Front Cover
 Title Page
 Historical background
 The emergence of a state burea...
 The agrarian reform programme
 Commodity relations in coastal...
 Commodity relations in coastal...
 Commodity relations in coastal...
 Commodity relations in coastal...
 Social differentiation and political...

Group Title: Conference on Gender Issues in Farming Systems Research and Extenion, University of Florida, February 26 to March 1, 1986
Title: Gender, class and 'development' in rural coastal Ecuador
Full Citation
Permanent Link: http://ufdc.ufl.edu/UF00081731/00001
 Material Information
Title: Gender, class and 'development' in rural coastal Ecuador
Series Title: Conference on Gender Issues in Farming Systems Research and Extenion, University of Florida, February 26 to March 1, 1986
Physical Description: Book
Language: English
Creator: Phillips, Lynne
Publisher: University of Florida
Publication Date: 1986
Subject: University of Florida.   ( lcsh )
Spatial Coverage: South America -- Ecuador
 Record Information
Bibliographic ID: UF00081731
Volume ID: VID00001
Source Institution: University of Florida
Holding Location: University of Florida
Rights Management: All rights reserved, Board of Trustees of the University of Florida

Table of Contents
    Front Cover
        Front Cover
    Title Page
        Title Page
        Page 1
        Page 2
        Page 3
    Historical background
        Page 4
        Page 5
        Page 6
        Page 7
        Page 8
        Page 9
    The emergence of a state bureaucracy
        Page 10
        Page 11
        Page 12
    The agrarian reform programme
        Page 13
        Page 14
        Page 15
        Page 16
        Page 17
        Page 18
        Page 19
    Commodity relations in coastal agriculture
        Page 20
        Page 21
        Page 22
        Page 23
        Page 24
        Page 25
        Page 26
        Page 27
        Page 28
        Page 29
        Page 30
    Commodity relations in coastal agriculture
        Page 31
    Commodity relations in coastal agriculture
        Page 32
        Page 33
        Page 34
    Commodity relations in coastal agriculture
        Page 35
        Page 36
    Social differentiation and political struggle
        Page 37
        Page 38
        Page 39
        Page 40
        Page 41
        Page 42
        Page 43
        Page 44
        Page 45
        Page 46
Full Text

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Lynne Phillips

Working Paper 50 December 1985

Lynne Phillips received her Ph.D. in Anthropology from the University
of Toronto. She is currently affiliated with the Centre for Research on Latin
America and the Caribbean (CERLAC), York University, Toronto, as a
post-doctoral fellow, and with the Planificaci6n y Estudios Sociales
(CEPLAES), Quito, Ecuador, as a visiting researcher studying rural women.

The research on which this paper is based was funded by the Social
Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC), the Centre for
International Studies at the University of Toronto and the Canadian
Association for Latin American and Caribbean Studies (CALACS).


In this paper the author discusses the relationship between the situation of
rural women and the development of agriculture within the specific context
of agrarian reform in coastal Ecuador. The first half of the paper outlines
the history of the changing sexual division of labour and the particular form
of state intervention in coastal agriculture. The second half of the paper
analyzes changes in four different factors of production affected by the
agrarian reforms (land, technological inputs, credit and labour) as these,
in turn, affect the farm or household. This analysis reveals both the
contradictory effects of these changes on rural women and the nature of
political struggles of rural women and men in this region.


En esta monografia, Ia autora discute la relaci6n entire la situaci6n de la
mujer rural y el desarrollo de la agricultural dentro del context especifico
de las reforms agrarias en la zona costefia del Ecuador. Bosqueja la
historic de las transformaciones en la divisl6n del trabajo por sexo y la
form especifica de la intervencl6n del estado ecuatoriano en el agro
costeio. Luego analiza, a nivel de la unidad de producci6n agricola, cuatro
factors de producci6n que fueron modificados por las reforms agrarias
(la tierra, la tecnologla, el credit y el trabajo). Este an61isis revela los
efectos contradictorios de la reforms agraria para la mujer rural y
tambi6n el caricter de las luchas de las mujeres y los hombres en el campo


There is a difficulty in assessing the precise relationship

between 'gender' and 'development' in rural Ecuador. This

difficulty stems from at least two factors: 1) there exist very

few data on the country's agrarian reforms which differentiate

beneficiaries, agricultural cooperative members, landowners,

etc. on the basis of gender, and 2) Ecuador's reforms have

included women only inasmuch as women are members of 'families';

no reforms have been developed to directly involve rural women as

beneficiaries. This latter point indicates that even if we did

have access to accurate data on women within the agrarian reform

context, such information would help us little in the question of

the specific character of gender relations in a changing rural


My own theoretical perspective on this subject is very much

informed by my work in coastal Ecuador, where agriculture has

been subject to reforms of various types over the last twenty

years. My experience in this region, particularly in the Guayas

River Basin, indicates that rather than land redistribution,

1. Ecuador is divided into three distinct regions: the sierra or
highlands, the costa or coast and the oriented or eastern region.
Although there are significant historical features which have
given rise to these three regions, the Ecuadorian state has not

- 1 -

the most significant factor in the lives of the rural population

over the last decade is the development and expansion of

commodity relations. This development is closely linked to

Ecuador's agrarian reforms, although it clearly has had

repercussions beyond the agrarian reform programme itself.

The pervasiveness of wage relations in the coastal

countryside has given rise to two related processes, both of

which have had detrimental effects on women. One is the

intensification of the sexual division of labour, where the

identities of men have become more and more tied into their

relationship to capital (as agricultores), while the identities

of women are much more closely linked to an occupation more

marginalized from capital, that of domestic or 'housewife'. The

second process is one where most rural households are

experiencing an increase in production output but decreasing

returns to their labour (the 'reproduction squeeze', as Bernstein

[19793 puts it). Under the 'reproduction squeeze' it is women's

labour in particular which has been greatly intensified to meet

the needs of household reproduction.

On the other hand, something which is essential to our

understanding of gender relations in this region is the fact that

been unimportant in reinforcing their distinctiveness: the 1964
programme was primarily concerned to eliminate the huasipunqo
system of serfdom in the sierra, and promote colonization of the
oriented in order to relieve population pressures in the
highlands, while the 1970 reforms were directed mainly at
problems in coastal agriculture.

- 2 -

in no way is the process of commoditization 'complete'.2 In

fact, an extension and intensification of commodity relations in

the reproduction cycle of farm units has taken place without the

formation of two distinct classes. While there is no doubt that

very wealthy and very poor people live in the countryside, it is

important to note that a 'limited differentiation' exists in the

sense that market relationships stop just short of completely

eroding the non-market ties (most often expressed in the idiom of

kinship) which bind many rural households together. The

interesting point for our purposes is that much of women's

contribution to the household comes from their control over such

ties. Manipulating such ties allows women to borrow food and

money, gain information about jobs, etc. Thus, while women are

marginalized from valued resources (from the point of view of

capital, and by virtue of the sexual division of labour), it is

precisely the division of labour which gives them power at this

particular juncture. Such points are essential to consider if we

are to understand how women themselves struggle to resolve the

kinds of problems they face, given the state's apparent lack of

interest on this subject.

