In the rural context of developing countries, agriculture continues to be the backbone of the economy, about 2.6 billion people directly rely on agriculture for livelihoods [1
]. But in the current neoliberal economic model, there are market barriers associated with price and quota instability and imbalances in bargaining power, which prevent agriculture from contributing enough to overcome the levels of poverty that characterize these populations [2
]. Based on the theories of endogenous development and social capital, it has been argued that qualities associated with territorial identity, shared landscape, and leadership are intangible assets that could be mobilized to stimulate associativity and mutual collaboration around common interests [4
]. The aspirations for quality of life and the predominant sources of wealth in each territory are the attractions that could motivate the organization of people. These interaction networks are the muscle of territorial governance (TG) [6
Recent studies recognize the importance of rural cooperatives and producer associations as sources of social capital, in terms of cohesion, knowledge exchange, and mutual collaboration networks [8
]. These rural alliances between producers have a significant influence on many associated farmers, who can thus benefit from reduced transaction costs, achieve greater bargaining power, and better access to financial resources; also through training to achieve a greater administrative capacity of their farms [10
]. Cooperative links are not limited to the associated group because, in their management of new markets and benefits, they build alliances with both the private sector (wholesalers and intermediaries) and government entities [14
]. In addition, because they have solidarity community purposes, these organizations go beyond the merely productive and commercial to assume objectives of the common welfare of their territories of influence, something that leads them to join social networks that acquire shared visions on issues of community development [16
These networks of actors that interact with each other and with the government around projects of collective benefit are what different authors call TG [19
]. It contains the idea of governance because the consensus and goals achieved as a result of the coordination of multi-sectorial efforts remain in the political arena [21
]. Then, it is territorial because most of the actors who manage to join the networks have a sense of belonging to the territories where they live or work [23
In rural areas, cooperatives and associations of local producers are among the traditional institutions with great influence to exercise leadership and intermediation with and through local governments [25
]. The success of these organizations associated with the predominant production fabric in each territory encourages the formation of other networks of community actors that seek access to better welfare conditions [27
]. For this reason, this network of actors is defined as the agent of governance. Since, in this way, resources or knowledge can be shared through daily interaction and trust mechanisms that lead community groups to cooperate with each other, beyond formal procedures or frameworks [14
The success of governance reported in various territorial contexts has led to the realization of different studies that seek to characterize this social phenomenon [29
]. Traditionally, these studies have focused on measuring the contributions and impact left by governance processes. These evaluations have been based on performance or progress indicators of certain factors associated with the social or economic well-being of a specific place or territory. More recently, some authors have recognized the systemic nature of governance, in terms of the different economic, social, political, and cultural dimensions of the territory that are influenced during and through the governance construction processes [30
]. This new line of research recognizes TG as a complex phenomenon where different variables and factors interact with each other and affect each other in dependency and interdependence relationships [32
In this sense, this study assumes an analysis of the systemic nature of governance that occurs in the context of a coffee-growing region in western Honduras. More specifically, the empirical proposal focuses on studying variables of the functioning of cooperatives and associations of coffee producers that operate in the study territory. Within the conceptual framework, these organizations act as agents of a kind of coffee governance or are territorially associated with coffee production. The questions to answer are: How is it that these organizations manage to build this network and give rise to coffee governance? With what other territorial dimensions do they link? What implications would this governance have for long-term rural development? These questions are approached empirically but also reinforced with theoretical evidence in order to provide the best possible explanation of the systemic character of governance described above.
This analysis modality tries to go beyond the mere evaluation of territorial governance solely for the directly or indirectly measurable benefits, but also advance in the understanding of how governance unfolds in terms of space and sustainability, as well as the role that governance agents play as triggers of the process. The empirical work carried out has allowed the identification of four latent variables whose pattern of systematic functioning could explain a specific governance model associated with a coffee-growing territory.
The results suggest that this analysis methodology can be replicated not only in coffee-growing contexts but also to other territories with economies based on their own production fabrics.
The statistical model proposed from the SEM exam describes a specific pattern of territorial dynamics that are favored by different coffee organizations, conceptualized here as governance agents. By contrasting the two hypotheses of the study with the results obtained, we see that both have been verified. Thanks to the governance agents, production efficiency is positively affected (H1). This is true to the extent that the variables associated with coffee cooperatives and boards’ increase in membership and are consolidated in producer participation. This generates a favorable effect on production efficiency in terms of yield, which, in the case of the study area, is estimated at a proportion of 0.61 according to the measurement of the variance obtained. Regarding (H2), the endowments that a municipality achieves show improvement in a proportion of 0.19, depending on the productive improvement that is being acquired. More important still would be the conformation of a governance system (exogenous variable) whose implication favors rural coffee development. This would create benefits in two ways, given that the variance dimensions of both the performance of the municipality and the governance agents reveal a positive endogenous effect.
If we triangulate the findings of both parts of the analysis, it can be seen from the quantitative part that the statistical relationships between the four components of the governance model show a recursive interaction that is mediated by positive correlations. While in the qualitative part, those triggers that facilitate associativity and cooperativity are revealed, determining as a whole how this system works in western Honduras. In turn, the recursive aspect would explain a kind of virtuous circle, which is internally reinforced as each of the dimensions of the model is consolidated. This would undoubtedly have a favorable impact on rural development, provided that the modeling of a governance system becomes a development strategy.
The challenges facing the rural world are a concern perhaps without a satisfactory response. This research confirms the interest of governance systems as an agglutinating strategy for territorial resources. This strategy could be an effective means of reaching the rural poor, as well as being an ally for state programs and external cooperation aimed at rural well-being. The strategy seems to be viable in the light of the theoretical and empirical findings presented, supporting the affirmation that sustainable rural development should consider human qualities and their territorial worldview as key elements of any solution formula.
Finally, the argumentative and methodological structure of this article is not without limitations. The analysis of the agricultural linkage that exceeds the territorial actors and the balance of the bargaining power that occurs between them were not analyzed in this study and are proposed as avenues for future research.