Graduate Students Research Presentation Series

Abarca, Saul
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"Changing roles of market, state and civil society: the case of coffee cooperatives and small farmers in Mexico"


In this paper, we investigate how civil society organizations, in particular coffee cooperatives, are responding to the growth of market power and the decline of government’s role in the coffee regime. At the international and national (Mexican) levels a strong neoliberal agenda skewed towards the freedom of the market has changed the relationships with the state and civil society. The strong role of the market, and the volatility of international coffee prices as well as the lack of assertive agricultural policies from the Mexican government, have forced coffee cooperatives to redesign their strategies. Under these circumstances cooperatives have to learn quickly in order to deal with international and domestic changes as well as when approaching new market niches; the task is not easy and the alternative markets are limited and quickly become saturated. Unlike prior research, which has emphasized that global actors and structures are playing in a free market where supply will meet demand and balance among actors will eventually take place, we find that lack of financial support from government institutions to civil society, the constant struggle of coffee cooperatives to get well-organized and adapt to quick changes in the market, as well as increasing participation of transnational corporations in national agricultural policies are all sources of the disrupted balance among market state, and civil society. We argue that actual market patterns such as coffee overproduction and a shifting of the reward system in relation to the coffee value chain under neoliberalism, as well as the lack of government support for coffee farmers in the region are changing the roles among market, state, and civil society in Mexico.