Small scale agriculture, marginal conditions and market access: impacts on natural resources and farmers' welfare

R. Cavatassi

Research output: Thesisinternal PhD, WU


Keywords: small-scale farmers, food security, impact evaluation, Ecuador, Ethiopia, crop choice, social capital, crop genetic diversity, pesticides.

Numerous are the obstacles and difficulties smallholder farmers from developing countries have to face to achieve food security or improve their wellbeing. Challenges and opportunities may vary dramatically from having to cope with harsh climatic and production conditions to having the option of entering the market, yet farming systems and production decisions are crucial elements to reduce poverty and improve wellbeing. This is particularly true in a time in which growing population, climate change and energy requirements pose increasing pressure on land and natural resources. In either context, the use and exploitation of natural resources is thus a key aspect to consider particularly with regard to the variety choices that can affect genetic diversity and to the use of pesticides that might be induced to achieve standards required by the market.
This thesis attempts to address these elements by analysing how small-scale farmers deal with achieving food security and improving their wellbeing through crop production choices, farming technologies and strategies adopted to access the market in marginal but market-oriented conditions as opposed to manage production in harsh agro-ecological conditions.
After analyzing in detail the role of agriculture, of Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (PGRFA) and of agricultural markets and seed systems, the thesis is divided in two parts. The first part deals with analyzing how small-scale farmers from the Ecuadorian Sierra benefit from dynamic changes in the agricultural economy and what is the impact of their production choices on the use of pesticides and of potato varieties adopted. The second part examines how smallholder farmers from the Hararghe region of Ethiopia deal with frequent production difficulties and with production shocks mainly determined by drought through variety adoption choices and what are the impacts of these choices on production efficiency and genetic diversity. The importance of social capital, evident throughout the work presented, is specifically analyzed for the case of Ethiopia.
By using different approaches, methodologies and data, among which rigorous impact assessment plays a key role, findings show the unequivocal importance of market access, seed sources, production technologies and social capital. The analysis undertaken demonstrates that programs and policies to be effective need to be implemented throughout the entire value chain: from input use to produce commercialization, whereas social capital might dramatically facilitate the successfulness of variety adoption, seed access and program implementation. Lastly, this work demonstrates that rigorous impact evaluation can help identify aspects of programs and policies crucial to suggest the way forward on achieving sustainable economic development.
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Awarding Institution
  • Wageningen University
  • van Ierland, Ekko, Promotor
  • Weikard, Hans-Peter, Co-promotor
  • Winters, P.C., Co-promotor, External person
Award date6 Oct 2010
Place of Publication[S.l.
Print ISBNs9789085857709
Publication statusPublished - 2010


  • peasant farming
  • small farms
  • agricultural economics
  • food security
  • natural resources
  • resource management
  • agricultural production
  • pesticides
  • potatoes
  • varieties
  • developing countries
  • ecuador
  • ethiopia
  • farmers
  • environmental impact
  • cropping systems
  • genetic diversity
  • social capital


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