Agriculture and Human Values

, Volume 35, Issue 3, pp 651–669 | Cite as

Decoupling from international food safety standards: how small-scale indigenous farmers cope with conflicting institutions to ensure market participation

  • Geovana Mercado
  • Carsten Nico Hjortsø
  • Benson Honig


Although inclusion in formal value chains extends the prospect of improving the livelihoods of rural small-scale producers, such a step is often contingent on compliance with internationally-promoted food safety standards. Limited research has addressed the challenges this represents for small rural producers who, grounded in culturally-embedded food safety conceptions, face difficulties in complying. We address this gap here through a multiple case study involving four public school feeding programs that source meals from local rural providers in the Bolivian Altiplan. Institutional logics theory is used to describe public food safety regulations and to compare them to food safety conceptions in the local indigenous Aymara rural setting. We identify a value-based conflict that leads to non-compliance of formal food safety rules that jeopardizes the participation of small farmers in the market. These include: (1) partial adoption of formal rules; (2) selective adoption of convenient rules; and (3) ceremonial adoption to avoid compliance. Decoupling strategies allow local actors to largely disregard the formal food safety regulations while accommodating traditional cultural practices and continuing to access the market. However, these practices put the long-term sustainability of the farmers’ participation in potentially favorable opportunities at risk.


Small-scale producers Institutional logics Food safety regulations Local food systems School feeding programs Bolivia 



Bovine spongiform encephalopathy

E. coli

Escherichia coli


Micro and small enterprise


Bolivian National Service of Agricultural Safety and Food Safety



We are grateful to the smallholders, SME owner-managers, and municipality officials for their time and openness. We also highly appreciate the helpful comments and suggestions provided by three anonymous reviewers. This research was funded by Danish International Development Agency (DANIDA), under the Project ANDESCROP No. 104. Dan. 8-1203.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V., part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Facultad de AgronomíaUniversidad Mayor de San AndrésLa PazBolivia
  2. 2.Department of Food and Resource EconomicsUniversity of CopenhagenFrederiksbergDenmark
  3. 3.DeGroote School of BusinessMcMaster UniversityHamiltonCanada

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