Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Plant and Soil Science

First Advisor

Ernesto Méndez


Diversity and diversification are foundational principles of agroecology. Growing scientific and experiential evidence from different parts of the world shows that diversified, agroecologically managed agricultural systems generate multiple ecological, social, and economic benefits, and can be more resilient to risks and stressors. However, while ecological benefits of these systems are well documented, less is known about socio-economic dimensions of agricultural diversification. This dissertation explores characteristics and outcomes of agricultural diversification in smallholder coffee systems in Chiapas, Mexico, with special emphasis on beekeeping. In this region, beekeeping is seen as an alternative with potential to build household resilience in the face of increasing precariousness of coffee production. Conducted within the context of a broader Participatory Action Research (PAR) process, this study encompasses over three years of participatory, mixed-methods research with farmers from Campesinos Ecológicos de la Sierra Madre de Chiapas (CESMACH), a coffee cooperative and its sister organization for beekeepers, Apicultores Real del Triunfo (ART).

In Chapter 2, I integrate data from a household survey (n=167) and focus groups to examine how and why smallholder coffee farmers diversify their farms, and the effects that different diversification approaches have on farmer families’ livelihoods and food security. I find that beekeeping for honey, especially when combined with basic grain production (in milpa systems), proves to be a promising strategy for supporting economic wellbeing and reducing the impacts of seasonal food insecurity. Chapter 3 builds on this finding and uses quantitative and qualitative methods to gain a deeper understanding of beekeeping as a diversification alternative for coffee farmers. Data from two years of knowledge co-creation with 25 beekeepers, who are members of ART, demonstrate that beekeeping: 1) contributes to the nutrition and health of farmer families and their communities; 2) serves as a vehicle for horizontal learning and relationship building; and 3) supports emotional wellbeing. This study also shows that 4) beekeeping can generate economic gains, but that profitability hinges on various factors, such as price for honey, yield per hive, and number of beehives. I argue that efforts to support beekeeping as a diversification strategy should take a holistic approach and highlight beekeeping as an activity that can build food sovereignty and autonomy in peasant communities.

Chapter 4 emerges from participatory reflections and uses findings from the case study with beekeepers to imagine agroecological transition pathways for ART. I apply ‘Agroecological Principles for Beekeeping’, a framework developed by Equipo Abejas at the Colegio de la Frontera Sur (ECOSUR) in Chiapas, to draw lessons from the case study and develop a set of context-specific applications for selected socio-economic principles. Finally, I adapt agroecological transition frameworks by Caswell et al. (2021) and Anderson et al. (2022) to propose a practical transition approach that integrates beekeeping-specific agroecology principles as well as experiences from the case study. By using a praxis-oriented approach, this chapter contributes to the growing literature on the application of agroecological principles and transitions in specific contexts.



Number of Pages

225 p.