ABSTRACT

Introduction In 2002, the livelihoods of the more than 883 million people living in rural areas in the developing world depended on agriculture (World Bank 2007: 26). The role of agriculture in national development policies and the impact of these policies on small-scale family farmers have long been the subject of debate among scholars, policy makers and development practitioners. In recent years, growing concerns about continued rural poverty, high rates of rural out-migration, food security, environmental degradation, and climate change have brought the issue of agriculture and rural livelihoods once again to the fore. In particular, growing trends of smallholder livelihood diversification and ‘de-agrarianization’ are raising questions about the transformation of rural economies, the changing nature of agricultural production, and the well-being of ‘country folk’ whose livelihoods have long been tied to agriculture. In this chapter I examine the changing nature of agricultural production and its role in rural livelihoods in the rapidly changing economy of Pérez Zeledón, Costa Rica. Drawing on long-term research with farming families in this region, I analyse livelihood diversification and generational change within and among rural families in an economy that for the past 70 years has been overwhelmingly reliant on coffee production. I draw here on my 1990-1 ethnographic study of coffee-producing households in the two farming districts of Palomas and Santa Cruz (pseudonyms) in Pérez Zeledón, a subsequent re-study of a sub-sample of these same families conducted from 2010 to 2012, as well as observations and informal interviews with farming families in these and other districts of the canton during shorter visits in 1993 and 2006.1 While rapid change continues, this longitudinal lens allows for a better understanding of both the trends that are occurring and the shifting conditions which have been shaping rural economic change, livelihood strategies, and smallholder agricultural production in this region. Significant changes are taking place – both inside and outside of the agricultural sector. Changes in livelihood strategies reflect not just changing conditions in global, national, and local contexts but the diversity of skills, assets, and interests within and among farming families. Though occupational multiplicity and

non-farm-based livelihoods are becoming the norm, agriculture continues to play a substantial role in the livelihood strategies of young and old and in the regional economy. I argue that these trends are complementary, both within farming families and within the rural economy as a whole.