Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository


Doctor of Philosophy




Dr. Tony Weis


Many countries in the Global South have agricultural landscapes and economies that are heavily dependent upon a small range of agro-exports, such as bananas. Tropical agro-exports have long earned low prices in international markets, which led to a number of historical policy responses geared towards stabilizing export prices and volumes. However, since the 1990s these have been overwhelmed by trade liberalization, intensifying pressures to lower costs of production and exacerbating the enduring challenges associated with tropical agro-export commodity dependence.

This research seeks to understand these contemporary challenges through immersed fieldwork in rural communities. Through interviews with small farmers, farm workers, managers, owners, and government and corporate officials (n=200), it explores and compares different responses to the demise of preferential market access for bananas in two countries where dependence rests on very different productive systems: Dominica, where small farmers predominate, and Belize, where plantations prevail.

In Dominica, banana production has drastically declined in the wake of trade liberalization, and most small farmers have entered a Fairtrade market with limited success. In marked contrast, banana production in Belize has continued rising, in large measure because plantations have entered a high-value niche market. However, this export growth depends upon a steady labour force which plantations are struggling to reproduce, a dynamic that is threatening to undermine the basis of this new niche. These divergent case studies problematize the impacts of trade liberalization in agriculture, and question the merits of agrarian development focused on commodity exports into the future.

While this dissertation was inspired by a concern about the imbalances of the global food economy, another significant trajectory emerged through data collection: the gendered nature – and risks – of immersed fieldwork, and the void in the literature on issues of sexual violence in the field. Both conceptions and practices in feminist methodologies about reducing distance and balancing power in the field need to take into account the gendered risks of sexual violence. Conversations about sexual violence in fieldwork are needed to better prepare researchers, and are central to challenging entrenched perceptions of what is ‘rigorous’ research and the latent male archetype of the ‘ideal’ researcher.