Considering the complexity of the situation, a thorough

analysis of gender and development in rural Ecuador would involve

(at the very least) an exploration of a history of the sexual

2. Here I am referring to Friedmann's argument that the end point
of the commoditization process is the "separation of households
from all ties except those of the market" (1980:163).

- 3 -

division of labour and the expansion of capitalism; an

understanding of the context in which the country's agrarian

reform programmes arose; the direct effects of the programmes on

the lives of women and men; the precise extent to which agrarian

relations have become commoditized and how this has modified

daily life; the nature of non-commoditized ties and their links

to gender relations in the countryside; and the forms of

political struggle for both women and men in this context.

Within one short paper, however, it would be impossible to

do an indepth analysis of all these factors, although I will try

to touch on most of these points, however briefly, in an attempt

to bridge the gap between larger economic/political structures

and the everyday lives of rural costenos. This paper is

organized as follows. First, I offer some key points concerning

the history of the coast and sketch the context within which

agrarian reform became important in Ecuador. Then I outline the

effects, at the level of the rural household, of commoditization

on the production and exchange of agricultural products. Finally

I explore the relationship between a limited differentiation in

the countryside and the forms of political struggle for the rural


Historical Background

Essential to an understanding of the effects of the agrarian

- 4 -

reform on the sexual division of labour and on women in

particular is an awareness of the historical changes in the
sexual division of labour itself. This section explores the

relationship between the expansion of capitalism on the coast and

the segmentation of the rural labour force along gender lines.

Before the 1920's the social relations of production on the

coast involved large landholdings dedicated almost entirely to

the production of cacao. There is ample evidence to show that

these cacao haciendas were dependent specifically upon the use of

family labour, where men, women and children were involved in the

same project of producing cacao for export. Sembradores

(renters) were contracted by large (often absentee) landlords to

clear virgin land and to plant an appropriate number of cacao

trees. These trees took 5 to 7 years to reach maturation, at

which time the sembrador was paid for each healthy tree and then

moved on to another plot. Sembradores could not hold such

contracts unless they were "married and with a family" (Chiriboga

1980:199). Once the cacao was mature, iornaleros (day labourers)

were hired to maintain and harvest the cacao trees. All family

members of the iornalero were also expected to take part in this

work, although a wage differential existed depending on gender

3. One can divide the history of the coast into two distinct
periods: before and after the cacao crisis of the 1920s. Although
agricultural production was transformed in a major way by the
collapse of the cacao market in the 1920s, it is important to
understand the system of production in the pre-1920 period
because it had implications for the organization of labour for
some time after the crisis.

- 5 -

and age (Guerrero 1980).

In the 1920s, Ecuador's economy fell into a deep crisis

which was to last for almost two decades. Cacao exports were cut

to an absolute minimum with the loss of the European market in

the first World War, and exports were just beginning to recover

when the cacao haciendas themselves ware hit hard by plant

diseases (especially Witch's Broom). Most hacienda land was

sold, rented or simply abandoned during this time. Thousands of

agricultural workers flooded the coastal city of Guayaquil.

Chiriboga (1980:409) estimates that around 25,000 people were

expelled from the cacao haciendas.

The period between 1925 and 1938 was one of frequent

bankruptcy and considerable hacienda fragmentation. It is clear

that social relationships in the countryside, both those which

tied the labouring population together and since the crisis

created tremendous unemployment in rural araas those which tied

the labourer to the hacendado, were completely shattered. On the

other hand, however, some tenants were able to retain

'precarious' positions growing rice within the old cacao

hacienda. Smallholders, who either took over abandoned land or

were able to purchase inexpensive plots, appeared for the first

time in almost a century.

During this period, a system of precarismo ('precarious'

land tenancy) became the dominant form of production for the

cultivation of rice, now the most important crop in the region.

- 6 -

Under precarismo, renters paid 1 to 2 quintals of rice for each

cuadra of land rented from the landowner.4 This was usually by

verbal contract only.5 Agricultural technology remained very

rudimentary, with all phase of rice production being undertaken

by hand. Rice tenants were responsible for sowing, harvesting

and hiring additional labour when it was needed in production.

This indicated once again a considerable control by labour over

the production process, although tenants were also dependent upon

money lenders (fomentadores) and intermediaries for the marketing

of their rice harvests.

It was during this time that there emerged a new identity

for rural coastal labour: that of the montuvio.6 In the 1930s,

Jose De La Cuadra wrote one of the first extensive, albeit rather

impressionistic, accounts of the Ecuadorian montuvio. In his

work De La Cuadra emphasizes that rice production, both within

and outside of the hacienda, was undertaken on a family basis.


4. One quintal (qq.) equals 200 Ibs. of unfilled rice. One
cuadra is 3/4 of a hectare.

5. Because of this, no records of such contracts exist in the
property registries.

6. Although one can find reference to the montuvio before the
cacao crash, the term montuvio itself seemed to evolve most
clearly after the cacao crisis. The montuvio, referring
generally to the coastal labourer irrespective of whether a/he
was technically a peasant or a wage hand, was seen to have
characteristics quite different from the sierran rural labourer
(usually characterized as "Indian'), but it is possible to argue
that the montuvio identity and the indio identity were similarly
important for maintaining the labour structure of agricultural
production in the respective regions (Middleton 1979).

- 7 -

He notes that the roles of men and women in agricultural

production were entirely interchangeable "from milking a cow to

sowing rice with a digging stick" (1937:41). He also states

that: "In the concerns of proper campesino tasks, the woman, with

logical exclusions, is as capable and as expert as the male

montuvio" ibidd). Of course we do not know to which 'logical'

exclusions De La Cuadra is referring, but it does appear that at

least for the period just after the cacao crisis, family labour,

and here we are noting in particular women's labour, continued to

be important in agricultural production.

A flexibility in the sexual division of labour apparently

existed despite the fact that between the period of 1930 and 1948

rice became increasingly commercialized. Although a great deal

of rice was grown for consumption, it clearly was considered a

'cash crop' at this time since renters were also given garden

plots for subsistence purposes.

With the influx of sugar and banana interests in the 1940s,

however, land prices on the coast began to increase

dramatically. Both sugar and banana companies were able to buy a

great deal of inexpensive land around Guayaquil and Babahoyo at

the time of the cacao collapse. By the 1940s, these interests

7. In 1938, more than 20,000 metric tons of rice almost all of
it grown in the Guayas River Basin were exported out of the
country, although some 52,000 metric tons were actually
harvested, according to a Pan American Union publication (1949,
1954). In 1947, 61,981 metric tons of rice were exported and
111,000 metric tons were produced on the coast.

