Modernization from below: An alternative indigenous development?

Document Type

Book Chapter


This paper compares conceptions of "indigenous agriculture" and alternative agricultural development as used by academics with approaches to agricultural development taken by Indian federations and the NGOs and churches working with them in highland Ecuador. There are significant differences between these conceptions. Moving away from traditional practices, the Indian federations have promoted the use of Green Revolution technologies as part of a strategy they still conceive as "indigenous" because of its overall objective to sustain a material base that will offset out-migration, a problem perceived as a far more serious threat to indigenous identity than any incorporation of new technology. The federations' approach points to a more profound conception of indigenous agricultural development as a strategy implemented and controlled by Indian organizations and oriented toward a refashioning of the cultural and political landscape of highland Ecuador. In this way, analysing grassroots concepts challenges our theoretical constructions. Nonetheless, popular concepts should not be taken at face value. There are tensions in, and constraints to, local development strategies stemming both from wider political economic structures and the historical context of these strategies. We should therefore understand farmers and their organizations as "situated" in socioeconomic, political, and cultural structures that both enable and constrain as they construct their resource management strategies. A viable indigenous agricultural development must address the social relationships underlying such structural constraints.

Publication Title

Development: Critical Essays in Human Geography

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alternative development, Andes, Ecuador, indigenous agriculture, nongovernmental organizations, popular organization