Shocks and cherries: The production of vulnerability among smallholder coffee farmers in Jamaica

Zack Guido, Chris Knudson, Tim Finan, Malgosia Madajewicz, Kevon Rhiney

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

26 Scopus citations


Coffee is a global commodity that supports the livelihoods of 100 million people worldwide, many of whom are smallholder farmers. While smallholder farmers are known to be vulnerable to social and environmental changes, the complex interactions that shape their vulnerability have not been adequately explored. This analysis identifies the determinants of that vulnerability in the Blue Mountains of Jamaica and discusses how these determinants interact and have evolved. We use mixed methods consisting of household surveys of 434 farmers, focus group discussions, key informant interviews, and archival research of coffee industry reports. We show that vulnerability is manifest in low coffee harvests that result from the interacting stressors of climate variability, plant diseases, and market conditions. The impacts of shocks and stressors are further aggravated by low resource endowments that influence the capacity to manage these persistent challenges as well as a political economy characterized by unequal market relations, national policies that promote a vulnerable coffee variety, and a retraction of public investments in smallholders. Using regression methods we show that among the farmer resources, the ability to invest in agricultural inputs and tools as well as the elevation of the farm are importantly associated with production outcomes. We argue that the context of these smallholder farmers produces a Gordian Vulnerability whereby the determinants interact, are changing in form, and appear intractable. Consequently, strategies to reduce vulnerability need to be complex and multifaceted which make them difficult to implement. We argue that reductions in vulnerability will only come about by investments in multiple strategies.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number104979
JournalWorld Development
StatePublished - Aug 2020


  • Climate risk
  • Coffee
  • Coffee leaf rust
  • Jamaica
  • Smallholder farming
  • Vulnerability

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Development
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Economics and Econometrics


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