This ethnographic study examined some of the ways that global markets and the infrastructure of agribusiness affect local smallholder farmers in the Ten Rivers region who are transitioning toward more sustainable and traditional agricultural methods. The purpose of this research was to discover what barriers smallholder farmers face in developing more sustainable agroecosystems and to then apply those barriers as possible indicators in a three tiered model of sustainability that included social, environmental, and economic components.
This research built on the theory and praxis of political ecology to gather information concerning the local knowledge held by smallholder farmers in the region. The two-fold design of this research called for the collection of relevant background information assessing secondary agricultural and geographical data pertaining to the Ten Rivers region and ethnographic data gathered through conducting semi-structured interviews with local smallholder farmers who were organically certified or used other sustainable methods of agricultural production. Quantitative and qualitative information was considered in order to provide a more
complete analysis of how smallholder farmers in the region use local knowledge to manage individual farming operations, in the context of a global market, and to address the barriers that inhibit them from becoming more sustainable.
Barriers to sustainability faced by smallholder farmers were applied as possible indicators to a three tiered model designed for assessing agricultural sustainability. Since defining barriers to sustainability is determined by local perceptions of risk, and often varies from region to region, the model addressed sustainability in the form of questions to be considered within the interrelated context of social, economic, and environmental issues. The conclusion of the study was that it is better to address the problems of sustainability from a farmer-centered, regional basis, rather than developing an externally imposed universal measure of sustainability where too much information can be lost or misinterpreted.