Globally Integrated Food Systems, Land Use Change and the Double Burden of Malnutrition Among Small Holder Farmers in the Dominican Republic

Smallholder Farmers in the Domonican Republic, Photo Credit: Marion Werner, October 2017.

Smallholder Farmers in the Domonican Republic, Photo Credit: Marion Werner, October 2017

In middle-income countries, food systems are being reshaped by a variety of factors including rising household incomes, urbanization, multi-scalar supply chains (regional, national, transnational), women’s labor force participation, state food programs, and changing international trade rules. Our project looks at this process from the perspective of smallholder farmers in the Caribbean, as both producers and consumers of food. 

As producers, smallholder farmers face unprecedented challenges to position themselves within domestic and international supply chains in the wake of increasing trade integration and declining state support. These rural transformations in production are linked to a broader nutritional transition as diets shift from grains to animal products, and from fresh produce to processed foods. As a result, middle income countries, including those in the Caribbean, face a “double burden” of malnutrition: undernourishment, on the one hand, and overweight and obesity, on the other. 

Our project examines the double burden of malnutrition among small farmers in a middle income Caribbean country to ask how farmer participation in different supply chains shapes household health outcomes. As most studies focus on international comparisons, the geographical distribution of under- and over-nourishment within countries and its relationship to trade integration is poorly understood. The study develops an intra-national comparison of two rural regions in the Dominican Republic (DR). The DR is a large agricultural producer undergoing significant trade liberalization, with moderate but rising rates of overweight and obesity. The study will ask how small farmer participation in different supply chains shapes household nutritional health outcomes.

We will develop an intra-national regional comparison of the northeast and southwest of the DR. These robust agricultural areas are integrated differently into national and export markets and are undergoing ecological and market stresses that are changing crop patterns. Social scientists, an applied economist, a public health expert, and a spatial scientist will collaborate in order to integrate existing large household survey and health data, remote sensing imagery and analysis, primary survey data, and semi-structured interviews. These methods will be applied to each region in order 1) to merge remote-sensing land use data with household surveys to explore the resulting nutritional and health outcomes; and 2) to complement and cross-validate the findings with regional in-depth data collected from field surveys and interviews. The project will advance new strategies for monitoring and measuring agricultural production, trade and nutritional transitions in rural settings in middle income countries. It will contribute to our understanding of the ways that agricultural production, trade integration and changes in diet interact. The project will innovate new data generation methods, train scientists in the United States, build greater research capacity among research collaborators in the Caribbean, and produce policy-relevant findings for decision-makers in the Dominican and US governments.

Articles and Reflections

Publications and Presentations

Adaptation strategies of smallholder rice farmers in the context of trade liberalization

In the Dominican Republic, farmers who supply the local market are facing an increasing number of ecological and economic challenges that affect their survival. In the context of unfavorable climate conditions, we highlight two additional limiting factors: (1) a decline in state support and (2) changing macroeconomic conditions due to the liberalization of trade and investment in agricultural industries. This study explores the social adaptation strategies developed by small and medium farmers to address these challenges. It takes economic geography as its focal point, investigating whether the region’s social and organizational resources, together with those of the government, create opportunities to produce food sustainably and profitably for a range of actors in the country.

Learn more about Dr. Werner's work at the UB Center for Trade, Environment and Development

International trade and the neoliberal diet in Central America and the Dominica Republic: Bringing social inequity to the center of analysis. 

Werner, M., Isa Contreras, P., Mui, Y., & Stokes-Ramos, H. (2019). Social Science and Medicine. Adaptation strategies of smallholder rice farmers in the context of trade liberalization

Global Value Chains and Uneven Development: A Disarticulations Perspective. 

Werner, M., & Bair, J. (2019). In Research Handbook on Global Value Chains: Edward Elgar.

Placing the State in the Contemporary Food Regime: Uneven regulatory development in the Dominican Republic. 

Werner, M. (2019). Journal of Peasant Studies. 

Postneoliberalism as institutional recalibration: Reading Polanyi through Argentina’s soy boom. 

Berndt, C., Werner, M., & Fernández, V. R. (2019). EPA: Economy and Space. 

Our Team

Marion Werner

Project Lead, Double Burden of Malnutrition; Associate Professor


111 Wilkeson Quad

Phone: 716-645-0475


Jessica Gilbert.

Jessica Gilbert

PhD Student


Marcos Morales


Instituto Geográfico Universitario, Universidad Autónoma de Santo Domingo. Santo Domingo, DN

Sarah Robert

Associate Professor

Department of Learning and Instruction

514 Baldy Hall

Phone: 716-645-4046


Hannah Stokes Ramos.

Hannah Stokes-Ramos

Graduate Student

Department of Geography