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MPhil in Engineering for Sustainable Development

global challenges, engineering solutions

Strengthening the Relationship Between Agriculture and Poverty Alleviation: a Case Study of Cocoa Smallholders in Ecuador

Cocoa, a core material for the chocolate industry, is primarily produced by smallholders, who live in poverty and share similar communal characteristics. Cocoa grows only in a 20° belt around the equator, in areas that deliver globally important ecosystem services. The poverty situation of cocoa smallholders (CSHs) represents an imperative opportunity to embed sustainability principles within poverty-reduction approaches. This dissertation aims to address these premises by stressing the understanding of CSHs as a social group, as well as to critically assess poverty-alleviation strategies and explore causal relationships within CSHs’ agriculture-poverty system.

Using the Sustainable Livelihoods Framework, the poverty context of CSHs was scrutinized by exploring their typical assets, processes, structures, livelihood strategies and outcomes. An Analytic Hierarchy Process (AHP) was applied afterwards to categorize six poverty-alleviation strategies in terms of key sustainability principles and well-being dimensions. A systems-dynamics perspective was then adopted to identify causal relationships between agriculture and the poverty dimensions of CSHs.

Key research findings expose the communal features shared by CSHs in Ecuador, as well as their complex relationship with the natural environment. The AHP highlights sustainable agriculture schemes and governance improvement, yet most of the evaluated poverty-alleviation strategies performed best under different criteria. A causal loop diagram shows the complex interdependencies and connections among economic, social, environmental and political variables that impact CSH’s poverty, as well as the system’s feedback loops and leverage points.

These results point out how critical it is to deploy simultaneous bottom-up and top-down strategies that reinforce poverty alleviation and that are tailored for the targeted social group. It is key to acknowledge that this research would be significantly strengthened with input from CSHs and other relevant stakeholders.



Course Overview


The need to engage in better problem definition through careful dialogue with all stakeholder groups and a proper recognition of context.


An ability to work with specialists from other disciplines and professional groups acknowledging that technical innovation and business skills also must be understood, nurtured and combined as precursors to the successful implementation of sustainable solutions.


An understanding of mechanisms for managing change in organisations so future engineers are equipped to play a leadership role.


An awareness of a range of assessment frameworks, sustainability metrics and methodologies such as Life Cycle Analysis, Systems Dynamics, Multi-Criteria Decision making and Impact Assessment.