Degree Type


Date of Award


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy




Sustainable Agriculture; Sociology

First Advisor

Carmen Bain


Agroecology is increasingly prominent in mainstream rural development discourse. Agroecology uses fewer external inputs, requires less energy, and results in higher yields per hectare than monoculture production, which has led proponents to assume that reduced poverty and increased food security would result from the use of agroecological practices. This same assumption fuels other agricultural and rural development interventions. However, these assumptions ignore the heterogeneity of campesino households, discount socio-economic factors, such as gender, age, class, ethnicity, household membership, and resource assets (capitals), such as land, financial services, and technical support. Effective livelihood strategies must account for household and community diversity. In this dissertation, I argue that as a sustainable rural livelihood strategy, agricultural development interventions, including agroecology, require that households can access and invest in a variety of resource assets. This research examines how the assets smallholder farming households had or were able to access and invest impacted their decision to implement specific agroecological practices or agricultural interventions as part of Project CATIE-MAGA-NORUEGA (PCMN) in rural Guatemala.

This study examines households participating in PCMN in four townships in San Martín Jilotepeque, Chimaltenango, Guatemala. Through semi-structured, in-depth interviews, focus group discussions, a household questionnaire, and participant observation conducted in 2016, households’ existing and acquired resource assets were examined to explore if or how participants utilize these assets to turn PCMN’s agricultural development interventions into a sustainable household livelihood strategy. This analysis is informed by Watt’s conception of political ecology, that is as an analysis of the relationship between nature and society as differential types of access to and control over resources to understand the implications of that relationship on households’ livelihoods. It is also influenced by Bebbington’s Capitals and Capabilities and Meinzen-Dick et al.’s Gender, Assets, and Agricultural Projects frameworks, which examine both the accumulation of assets and the ability to use or invest those assets into a sustainable livelihood strategy.

This research demonstrates how households can access assets through agricultural interventions and accumulate or invest those assets to create sustainable livelihood strategies in the context of Guatemala’s socioeconomic policies and institutions, particularly access to land, market participation, and in the face of gender-based inequalities. By examining the inequalities facing peasant households, and women specifically, in the context of what assets participants can access and how they decide to use their existing assets, this research contributes to literature on developing sustainable rural livelihood strategies.

The findings of this research also have practical implications. Agricultural interventions that provide assets to participants (e.g. financial, natural, or physical capitals) or create assets (e.g. social or human capitals) to accumulate or invest are important to achieving desired project outcomes, however, the assets that participants can already access are also important and must be addressed. By accounting for asset inequalities and promoting households’ existing or accessible assets in ways that do not increase a household’s expenses, development practitioners can promote agricultural interventions that are more accessible to participating households and more likely to create a sustainable household livelihood strategy.

Copyright Owner

Maria J. Van Der Maaten



File Format


File Size

163 pages

Available for download on Tuesday, January 17, 2023

Included in

Sociology Commons