Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)


Community Development and Applied Economics

First Advisor

David Conner


In the past two decades, Mesoamerican smallholder coffee farmers have had to confront several stressors and shocks, such as price crises and natural disasters, with debilitating impacts on the viability of their livelihoods. More recently, many farmers have suffered crop losses in the wake of the spread of coffee leaf rust disease, and researchers are predicting that some areas will become less suitable for coffee growing in the near future as a result of climate change. In response to these conditions and in the context of the withdrawal of the state from provision of agricultural services, development practitioners have mainly pursued a strategy of helping farmers gain access to specialty markets, including those purchasing coffee from farmers with organic and Fair Trade certifications. They have also promoted farmer organization into marketing cooperatives, which have in turn provided various services to their members, including credit and technical assistance. However, there are doubts as to whether these schemes are sufficient in increasing and stabilizing smallholder incomes, and some have predicted declining returns from these strategies in the future.

For these reasons, many have called for the promotion of livelihood diversification as an additional component of rural development programs. This thesis studies both the shortfalls in coffee incomes compared to poverty lines and the current uses and perceptions of different diversification activities. In the first study, the shortfalls are calculated through construction of individual and average enterprise budgets based on grower records and interviews with four organic and organized growers and three conventional growers. It concludes that while some growers have coffee incomes approaching that poverty line, they are all currently below the line. There is wide variation within both groups.

The second study uses content analysis of transcripts from 15 interviews with members of a regional coffee cooperative, Asociación Barillense de Agricultores (ASOBAGRI), based on four different interview guides. It concludes that coffee remains the primary livelihood strategy of the respondents, whereas most other activities offer relatively small contributions to incomes, with the exception of honey and a small sewing shop, and some reflect coping rather than risk management. The study also identified other themes mediating diversification, including income-smoothing, optimization, familiarity, social networks, and influences from external actors.



Number of Pages

143 p.