- 8 -

were aided by the new credit available from Ecuadorian banks, and

soon previously uncultivated lands in the Guayas River Basin and

south of Guayaquil in the province of El Oro became prized

territory (Larrea 1982). This new movement of capital into the

countryside often came into direct conflict with tenants who had

become quite entrenched in agricultural production by this time;

many long-term renters, called finqueros, considered themselves

landowners. According to Guerrero (1978), some peasant

cooperatives were formed in order to combat the problem of big

land take-overs during this time, but these quickly disappeared

when the peasants involved were unable to pay their bank loans.

The dramatic shift in agricultural production on the coast

compared with the pre-1925 and 1930 periods is revealed sharply

in a study done by Olen Leonard in the mid-1940s. Leonard was

involved in an agricultural project "designed to develop, improve

and increase the production in the Republic Cof Ecuador] of

certain crops that are needed but not produced in continental

United States" (1947:1). For this project he undertook a

household survey of a large cacao/rice hacienda in the Guayas

River Basin. Leonard notes the emergence of a number of

important features: 1) medium and small, not large landholdings

are the norm; 2) the policies of the hacienda vary but at the

time of the study mostly day labourers are being hired; 3) there

is a significant number of foreign landowners in the area; 4) the

hacienda is self-sufficient, with a school, stores, and its own

police force; 5) there is a high rate of intra-provincial

- 9 -

migration only 1/4 of the hacienda population had lived there

for more than 10 years, and 6) women are not involved in

agricultural production, "their duties are largely limited to

domestic tasks" (ibid:8).

This is the earliest statement that I have found referring

to the fact that coastal women did not work in the fields. Why

and how this came to be the case is not clear. However, it is

likely that the relationship in this case between a more

extensive use of day labourers, the (by then) abundant supply of

labour, the increased demand for domestic service with the

remarkable expansion of Guayaquil (cf.Crummett, 1985), and the

simultaneous entry of more commercial forms of agricultural

production on the coast, is the key to this new exclusion of

women from agricultural production. Such an argument awaits

further research.

The Emergence of a State Bureaucracy

By turning to the banana industry we gain some insight into

the nature of the economic changes taking place in coastal

agriculture after the 1940s. With the emergence of the banana

'boom', the national economy itself reached a critical stage of

capitalist development, triggering conditions which made

investment in agricultural production on the coast essential.

- 10 -

The year 1948 was an important one for Ecuador because it

signalled the recuperation of the country's export market with

the emergence of the banana boom. Galo Plaza, President of

Ecuador from 1948-1952, claims to have been visited by the United

Fruit Company during this time and assured that Ecuador had the

potential for at least ten good years of banana production.

According to Plaza, "Ecuador needed badly a new export crop to

replace the fast-fading rice crop" (1955:39), and it was under

his government that banana production increased dramatically on

the coast, making Ecuador "the world's largest exporter of this

fruit in a matter of a few years" (Larrea 1982:3). Banana

production was based exclusively on wage labour primarily male

labour where workers earned salaries higher than in other

agricultural activities on the coast.

It is important to note that during Plaza's presidency much

capital was also invested in renovating rice and cacao production

on the coast. In 1949, the government instituted the Empresa de

Renovaci6n del Cacao and centres were established in coastal

towns to disseminate new types of cacao seeds which were

disease-resistant. Apparently following the path of the banana

producers, those landowners who attempted to renovate their cacao

haciendas tried to hire wage labour only. Although this policy

clearly met resistance from tenants and Uggen (1975) has

detailed the ensuing conflict for the case of Yaguachi it is

significant that as much as 52% of the rural labour force on the

coast were independent day labourers by 1954, while only 2% of

- 11 -

agricultural workers could be categorized as such in the sierra

(Hurtado 1980).

Not unrelated to this new surge of capital into the

countryside was the fact that by the 1950s the American presence

in Ecuador was strong, and on the coast it was found concretely

in the form of the Agency for International Development (AID).

It had not escaped the notice of the U.S. that Ecuador had as

many as 21 presidents between 1931 and 1948 and was considered to

be "the most politically unstable of the Latin American

Republics" (Bromley 1977:44). That the United States was worried

about Ecuadorian political stability is clear in the evidence of

C.I.A. activities in the country during this time (Agee 1975).

The role of AID during this period was to promote 'peaceful

agrarian reform' (Redclift 1979:192). Contrary to the previous

history of rural development in coastal Ecuador, the Ecuadorian

government was now expected to control agricultural development,

and U.S. loans were made available on the understanding that it

would take up this role. An Instituto Nacional de Colonizaci6n

was formed colonization being seen as the solution to the

growing rural unrest caused by the conflict between landowners

who were beginning to invest capital in their holdings and tenant

labourers fighting for their continued access to land. In 1958

the Institute suddenly ordered the dissolution of any political

alliance between the coastal peasants and the Communist Party

(the latter was soon made illegal). This was said to be

- 12 -

necessary because "a workers' syndicate was not the proper form

of organization for finqueros or tenants, who must form instead

an agricultural cooperative" (Uggen 1975:167). The cooperative

movement was a direct result of AID's activities; the

organization had already begun experimenting with cooperatives on

the coast, apparently with some success in increasing rice

production levels.

Thus, by the late 1950s, there was a strange conglomeration

of production relations in the coastal countryside. While there

existed wage labourers in the banana and sugar plantations,

peasant production of rice and cacao was still important

although, to be sure, threatened by the increasing

commoditization of the countryside. This period marked the

emergence of the peasantry as an important political entity on

the coast, but it also signalled the unprecedented attempt of the

Ecuadorian state to manipulate this entity.

The Agrarian Reform Programme

By 1964, a provisional military Junta had introduced

Ecuador's first agrarian reform programme. Ecuador's plans for

agrarian reform were not devised independently but were closely

aligned to the development ideas of the Alliance for Progress in

the early 1960s. The Alliance for Progress was essentially an

American vehicle for the promotion of capitalist development in

- 13 -

Latin America, seen by the U.S. as essential for the prevention

of another Cuban revolution.

