Reproduction, exchange relations and food insecurity: maize production and maize markets in Honduras.

Johnson, Hazel Eileen (1995). Reproduction, exchange relations and food insecurity: maize production and maize markets in Honduras. PhD thesis The Open University.



Although severe poverty and difficult climatic conditions for crop production created acute food insecurity among many small maize producers in parts of Honduras in the 1980s, this thesis focuses on the widespread phenomenon of chronic and endemic vulnerability found in less critically affected parts of the country. It argues that a major cause of food insecurity among small maize producers in the 1980s lay in the complex nature of social relations of production and exchange for maize. Nevertheless, policy debates and directions in Honduras tended to side-step these complexities.

Small maize farmers were vulnerable to food insecurity because of their exchange relations with other farmers, traders and state institutions over land, labour, finance and output. These exchanges combined commoditized, personalized and noncommoditized relations. They also involved inequality and power, reciprocity and assistance, as well as forms of economic coercion.

Exchanges of land and labour between commercial and semi-proletarian farmers, as well as loans made by commercial to semi-proletarian farmers, helped to sustain the maize production of both social groups. Although these relations provided some security on an unequal basis for semi-proletarian farmers, indebtedness prevented them from improving their livelihoods from maize. Thus while most commercial farmers interviewed were able to make profits from maize production, semi-proletarian farmers continued in stagnation.

Petty commodity maize producers as well as commercial farmers tended to establish relations with state and state-linked institutions for credit, technical assistance, and sometimes for output markets. However, petty commodity producers could also experience difficulties in reproducing maize production. In particular, their incorporation into state-linked projects to increase output and productivity could increase the risk of debt and left many in a position of 'insecure transformation'.

Semi-proletarian maize farmers could break the cycle of 'secure stagnation' by organizing collectively to gain land and establish new social relations of production and exchange. However, there were many risks and difficulties for these groups, and struggling groups might still maintain some relations of patronage to survive.

A key distinction between maize production and trade was that the latter was driven by profits while the former continued in production even though many farmers had negative net cash incomes. Traders' profits also depended on social differentiation, by wealth and task in trade, as on the differentiation of farmers from whom they purchased maize. Personalized relations also helped to ensure profits from trade.

Although maize trade involved many participants and was apparently competitive, local traders (including commercial maize farmers) could establish debt relations with semi-proletarian farmers which put the latter at a disadvantage in output markets, especially with respect to the time of maize sales and hence prices received. Market alternatives for semi-proletarian farmers were relatively restricted compared to commercial farmers and petty commodity producers.

The thesis concludes that policies which only consider market variables in maize production and distribution and which propose increasing liberalization and deregulation are unlikely to benefit those who are most at risk among Honduran maize farmers. Unless the complex social relations which maintain either the stagnation of semi-proletarian farmers or the insecure transformation of petty commodity producers are addressed, conditions of reproducing maize production are likely to become more acute and reinforce food insecurity in the countryside.

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