Non-Traditional Agricultural Exports in Highland Guatemala: Understandings of Risk and Perceptions of Change

Through a case study of small-scale Kaqchikel Maya farmers involved in non-traditional export agriculture (NTAX) in the Central Guatemalan highlands, this article examines the tensions between the mostly positive perceptions of farmers and the negative assessments of many who study NTAX production. In a context of severe political-economic structural inequalities and potentially high social and cultural costs, quantitative household survey results demonstrate a modest decrease in concentration of land in favour of Maya smallholders; more gender-egalitarian relations of production than expected; and largely positive local perceptions of economic and social change. Qualitative analysis interprets these findings in light of Maya-affective ties to land, preferences for continuity in traditional labor organization and subsistence maize production, perceptions of risk, and the transfer of traditional marketing skills. We find that Kaqchikeles are shaping alternative modernities as they deal with new sets of political-economic and social constraints.