The U.S. Department of Defense claimed in 1966 that "Our

maJor obJective in Latin America is the promotion of economic and

social development" (1966:80). Such development was to take

place primarily through industrialization. This was not a

particularly new strategy since industrialization had been seen

as the key solution to the 'underdevelopment' of Latin American

countries in the '40s and '50s, but before the 1960's,

agriculture had always been viewed as a 'given' -

"something...you could drain resources from without need of
replacement." By the '60s, agriculture suddenly had an

important role to play in industrialization both in terms of

producing food for urban consumption and in terms of providing an

expanded consumer market for industry (Zaldivar 1974). For this

plan to work, changes in the agricultural sectors of Latin

America were seen as essential, and appropriate reform laws were


Although Ecuador passed an Industrial Development Law in

1957 with a clear import substitution bias it was not until

1964 that the ruling Military Junta passed the country's first

Agrarian Reform Law. The Reform Law was developed to promote

change specifically in those areas of agriculture which were seen


8. This a quote from two A.I.D. officials in Petras & LaPorte

- 14 -

to restrict the accumulation of capital (servile labour systems,

patronage, 'feudal'-minded hacendados, etc.). Because the coast

was seen to be far more advanced than the sierra in this respect,

this Reform Law focused primarily on sierran agriculture (Verduga

1978). Coastal landowners could own 2,500 hectares of land (plus

1,000 hectares of pasture) without fear of expropriation. Even

if they owned more than that such landowners could avoid

expropriation if they incorporated themselves (Uggen 1975), a

practice which was not uncommon.

However, one important consequence of the reform for the

coast was the formation of IERAC, the Ecuadorian Institute of

Agrarian Reform and Colonization. IERAC soon began competing for

peasant support and eventually entered into an alliance with

CEDOC, the Ecuadorian Confederation of Catholic Workers (Uggen

1975). CEDOC was based in the sierra, backed by the Catholic

Church and generally thought to represent a 'conservative'

peasantry. Uggen persuasively argues that, by banning the PCE

(Communist Party) and creating a peasant segment on the coast

which accepted the idea of monetary compensation to landowners

for expropriated land (a IERAC policy), "the junta hoped to drive

a wedge into the peasant movement and create a national peasant

movement dependent on the government" (1975:211).

By the late '60s, however, coastal agricultural was in

dismal shape. Within a short period of time, the coast had

experienced a sharp fall in banana exports and two severe

- 15 -

droughts. An increasing number of land invasions were taking

place as hacendados began evicting tenants. From the hacendado's

point of view, precarismo had become an increasingly inefficient

system for the production of rice, primarily because of the

emerging commodity relations in other areas of agriculture. The

influx of foreign capital (especially in banana production) now

determined the conditions of production in the Guayas River Basin

as a whole and signalled a need for investment within the

rice/cacao hacienda in particular. Under such conditions,

'mixed' farming became an important alternative for these

hacendados, and cattle soon dominated sections of land previously

reserved for the precaristas' agricultural production (Redclift


Finally, a government decree (Decreto 1001) in 1970 was

introduced to have a more radical impact on the coastal agrarian

situation. Like the 1964 Reform, it did not touch banana and

sugar interests.10 However, rice precarismo became illegal and

attempts were made to organize ex-precaristas into cooperatives,

through what had been called the Land Sale Guarantee Plan


9. According to one survey, it was because of increasing
'internal costs' that the export of rice had become impractical
by the 1950s. Its export was heavily subsidized until the
mid-'60s when rice exports were discontinued altogether (Overseas
Economic Surveys, 1954).

10. According to Uggen (1975), banana and sugar plantation owners
had a strong voice in Congress during this period.

- 16 -

(Blankatein & Zuvekas 1973). In recognition of the complexity

of coastal agricultural problems, state intervention was to take

the form of a 'development package', involving the collaboration

of various interests (the government, industrialists, bankers) to

promote changes in marketing and in the small producer's access

to land, credit and technology.

It appears, however, that little in the way of coastal

'reform' took place outside a small group of cooperatives until

1973, when Ecuador's second Agrarian Reform Law was passed, once

again by a Military Junta. To some, the 1973 Reform was a

'watered down version' of the previous Decrees, but in many ways

it was with this reform that the state's vision of agricultural

progress on the coast was clearest, i.e., to develop capitalist

agriculture. For example, no ceilings were placed on the size of
landholdings and agricultural credit was greatly expanded due

to the new oil riches of the country in 1972. Recognizing that

the country needed to steer from a dependence on single export

products (cacao, bananas, oil) for its economic development, the

Junta hoped to create some economic stability in key areas of the

country (e.g., the Guayas River Basin) by quickly reinvesting oil


11. By the 1960s, some 46,000 tenant families were working about
160,000 hectares of land under the precarismo system (Redclift
1978). In almost all of the cooperatives which were formed only
the ownership of the land is communal; agricultural production is

12. That the farm unit was fulfilling its 'social function' was
considered more important (Redclift 1978).

- 17 -

revenues into agricultural production. Thus, as oil revenues

began to overshadow revenues from agricultural exports, the level

of investment within the country greatly increased (Bocco 1982).

Yet, the most significant characteristic of changes in the

agrarian sector after the reforms has less to do with the

distribution of landed property than with the role of commodity

relations and the development of an expanded consumer market. We

can say this because, first of all, it is quite clear that

decreases in the number of large property holdings on the coast

were taking place long before the agrarian reform programme was

implemented. In fact Saunders (1961) mentions that large

landowners were slimming their property sizes as early as the

1950s a period, as I have already noted, which marked the

beginning of large-scale capital investment on the coast.

The second point to made-in this regard is that despite its

rhetoric concerning land re-distribution, the agrarian reform

programme has influenced the concentration of landholdings very

little. In the province of Los Rfos (where my work was done), if

one takes the top 40X of the largest sized UPAS (agricultural

production units) there has been no change from 1954 to 1974; in

both years these UPAs controlled 95x of the land (INEC 1954,

1974). According to Redclift's (1978) figures, the percentage of

land owned (as opposed to rented) in Los Rios increased by only

1.8x between 1972 and 1974. Redclift also points out that even

within the specific period of greatest reform activity for the

- 18 -

coast (1972-1974), little change in land distribution had taken

place in the reform programme's prime target area, i.e., the rice

zone of the Guayas River Basin. "In global terms", Redclift

notes, "only about 7x of the land considered ripe for

expropriation had been finally handed over to the ex-precaristas

who had worked it" (1978:127).13 It seems safe to conclude,

therefore, that the agrarian reform programme had a minimal

impact on the re-distribution of landed property.14

Thus, despite the fact that the agrarian reforms are said to

have been formulated 'for the campesino', it is likely that the

primary aim of the Decree and Reform Law was to eliminate

remaining obstacles to the accumulation of capital on the
coast. Specifically, this meant increasing rice yields through

the use of technological inputs, and 'rationalizing' rice

13. This transfer of land, as I have already noted, primarily
involved male beneficiaries. Since precaristas were the main
target group and these tenants were primarily men, women most
often did not qualify. One study in the Guayas River Basin found
that of the 3,147 beneficiaries polled, only 5.7% were women
(CEDEGE, 1978).

14. Luzuriaga & Zuvekas (1983:167) maintain that, for the sierra
and coast taken together, "(b)y the end of 1978 a total of
479,733 hectares (still only 7% of the land in farms in 1974) had
been re-distributed to 57,372 beneficiary families...".

