardens