There is an ongoing debate within the field of agroecology about the importance of socio-economic context as a causal factor of agricultural unsustainability. The ultimate thesis of this paper is that the causes of unsustainability cannot be fully grasped without understanding historical trajectories of land use and land tenure. I investigate a community of indigenous smallholders in southern Chile who have expressed a desire to find an ecological alternative to the input-intensive commodity cropping system they currently practice. What factors motivate them, and what are the key barriers holding them back? Interviews with 38 individuals and 3.5 months of participant observation reveal a complex causal chain. A key barrier to an alternative, more sustainable agricultural system is a deficiency of organic animal manure, of the animals which produce it, and of the land base on which to sustain sufficient numbers of livestock. But these factors can only be understood in the context of the historical dispossession of Mapuche territory by the Chilean state over a century ago, which led to socioeconomic marginalization by pushing them onto the poor soils and steep hillsides they currently occupy. I close by emphasizing that the path to agricultural sustainability must combine both sociopolitical and agronomic considerations. Land access and land tenure are as important to achieving sustainability as land management.
Part of the book: Sustainability of Agroecosystems