15. This process was reinforced in fact by an 'agrarian
development law' passed in 1979. The main purpose of this law
was to "increase production and the productivity of the
agricultural/animal husbandry sector in an accelerated and
continual way, to satisfy the food requirements of the Ecuadorian
population, to produce exportable surpluses and to provide raw
materials for national industry" (Titulo 1, Articulo Ib). See
Baraky (1984) for an analysis of this Law.

- 19 -

marketing (bypassing the intermediaries) in order to feed an

ever-increasing number of urban consumers. Since offering land

to precaristas also helped to contain a potentially revolutionary

peasantry, it is not surprising that land redistribution became

an important part of the programme as well, especially since

transforming tenants into landowners also had the potential of

creating a middle class (thereby further increasing demands for

industrial products).

On the other hand, however, we know that the penetration of

commodity relations into agriculture can follow different paths

and take different forms, depending on existing conditions in

specific cases (Goodman & Redclift 1981). Now that we have at

hand a general appraisal of the agrarian reform programme, the

purpose of the next section is to document the specific 'path'

which commoditization has taken in coastal agriculture and to

show the extent to which this "path' has transformed gender and

class relations in the countryside.

Commodity Relations in Coastal Agriculture

The process of commoditization in agriculture must be

understood with reference to both circulation and production, to

the exchange as well as the production of commodities. I begin

my discussion of commoditization with an examination of the

circulation of different commodities. Then I examine commodity

- 20 -

production by considering separately the different sets of

relationships important to the reproduction of the farm/household

unit (specifically land, credit, technology and labour), noting

both the extent to which these factors of production have been

modified by the agrarian reform's 'development package' and the

effect of these commodity forms on the texture of gender and

class relations in the countryside. Here, we will be

particularly interested in evaluating the contradictory effects

of commoditization. For example, we will see that while women

have become more marginalized from agricultural production, they

have maintained a certain degree of power through their control

of non-commoditized networks essential to the reproduction of the

household. Similarly, while there has been an increased

differentiation1 between rural households, certain features of

the market have drawn these same households together through an

emphasis on family ties.

16. I should note here that when I speak of differentiation I am
not speaking of variations in the economic status of farmers
(e.g., poor, middle, rich). Although these are 'starting-points'
for differentiation (Lenin 1964), I am concerned rather with the
process whereby farm producers are transformed into two separate
social classes, one class owning the means of production and
hiring wage labour, and the other class with only its labour
power to sell. Lenin's position is that commodity penetration
into the cycle of household reproduction allows for a process of
accumulation, which in turn leads to differentiation. As small
producers kulaksks') produce more commodities and as landless
labourers (as well as 'allotment holders') rely more on the
market for basic items of consumption, commoditization increases
still further, leading to the expansion of a home market.

- 21 -

The Circulation of Commodities

An important indicator of commoditization is that

agricultural products are being sold on the market rather than

consumed. As mentioned above, one of the most important

objectives of the agrarian reform programme was to revitalize

agricultural production to feed the country's urban population.

Although it is difficult to discern in the statistical data,

Luzuriaga & Zuvekas (1983) argue that there is a general trend in

the country as a whole for farmers, in their need for immediate

cash, to sell more and consume less of their harvests. this was

certainly confirmed in my own work (in rural Vinces, Los Rios).

Perhaps not surprisingly (given what Marx C1977:8013 saya

about the uneven penetration of capital in agriculture), certain

products have become more fully integrated into the market than

others. For example, one branch of production in which capital

has become important is beef ranching, 90x of beef ranches being

located on the coast (World Bank 1979). According to a recent

World Bank study, the commercialization of beef cattle in the

country has intensified because "strong demands began to

strengthen prices" (p.145). Given the high prices obtained for

- 22 -

beef,7 the relatively easy credit extended by the Banco

Nacional de Fomento (BNF) for livestock production and the low

investment in labour costs in such production, it is not

difficult to understand why many large landowners on the coast

have specialized in cattle ranching over and above other types of

agricultural products.18

However, it is most important for us to look at the

circulation of rice, since it was clearly this product in which

the agrarian reform programme was most interested. Given the

control of millowners and merchants over the rice market in the

1960s, it was clear that the revitalization of agricultural

production could not take place without some state intervention

in the marketing system. Yet, throughout the agrarian reform

period of the early 1970s, the Ecuadorian state took a fairly low

profile in the area of marketing.1 The government finally set

17. According to an article in the Guayaquil newspaper, El
Universe, the rate of profit in the beef industry is phenomenal.
Ganaderos tend to sell their cattle to intermediaries for 24 to
30 sucres a pound 'en canal'. The intermediaries sell the meat
for more than 34 sucres a pound, but they can also sell the
leather and by-products. The consumer in Guayaquil buys this
meat for 50 to 60 sucres (with bones) or up to 110 sucres a pound
for lomo fino. The profit made in the difference between what
the producer is paid and what the consumer must pay amounts to
more than 4,000 sucres per head of cattle, "without adding the
possibility of speculative prices" (1982:8).

18. A similar argument can be made for the production of poultry
and pork.

19. Why this was the case is unclear; it is likely that the
elected government was reluctant to directly interfere because of
pressure from large landowners.

- 23 -

the prices which rice mills were to pay direct producers in 1972,

but it was not until 1975, when ENAC (the National Marketing

Board) was created, that the state began to have a direct and

substantial control over the organization of rice marketing.

Before this time, a private marketing board called

FENACOOPARR (National Federation of Rice Cooperativea) bought

much of the rice from the cooperatives formed by the agrarian

reform programme. Almost 90X of the rice sold by FENACOOPARR

went to the government, but this was only about 20x of the rice

sold in Guayaquil, the region's largest rice market. In 1974,

other sources of Guayaquil's rice consumption in the mid-'70s

were the state rice-mill, Piladora 'Nodelo', (24X), other

(private) mills (28.5X), and dealers or intermediaries (28.5x).

Given these figures, it was clear that there was plenty of room

for state expansion in the marketing of the product. By the next

year, 1975, ENAC bought and processed almost 70X of the rice

produced in the region.20

Yet the formation of ENAC has in many ways been more

favourable to the merchants than to the small farmer. This is

not something which I can detail here (see Phillips 1985), but it

should be recognized that there are many constraints placed on

smell farmers which do not allow them to buy and sell freely in

the product market and which restrict their direct access to

20. The figures in this paragraph are taken from Redclift (1978).
20. The figures in this paragraph are taken from Redclift (1978).

- 24 -

ENAC. Here there are restrictions both on the basis of class and

gender. In the case of the latter it is the men who do the

marketing of products in town and control household expenditures

(doing the grocery shopping for the household, etc.); the

activities of rural women are restricted considerably by

ideologies stipulating that they should not, for example, andar

sola (walk alone). Yet many men are also restricted in their

access to ENAC's higher prices because of long-term debts to

local merchants, their inability to get bank loans and their need

for immediate cash.

