Year of Award


Document Type


Degree Type

Master of Science (MS)

Degree Name

Resource Conservation (International Conservation and Development)

Department or School/College

College of Forestry and Conservation

Committee Chair

Stephen F. Siebert

Committee Co-chair

Dane Scott

Commitee Members

Joshua Slotnick, Sarah J. Halvorson


Food Sovereignty, Adaptive Capacity, Local Food Systems, Political Agroecology, Agricultural Development, Subsistence Farmers, Sustainable Rural Livelihoods, Small Farmers, Sustainable Agriculture, Belize


University of Montana


Rural households play an active role in reorganizing their livelihood strategies to respond to external stresses and shocks. What is unclear is the extent to which rural households can remain resilient in the face of continued external stresses and how policy actions at larger scales can more effectively encourage rural food and livelihood sustainability. Economic and ecological stresses and shocks have negatively impacted livelihood security and wider economic stability in Belize. This has increased the number of people below the poverty line to 41.3 percent, who remain disproportionately located in rural areas. With a high degree of import dependency, global food price surges have resulted in direct pass through effects on domestic prices, creating food price inflation of up to 22.8 percent between 2006 and 2009. Within this context, this study assesses the state of livelihood security in a village of the Cayo district by assessing the quality of household capital assets, including human, financial, natural and social capital. Semi-structured face-to-face interviews were conducted in 2012 using a random sample of 64 households. Participant observation, key-informant interviews, the use of secondary sources and extra-local interviews with government officials were also employed to gain deeper insight into the complexity of the rural environment and institutional policies related to food security and sustainable agricultural development. Results show high levels of livelihood diversification among both grain farmers and non-farming households. No significant difference existed between total household median incomes. However, the median income of non-grain male household heads is significantly greater than that of grain farmer male householders (U = 1393, n1 = 43, n2 = 16, p < .05). Part-time farming households maintained the highest number of livelihood strategies compared to non-grain households, with a median of 4 to 3 respectively (U = 506, n1 = 11, n2 = 48, p < .0005). Compared to non-farmers, part-time farmers are disproportionately engaged in day labor as a primary income strategy, where pay is lower and work is less reliable (Chi = 57, df = 1, p < .01). Human capital is low among both household types, with 65 percent of non-farming male householders receiving no education above the primary school level, while all grain farmers received no education above the primary school level (Chi = 59, df = 1, p < .01). Domestic and foreign remittances did not impact the majority of participants, as only 28 percent reported they received, or would receive, some amount of extra-household monetary support. Yet, the median value of out-country remittances were significantly greater for non-farmers compared to grain farmers (U = 21.00, n1 = 4, n2 = 3, p < .05). Despite these strategies, financial capital remains constrained, as over 75% of households are unable to save money, and the large majority of working females worked out of necessity. In addition, nearly two thirds of households have reduced meal size in recent years, with no significant difference between household types. Nearly three quarters of all householders valued home gardens as a mode to adding diversity to the diet and improving health or reducing purchasing costs. Among grain farmers, 94 percent stated that grain farms provided their family with food, where 62.5 percent indicated risk management, specifically, as their reason for farming. This proportion rises to 83.3 percent when looking at white corn producers exclusively. When asked if farming has become more difficult, less difficult, or the same compared to the past, 62.5 percent of grain farmers stated that agriculture in Belize has become more difficult (Chi = 6.5, df = 2, p < .05). Biophysical constraints among both household types include vulnerability to waterlogging and drought, soil fertility and pest problems. Input costs are also of concern, while grain farmers faced additional transaction risk. Furthermore, land tenure insecurity is widespread. To compound the problem, social capital is also weak given disillusionment with formal organizing, where exclusionary policies by the local cooperative further restrict access to relevant low-cost and low-input technologies. Expanding access to sustainable technologies through participatory research and extension is recommended. However, greater access to technology alone is insufficient for sustaining intensification that can ensure resilient food and livelihood strategies. Reducing costs and risk through secure access to productive resources, markets, and financial services in a manner that accounts for heterogeneity in farming systems and local food security priorities are also essential. To this end, and with attention to national-level social and economic conditions, a pro-poor agricultural growth strategy is considered within a dynamic food sovereignty framework.



© Copyright 2014 Siobhan B. Lozada