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Bitter Grounds: Smallholder Vulnerability and the Coffee Rust Epidemic in the Jamaican Blue Mountains
Just as coffee farmers in the Jamaican Blue Mountains (BMs) were rushing into their fields amidst news of a long-awaited upturn in coffee prices on the world market, they were thrown into a tailspin as the first severe outbreak of a virulent strain of the coffee leaf rust (CLR) disease struck the country in the Fall of 2012. In this talk, I use the case of the CLR epidemic to illustrate the systemic, relational and multi-scalar ways socio-ecological shocks are often disproportionately experienced by smallholders, and how these shocks in turn map onto and are routinely mediated through everyday human-environment interactions. Drawing on an empirical case study comprising 434 household surveys conducted across the BMs, as well as focus groups and interviews with a range of BM value chain actors, I show how smallholder responses and exposure to CLR links into broader political-economic processes that are partly responsible for creating the structural conditions that influence smallholder vulnerability to socio-ecological shocks in the first place, and often set the conditions for future impacts and vulnerabilities.