This situation has tended to increase the interdependence of

smallholders, agricultural labourers and landowner/merchants

within the countryside. This interdependence is expressed in kin

terms "we are all family here" in a way which underplays the

real economic differences between such people. Two very

important ways in which rural people strengthen such networks is

by expanding the relations which can be considered 'family'

through plural unions and compadrazqo (the godparenthood


What is quite obvious in many areas of the coast is that

there exists a certain "backwardness' in the circulation of

commodities. This 'backwardness' has encouraged the investment

of any capital which is accumulated in agriculture, not back into

agriculture itself but into other activities such as transport

and merchant activities which yield better rates of return (cf.

- 25 -

Bernatein 1979). Thia helps to explain for example the enthusiasm

with which many of the petty bourgeoisie in rural coastal areas

have entered the transportation business. To clarify why and how

this 'backwardness' occurs, however, we must now turn to the

process of commoditization within the reproduction of farm units


Production of Commodities and Reproduction of the

Farm Unit

A discussion of the commoditization of agriculture at the

local level involves a consideration of the kinds of factors of

production which are essential to the daily and generational

reproduction of the farm/household unit. However, the process

whereby the reproduction of farm units becomes commoditized is a

variable, uneven and complicated one. Thus, some aspects of the

reproduction of the farm unit may be mediated by market relations

while others may not. I appraise this situation for households
in rural Vinces, by looking specifically at land,

technological inputs, credit, and labour all factors which were

to be mobilized (at least to some extent) through the agrarian

21. This study was undertaken between 1980 and 1982 and was
funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of
Canada. The information here is based on participant
observation, a survey of 106 households and 7 detailed case

- 26 -

reform programme.


Land is not a 'given' in agricultural production. The

social relations linked to access to land must be reproduced just

as much as relations linked to obtaining credit, attracting

labour to the farm unit, etc. In rural Vinces, these relations

were transformed quite dramatically by the agrarian reform

programme. With the threat of the reforms, many landlords threw

renters off their land or tried to sell portions of their land on

the open market in an attempt to avoid expropriation. Some were

successful, but many owners of haciendas in the Vinces area lived

elsewhere and in such cases the precaristas were able to organize

themselves and apply to IERAC for expropriation.

Part of the 'development package' in the agrarian reform

programme was that IERAC was to mediate between landowners and

the precariatas in the transfer of land. The institute was

responsible for identifying the quality and quantity of land on

which the precaristas had been working (the final price being

based on land values according to DNAC, the national cadastral

office) and ensuring that the money paid by the precariatas for

the land was transferred to the previous landowner.22

22. AID officials had determined that coastal landowners were
actually willing to sell land by that time in order to invest in
more liquid assets (Blankstein & Zuvekes 1973). However, in the
case of Vinces, many landlords were willing to sell land, but

- 27 -

Thus, although the above caveat concerning the limited

degree to which the agrarian reform program actually

re-distributed land should be heeded, the reform did enable some

landless labourers to become landed and this did have an effect

on social relations in the countryside.

First, there are indications that land is now being held for

speculative rather than agricultural purposes. For example,

there are a number of large landowners who have divided their

haciendas located close to town into solares (house plot) and

are selling them at fairly high prices ($6,000 to 910,000
sucres). Second, it does appear that a greater percentage of

the rural population in the area must survive on very small plots

of land, most relying heavily on the market for basic items of

consumption. Many of these minifundistas (a term usually

reserved for the aierran situation) can be found within the

cooperatives themselves. Many socioa are not able to survive

solely on the plot of land they receive (often only 2-3 cuadras)

and thus are forced to work outside the cooperative.

However, it should also be noted that, while changes in the

land tenure pattern are related to a predominance of wage labour

in the countryside, access to land in this area is not totally

mediated by commodity relations. First, access to land is

obJected to selling it to their workers; thus, struggles over
expropriation were far from uncommon.

23. $1.00 (Am.) = 40 sucres (1982).

- 28 -

mediated by the concept of the genderedd person' (cf.Hirschon

1984). Women's compromisos (mates)24 or brothers are much more

likely to be controlling landed property than the women

themselves, even though legally women have equal rights with men

in concerns of inheritance. The reproduction of the farm unit

itself is not independent of this factor since, without the

marginalization of women from the land, fragmentation through

inheritance would be much more of a serious problem than it is

today. Far from alleviating this problem, the implementation of

cooperatives has intensified the situation since in practice, if

not in theory, only males inherit socio-ship.

A second important point is that many cooperatives in the

area do not legally 'own' their land, but simply have control

over its production. This is primarily because the state has

fairly strict rules about land payments and production levels for

individual cooperatives, and those cooperatives which are not

capable of fulfilling them do not receive title. Thus, many

socios are left in a position not entirely dissimilar to their

previous position as precaristas. but now with the state as

landlord and controller of the product market (cf. Zaldivar


Third, there is a local practice of 'giving away' small


24. Compromisos may refer to publicly-recognized 'free unions'
(marriage is not common in this area) or to women's mates in such

- 29 -

plots of land, often on the basis of kinship ties. Those who

have access to land by virtue of this phenomenon most often have

unwritten labour obligations to the 'donor' and this in itself

has become an important part of the reproduction of the

farm/household. For example, Margarita was given a solar by a

landowner while she worked as a cook for him and now that she is

too old to do this, her two sons work for the landowner on a

semi-permanent basis. A different example is that of Juanita,

whose landowning grandfather offers a small plot of rice land

free of charge to Juanita's landless comoromiso, while Juanita

regularly collects herbs and medicine for her grandfather's

failing health. Women's networks particularly their control

over kin ties which involve the obligation to 'help' become an

important contribution to the reproduction of rural households in

this respect.

Finally, it is important to note how labour in the area has

attempted to maintain its hold over land, no matter how small in

size the land may be. It is not only that these rural people

recognize that without any land at all they will have nothing but

their labour power to sell and that such access to land provides

a buffer from a total dependence on commoditized relations. They

also know that having a plot of land implies some support from

others, especially given the existence of the family network in

which they are embedded. This in itself implies that the social

relations of landed property are not entirely commoditized.

- 30 -


A second aspect of the 'development package' of the agrarian

reform programme has been an emphasis on increased yields in

agriculture. In the 1970 Decree it was assumed that the

precarista-cum-landowner knew little about 'efficient' farming

and thus agricultural technicians were sent to the cooperatives

to draw up production plans which would enable the new landowners

to pay for the land within ten years. Cooperatives had to have

such a 'plan' in order to move from a 'pre-cooperative' to a full

cooperative stage in the government's eyes.

In the Vinces area these plans involve a very detailed

examination of exactly what the cooperative can grow, how much it

can grow and what kind of 'profit' can be turned at the end of

each year. Also, INIAP (the National Institute for Agricultural

Research)-has done some experimentation with new types of rice

seeds, fertilizer and insecticides to aid agricultural production

within cooperatives. These inputs have been made available to

the (male-controlled) Union of Cooperatives (UNOCAVB) in Vinces.

