Conventional food plot management in an organic coffee cooperative: Explaining the paradox

Katlyn S. Morris, V. Ernesto Mendez, Sarah Taylor Lovell, Meryl Olson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This research analyzes farmers' motivations for conventional management of subsistence food crops, in contrast to organic management of coffee destined for export. Semistructured interviews, focus groups, and financial analyses were conducted with farmers from a small organic coffee cooperative in western El Salvador. We sought to identify what factors have motivated peasant farmers to manage subsistence crops, primarily maize and beans, with agrochemicals. We found that a combination of environmental, economic, social and political factors have driven agricultural management decisions. The environmental requirements of coffee are distinct, where coffee in a diverse shaded agroecosystem responds better to low-input management than maize grown on steep slopes in nutrient-poor soil. In addition, there are no direct economic incentives for subsistence farmers to manage food crops organically, while the benefit of a price premium does exist for organic coffee. Finally, institutional support for agriculture encourages organic production for export crops and generally overlooks subsistence farming. Our data show that half of the farmers lost money on their food plots, with agrochemicals representing the largest cost. This research suggests that small-scale farmers need support in transitioning to more economically and environmentally sustainable farming practices.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)762-787
Number of pages26
JournalAgroecology and Sustainable Food Systems
Issue number7
StatePublished - 2013


  • Agrochemicals
  • Agroecology
  • Central America
  • Maize
  • Subsistence agriculture

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Renewable Energy, Sustainability and the Environment
  • Development
  • Agronomy and Crop Science


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