Agricultural livelihoods of rural Andean smallholders in the Paute basin (Ecuador)
: a household typology approach for building policies on sustainable agriculture

  • Raul Vanegas Cabrera

Student thesis: Doc typesDoctor of Sciences


Smallholders in Ecuador represent the largest segment (85%) of farms in the country; hence by improving family oriented farming systems, local sustainability will be also boosted. This thesis investigates the agricultural livelihood strategies of rural smallholders in the Paute basin (Ecuador), and in particular, the potential to use typology of households for characterizing such livelihoods. In this context, how household diversity affects their agricultural livelihoods, and how these differences lead to variation in the development or adaptation of policies for supporting sustainable agriculture is the main focus of this research. By applying the typology of household method and considering the sustainable livelihood approach as main theoretical framework, this research have identified three types of households as the most representative of the Paute basin: the most-, the mid-, and the least-advantaged, caused by different levels of human, natural, financial, physical, and social capital. Based on this, it is argued that the number of members in a household is related to the availability of the labour force (which in turn is likely to be related to the type(s) and extent of cattle-rearing or crop cultivation, and the specific crops); cattle-rearing and subsistence agriculture are the most important uses of land; firewood is used by households in a way that may influence land-use in the middle- and long-term; and environmental awareness is low in all types of households, which may pose a serious threat to the sustainability of the basin. Despite the three types of suggested households; the fact that some smallholders’ households may have higher incomes than others, one must keep in mind that poverty is still a common issue to the Ecuadorian Andean region, and specially to smallholders.

Regarding agricultural sustainability, valorisation of the local ancestral knowledge, active participation of local population in recognizing their own needs and solutions, maintaining social arrangements for production and community support (i.e. complementarity, verticality, and reciprocity), implementing financial incentives for resources conservation and efficient irrigation, securing land tenure, and supporting rural economies to develop and become less dependent on outside aid seem to meet sustainability under the current conditions of the Paute basin. Considering the current legal framework, some policies attempting to support sustainable agriculture have been planned and/or adapted. They address issues that are common to all types of households’ agricultural livelihoods. Hence, for their application, different intensities may be required according to the different levels of household’s vulnerability. In addition, the institutional and governance framework may be the keystone for radically boost all interventions in the Ecuadorian Andes, therefore, this research proposes the creation of the “basin board” that could be an opportunity for better governance, where participation of various stakeholders might be the keystone. Additionally, an environmental-conditional cash transfer subside is also proposed for promoting sustainable agriculture practices in the basin. However, agriculture development may not be the only or even the best option for some households to escape from poverty in many circumstances in the Paute basin and elsewhere in the rural Ecuadorian setting. Hence, the approach presented in this research could integrate some other livelihood options in the framework of a major socioeconomic development of the rural sector in Ecuador.
Date of Award29 Oct 2015
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Namur
SponsorsCommission universitaire pour le Développement (CUD) & Universidad de Cuenca
SupervisorSabine Henry (Supervisor), Nicolas Dendoncker (President), Sophie Vanwambeke (Jury), Veerle Vanacker (Jury), Gerard Govers (Jury) & Julio Ortega (Jury)


  • livelihoods
  • smallholders
  • typology of household
  • policy
  • sustainable agriculture
  • Ecuador

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