This new technology was also the raison d'~tre for the

experimental farm which was sat up in the area 10 years ago.

Today this farm, run by the University of Guayaquil and at least

partly funded by the Ministry of Agriculture, even uses

sprinkling systems for its cultivation of corn and rice.

Although this display has not encouraged many farmers in the area

to purchase such systems, it does prompt a certain amount of

- 31 -

admiration by the locals who never fail to comment on the

'beauty' of the crops when they pass by.

Yet, the attempt to increase the use of technological inputs

has had uneven results in the Vinces area. This is because

although the state has made progress in increasing production,25

not all farmers can invest in production to the same extent.

Thus, while almost all farmers (both within and outside of

cooperatives) now buy insecticide for their crops and experiment

with rice seeds to evaluate differences in yields and labour

input, only the larger landowner can afford large expenditures

such as renting corn grinding machines or tractors to till the


It is important to note here that the widespread use of

insecticide (the application of which is considered 'men's work')

has displaced the labour of women, who previously worked as human

'scarecrows' in the fields. Also, it is women's work of

degraining corn by hand which is being replaced by the

introduction of corn grinding machines.


Given the above purchases of insecticide, seeds, etc., money

is clearly necessary in the agricultural production cycle. The


25. For example, rice yields per hectare have more than doubled
in Canton Vinces since 1954.

- 32 -

extension of credit was a third aspect of the 'development

package' of the programme. With the 1970 Decrees, the role of

the BNF had been expanded considerably. Credit authorized by the

BNF increased by almost 300% between 1973 and 1974 alone

(Redclift 1978). This was also the period when Ecuador became

a member of OPEC (1973) and the then President Rodriguez Lara

spoke of 'la siembra del petroleo', indicating the reinvestment

of oil revenues into agriculture (Redclift 1978). However, this

expansion did not last long and by 1975, with the foreign debt

increasing, we find the head of the BNF admitting that

agricultural loans would have to be reduced because of

difficulties in recuperating them and because the bank "was

losing control over its operations" (Redclift 1978:25).2 The

negative effects of such a policy can be seen in the fact that,

according to a Vinces bank manager, "muy pocos" loans are granted

to cooperatives and smallholders in the area; the bank views most

of these farmers as high credit risks. On the other hand, I knew

of no rural women who had bank loans.


26. Even so, the majority of credit went to those units of
production specializing in livestock (Griffin 1976).

27. It is interesting, in this respect, that a study undertaken
by the World Bank (1979) points out that the BNF was experiencing
a 'loans problem', with 17.5% of its loan portfolio in arrears -
47% of those being overdue for more then a year. Thereafter it
appears that pressure was placed on the BNF to become more
efficient and selective in its credit extension. The World Bank
indicates that the problems of the BNF have been "identified with
the help of outside consultants" (ibid:110) and that the BNF is
now trying to reduce its proportion of overdue loans.

- 33 -

Yet the fact is that loans from the BNF tie producers to

certain types of agriculture. Although this can be viewed as an

attempt by the state to intervene further in the conditions of

agriculture production, it is something which most farmers in the

area are not willing to tolerate. When the bank manager told me

that these farmers cannot be relied upon to spend their credit on

the crops they are 'supposed' to grow, he was indicating the

degree to which these producers attempt to resist this


The policy of the bank to lend only to low credit risks also

helps to explain the reliance of rural Vincenos for credit on

merchants/usurers who have fewer claims on the form which

production should take. The extent to which the rural population

is indebted to town merchants is quite extraordinary. The owner

of one almackn (hardware store) told me in 1982 that rural people

in the area owed the store from 5 to 6 million sucres. -However,

it is also important to note that rural VinceNos prefer to borrow

money from 'family' because land is much less likely to be

alienated from them if a debt cannot be paid. This strategy is

effective in resisting more direct control by merchant capital

(cf. Roseberry 1978) and helps to explain why those people

living in the area are most likely to sell their crops to a

merchant with whom they also have kinship connections.

- 34 -


A frequent corollary of more capital intensive activities in

agriculture is rural unemployment and/or high migration levels.

Of course, the mobilization of labour the separation of

labourers from subsistence production was an important part of

the reform's objectives. Unfortunately, however, the extent of

unemployment on the coast does not appear in the statistical data

because censuses focus on farm units, not individuals. There are

in fact no reliable studies on the Ecuadorian employment

situation (see Luzuriaga & Zuvekas 1983 for an indication of just

how unreliable such studies are in Ecuador); in any case, such

data tend to have strong gender biases in terms of who is and who

is not defined as part of the 'economically active population'.

However, it is quite clear from Guayaquil's burgeoning population

that migration from the countryside continues (women primarily

for domestic employment and men for construction and factory

work) and that this migration is closely tied to employment

changes in the rural sectors of the country (Middleton 1981).

However, because a sufficient number of urban employment

opportunities do not exist to absorb this flood from the

countryside, we also find a surplus of labour in the

countryside. This can be seen in the large number of rural

casual labourers (particularea). Many men in rural Vinces claim

that they do not work at all, when what they in fact do is take

up temporary jobs whenever and wherever they become available a

- 35 -

couple of hours of harvesting here, a small well-building project

there. We also find that women who live in these kinds of

households do anything they can to bring in supplementary income

or consumption goods. Two 'unmentionable', but quite widespread,

activities are the washing of clothes for others (for pay) and

scavenging for food and firewood. Once again, a strong family

network is the key in such activities, both for access to other

people's land for scavenging purposes and for information

concerning employment. Strategies such as expanding one's

'family' (and, thus, one's support base) by forming compare

relationships and plural unions help to buffer these rural

households from complete dependence on the market. However, it

should be recognized that these strategies also help to keep

rural wages low and maintain a reliable labour force for larger

landowners in the area.

There is no doubt that cooperatives themselves have had an

influence on the labour market in the rural Vinces area. First

of all, a few of the larger cooperatives hire wage labourers.

Second, cooperative unions provide political jobs to a number of

ex-precariatas. These jobs tend to be monopolized by a small

group of men who rent out their cooperative land to family

members or friends. Third, because the benefits of belonging to

a cooperative often appear to be quite limited, many members

perceive themselves to be little more than wage workers,

irrespective of whether or not they are technically landowners.

- 36 -

On the other hand it should be noted that the household

units within all of these cooperatives are only partially

integrated into the wage labour market. Significantly enough,

that part is male. This is not surprising given that a

gender-differentiated labour force is particularly useful within

the context of a 'reproduction squeeze',28 where access to

credit and product markets is limited, but one must sell more

(and thus produce more) in order to survive. A division on the

basis of gender (reinforced by ideologies of motherhood and

family 'responsibilities') has helped to lower costs of

production within farm units because women's labour can be

intensified without their demanding increased remuneration in the

form of money. Thus, while change in some aspects of the

reproduction cycle of farm units in rural Vinces, e.g., the use

of technological inputs such as insecticide, has displaced the

labour of women, other changes have helped to extend and

intensify their labour. This fact alone indicates that the

question of 'gender' and 'development' is a far from simple one.

