Food sovereignty in Ecuador: The role of the peasant farmer

Nicolas Alberto Vasconcellos Fernandez

Research output: Thesisinternal PhD, WU


This thesis looks at food policy and its implementation under the notion of modernism as it guides the performance of agricultural services, that are based on science and technology. The research starts from the study of food sovereignty policy established by the State and implemented by its extension agents nationwide, and moves through the regional public institution in charge of agricultural development in Santo Domingo to conclude with the analysis of the policy performance by the State, and what are the effects and affects generated by this public policy implementation. Qualitative material including concepts and quotations involving peasant farmers' practices is presented to establish that traditional practices are imperative to food sovereignty contrary to the policy's implementation. Essentially, this thesis argues that once food sovereignty policy is translated through the state apparatus, it generates intended and/or unintended exclusion among the aimed beneficiaries of such policy.

I aim to understand the peasant farmers' agricultural practices during situations of state intervention using ethnographic methods for data collection. This required examining various elements that form the assemblage of milk production in Santo Domingo and understand how these elements interact with each other and with external elements that derive from a food production process.

The theoretical approach is explained in Chapter 2, where the main concepts used for this thesis's analysis are described. These are rural development interfaces, intersubjectivity, assemblages, and corporeality. The following chapters depict the empirical work as they focus on the agricultural practices of peasant farmers for milk and dairy products and are analyzed through these concepts.

The concept of food sovereignty originates from the rural social movements, and it is gradually inserted into the policy apparatus of the Ecuadorian State, being constitutionalized and legalized for its implementation in rural areas. I explore the resulting practices of peasant farmers in response to public policy interventions. This included the analysis of the food sovereignty concept in the Constitution and the observation of peasantries.  I, thereby, observed how food sovereignty practice is affected when the State ignores local knowledge's pre-existence in rural areas.

In Chapter 3, I examine how the State fosters the formation and involvement of agricultural associations. Specifically, four agricultural associations from Santo Domingo Province are analyzed in terms of technical knowledge interventions to study the associations' interfaces with government agents that attempt to align local milk producers with the State's objectives for food sovereignty. Chapter 4 has examined the affective knowledge between peasant farmers and their cows, looking in-depth into social relations, materials and materialities of producers, and the technologies brought by policy agents. The interface of state regulations versus peasant farmers' traditional practices takes place along with the State's efforts to integrate peasant production into the market. The clash between Ingenieros and peasant farmers when it comes to their different bodies of knowledge makes visible the existence of intersubjective relations that depicts human and nonhuman interaction during the process of appropriation of technology provided by the State. Chapter 5 examines the encounter of dairy production as regulated by the State and the peasant farmers' traditional dairy practices. Such an encounter depicts a state food policy that favours industrial agribusiness at a push for the disappearance of traditional techniques for dairy production. This takes place at the consumer level who, despite the conditions of traditional dairy products that the State deems risky for human consumption, they prefer dairy from peasant farmers for its artisan organoleptic characteristics. This unintentional result in the dairy sector, where the State's attempt to integrate producers into the market under industrial standards, originated some producers practicing food sovereignty under their terms, and shows that peasant farmers follow a path towards development that not necessarily aligns with the State.

Beyond discourse, Chapter 6 shows how food sovereignty public policy remains referential, thus the local and particular manifestations of food sovereignty as policy. Therefore, despite attempting to control agricultural practices through the formation of agricultural associations, the State's policy of food sovereignty remains short of controlling the traditional techniques of peasant farmers. In the end, the implementation of food sovereignty results in how Ingenieros translate public policy, conjugating this with their professional criteria, experience, and relations regarding technical knowledge for improving agricultural production in a specific locality and situated event.

Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Awarding Institution
  • Wageningen University
  • Wiskerke, Han, Promotor
  • Arce, A.M.G., Co-promotor
Award date10 Mar 2021
Place of PublicationWageningen
Print ISBNs9789463956925
Publication statusPublished - 2021


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