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A Cautionary Tale: Failed U.S. Development Policy in Central America

Michael E. Conroy, Douglas L. Murray, and Peter M. Rosset
ISBN: 978-1-58826-192-2
1996/212 pages/LC: 95-26189
Food First Development Studies
"This book goes to the core of the problem of the new development model: that poverty in itself is an obstacle for development."— Ivette Perfecto, Society & Natural Resources

"This book, with its broad perspective and sensible solutions, offers a compelling approach for reducing the traumatic consequences of sudden agricultural adjustments. A Cautionary Tale presents a viable alternative to Central American farmers’ dismal Grapes of Wrath experience over the past decade."—Multinational Monitor

"A valuable exposé of how U.S. policy quietly destroys lives and genuine democracy abroad."—Nicaragua Monitor


Neither structural adjustment policies, nor industrialization, nor traditional agricultural exports have led to sustained economic growth and social equity in Central America. Seeking to reinvigorate the region's struggling economies, U.S. AID—supported by the World Bank and the IMF—designed a new development policy, one based on nontraditional agricultural exports. Crops ranging from passion fruit and broccoli to macadamia nuts and melons have been vigorously promoted through massive foreign aid and fierce pressure on local governments.

This book dissects the varied impacts of a decade of this central AID policy—impacts on the environment, on the livelihoods of thousands of small farmers, and on the sovereignty of elected governments. An anatomy of failure, of a policy gamble run amuck, the book is a cautionary tale that is must reading for scholars, practitioners, policymakers, and students of international development and U.S. foreign policy.


Michael E. Conroy is director of the Latin American Economic Studies Program at the University of Texas at Austin. Douglas L. Murray is associate professor of sociology at Colorado State University. Peter M. Rosset is executive director of the Institute for Food and Development Policy (Food First) in Oakland, California.


  • Foreword—Don Marcelo Xuc.
  • Central America's Lost Decade and Nontraditional Agricultural Export Strategy.
  • Cultivating Inequity: Nontraditional Agricultural Exports and the Rural Poor.
  • Implementing the Strategy: USAID Creates a Parallel State.
  • Undermining Small Farmers: The Structure of the Central American Nontraditional Agricultural Export Industry.
  • Eroding the Productive Base: The Ecology of Nontraditional Agricultural Exports.
  • Raising the Human Costs: Pesticides and Health in Central American Nontraditional Agricultural Exports.
  • Seeking New Directions: The Search for Alternatives.
  • Appendix: Statistical Profiles of Central American Producers of Nontraditional Agricultural Exports.