Dissertation Abstract

Sustainable Transitions in Agricultural Livelihoods:
Global Change and Local Food Production in Dominica

Samantha King, PhD
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Defended December 2021, Published May 2022

This dissertation provides an ethnographic study of agricultural change in the Commonwealth of Dominica, a small island nation in the Eastern Caribbean. Utilizing a comparative and mixed methods approach, it investigates how smallholding, family farmers are adapting their livelihoods in response to adverse global changes that have (1) eliminated their traditional export markets and (2) produced new climate stresses and shocks, which include two successive national disasters in 2015 and 2017. Whereas most recent research on Caribbean agriculture has focused on general trends of increasing vulnerability and export sector decline, this study details how farmers in Dominica have reorganized their livelihoods toward diverse forms of local food production. It also assesses the varied possibilities of these livelihood transitions to achieve social, environmental, and economic sustainability. To explore the process of rural transformation, the study integrates qualitative, quantitative, and geospatial data from long-term participant observation, a panel survey of households, and participatory GIS mapping in two rural villages. These primary data are combined with interviews of state officials and development practitioners, archival material, statistical data, and policy documents. Findings demonstrate how variation in sustainability outcomes articulates to state policy interventions and processes of economic and environmental change both over the shorter and longer terms. While farmers have devised a range of creative solutions and strategies to attempt to build sustainable livelihoods, institutional legacies of dependence have reproduced an inflexible model of development that both obscures and undermines these local innovations. In documenting the struggles and successes of rural people, this study presents an evidence base from which to build an alternative path for agricultural development in Dominica, one that is grounded in the place-based solutions and perspectives of the farmers themselves.

The full document will be accessible via Proquest after May 2024. In the interim, please contact me directly for requests to access data and results.