Social Differentiation and Political Struggle

In the previous section we saw that at the level of the


28. This is Bernatein's (1979) term for the process whereby the
farm unit experiences increasing coats of production at the same
time that it experiences decreasing returns to labour.

- 37 -

rural household there are clear differences in who can get bank

credit, who can rent tractors, and who has access to a sufficient

amount of land for household reproduction. (Significantly, there

has been both a gender and class component here). We have also

seen that greater yields are being obtained by farmers in the

area (through technological inputs as well as increased labour

extraction) and that harvests are more likely to be sold as

commodities than consumed by the farm unit. Likewise, although

soat people in the area do have access to some land, basic items

are often purchased.

Yet from what we have seen throughout this paper we cannot

in any way say that households in rural Vinces have reached the

end point of commoditization. We need only recall the emphasis

on family ties to see that such is not the case in rural Vinces,

if indeed it is the case anywhere in rural Ecuador. In rural

Vinces, commodity relations clearly are a part of the cycle of

reproduction of farm units, but this involves a limited


This point leads directly into our consideration of the role

of labour in the process of commoditization outlined above.

Specifically, what can a 'limited' differentiation tell us about

the struggles of rural men and women in coastal Ecuador? To

answer this question, it is worth considering Bernatein's (1979)

argument. Bernstein contends, for the case of Africa, that there

is a constant tension in agriculture between labour's struggle to

- 38 -

maintain some control over the means of production and capital's

attempt to determine the conditions of production. It seems to

me that this is precisely what is illustrated in the above

changes in the reproduction of the farm/household unit in rural

Vinces. It is by no means a coincidence that it is within the

circuit of merchant capital that we have identified a certain

'backwardness', for it is here that the attempts of labour to

resist control by the state have been most successful, i.e.,

local producers can rely on non-commoditized (family) ties for

access to credit. Furthermore, we cannot say that the

penetration of productive capital has been entirely successful in

regulating labour. This is primarily because a part of the means

of production (land) still remains within the control of labour.

This in itself allows labourers a certain degree of freedom to

supervise themselves to meet the demands of 'reproduction

squeezes' which occur because of falling relative prices, etc.

However, essential to a discussion concerning labour's

resistance to a complete control by productive capital is the

fact that in rural Vinces the labourers' ability to supervise

'themselves' takes the very specific form of supervising

'women'. For it is primarily men who have control over this

aspect of production and, reinforced by non-economic forms of

coercion such as motherhood, it is the labour of women in

particular which can be regulated and extended to meet increasing

demands on the farm/household.

- 39 -

Once we recognize that the struggles of rural labour play an

important part in the particular character of the process of

commoditization, we can begin to explain one other important

feature of the agrarian structure: the emphasis on family ties.

We have found that these ties bind together rural households

which have differentiated access to valued resources such as land

and technological inputs. Without such ties many particulares

would not survive in the countryside, and many a farm would be

forced into capitalist relations of production when, given the

unpredictable economic climate, such a move would not seem wise.

Rather than considering this situation as one of 'hidden

unemployment' (as does Mintz, 1974), we can turn the table

around, so to speak, and analyze it as an attempt on the part of

producers to maintain some control over the production process.

Specifically, the struggles of producers to deal with the

'reproduction squeeze' in rural Vinces has involved an extraction

of surpluses from rural labour, but in a way which always stops

3ust short of completely separating the producer from the means

of production (thus, the phenomenon of 'giving away' land) or

reproducing one's farm unit through the purchase of wage labour

alone (given extra-economic obligations as 'kin').

However, while such relations are clearly important survival

strategies for the rural population, they also have serious

political implications. Briefly I will identify only two here.

First of all, I would argue that it is precisely the above

situation which discourages rural labourers from expressing their

- 40 -

day-to-day problems as those of class struggle. Thus, for

example, the normal response to questions about exploitation

within the countryside is that 'we are all family here', and that

the problem is the 'government' or the large landowers with whom

one has few direct contacts. In rural Vinces, it is only the

eqoistas (the very large landowners) who can flatly state a class

position and not fear the consequences.

Secondly, I have argued that an important dimension to

'women's work' is that of maintaining the very non-commoditized

ties which place limits on the formation of agrarian capital.

While it is clear that women are not entirely isolated from one

another in separate households dominated by men, the kinds of

networks which bind women together have the same double edge as

'family' relations. They are important to the survival of the

household and give women a certain degree of power in this

respect but insofar as these relations are shot through with

different class interests, they undercut the overt and direct

expression by women of their oppression as women.

This is not to say that women do not struggle with their

oppression, but that such struggles tend to be .very

individualized. Since women's struggles are intricately tied

into the personal ties in which they are embedded, problems are

defined, not in terms of male control over resources, for

example, but in terms of Marisol's 'bad luck' of having a

domineering compromise, Patricia's unfortunate situation of being

- 41 -

abandoned for another woman, etc. Within this framework women

may struggle with such problems in various ways, e.g., returning

to live with their mothers until their compromises agree to be

more reasonable, bearing another child to strengthen their

position via-a-vis a 'wandering' compromise,29 and setting up

their own negocios in small-scale pig or chicken businesses in

order to offset their financial dependence on men.


In this paper I have detailed transformations in the coastal

agrarian sector to clarify how the experiences of the rural

population are hooked into the larger, contradictory processes of

the region as a whole. Now, for example, we have a much clearer

idea of the historical underpinnings to the division of labour by

sex, the kind of agrarian reform programme that the Ecuadorian

state had hoped to implement and the extent to which the problem

of 'gender and development' is much more complicated than a

question of 'land' alone.

By disaggregating the relations of reproduction of the rural

household it was possible to show that, not unlike other Latin


29. In this respect it is interesting that fertility on the coast
is much higher than in the sierra (Scrimahaw 1981). Women in my
study had an average of 6.6 children. This, despite an
intensification in government 'family planning' schemes since the

- 42 -

American countries, the process of commoditization in rural

coastal Ecuador has been (and still is) an uneven and incomplete

one. We have seen that this is partly because of the role of the

state in promoting an uneven development in the production and

exchange of agricultural commodities (promoting commoditization

in production while attempting to control the distribution of

certain products for urban consumption), partly because the

commoditization of agriculture may allow at least some control by

producers over the means of production, and partly because of the

resistance of rural labour to increasing control over

agriculture. We have also seen that gender differentiation is

not simply a by-product but an integral part of this process.

This often has unfortunate consequences for women, but it is also

clear that women struaqle with this situation, and that these

struggles do have some impact on the specific forms that larger

social and economic forces can take at the local level.

- 43 -


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