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Can Properties of Labor-Exchange Networks Explain the Resilience of Swidden Agriculture?

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Type: Journal Article
Author: Downey, Sean S.
Journal: Ecology and Society
Volume: 15
Date: 2010
URI: https://hdl.handle.net/10535/7418
Sector: Agriculture
Region: Central America & Caribbean
Subject(s): adaptive systems
common pool resources
resource management
swidden fallows
Abstract: "Despite the fact that swidden agriculture has been the subject of decades of research, questions remain about the extent to which it is constrained by demographic growth and if it can adapt to environmental limits. Here, social network analysis is used to analyze farmer labor-exchange networks within a chronosequence of five Q’eqchi’ Maya villages where swidden agriculture is used. Results suggest that changes in land-use patterns, network structure, reciprocity rates, and levels of network hierarchy may increase the resilience of these villages to changes in the forest’s agricultural productivity caused by ongoing agricultural activity. I analyze the suitability of subsistence- versus market-oriented agricultural labor for reciprocal labor exchange and develop a novel interpretation of labor reciprocity that highlights how unreciprocated exchanges, when they occur within the context of a network, may limit overexploitation of the forest. The variability observed in labor-exchange network structure across villages suggests that Q’eqchi’ swidden can maintain its identity under changing conditions. This important characteristic of resilient systems is explored by analyzing a village case study where a serious demographic exodus dramatically impacted their labor network. The resulting picture of Q’eqchi’ swidden agriculture is one of resilience rather than homeostasis. Reorganization of labor-exchange networks helps to maintain a village’s cohesion, and ultimately this limits pioneer settlements and may slow overall rates of deforestation."

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