Date of Award

Spring 2020

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Biological, Environmental, and Earth Sciences

Committee Chair

David M. Cochran Jr.

Committee Chair School

Biological, Environmental, and Earth Sciences

Committee Member 2

George Raber

Committee Member 2 School

Biological, Environmental, and Earth Sciences

Committee Member 3

Joby Bass

Committee Member 3 School

Biological, Environmental, and Earth Sciences

Committee Member 4

Matthew Casey

Committee Member 4 School


Committee Member 5

Bridget Hayden

Committee Member 5 School

Social Science and Global Studies


Food security and deintensification of agriculture are serious concerns in Latin America. Agriculture, especially at small-scale subsistence levels, is hard work, and comes with some economic and physical risk. Transitions from traditional multi-cropping to mono-cropping systems introduce two particular risks that are new to most smallholders: (1) the loss of agricultural diversity and (2) the potential for widespread failure when focusing on the cultivation of a single crop. This research explores how Small Unmanned Aerial Systems (sUAS), or drones, can be used for rapid inventories of crop diversity and to enhance crop management techniques on small-scale farms. In the community of Cotacachi, located in the Imbabura Valley, small-scale multi-crop agriculture is increasingly conducted by Indigenous women, as men redirect their focus toward single crop agriculture or employment in urban centers. As a result, Indigenous women are the primary line of defense against the loss of agrobiodiversity. Many farmers in the northern Andes still use hoes and ox-drawn plows, so sUAS may seem like a big technological leap. The technology, however, is developing quickly and is becoming more affordable and user-friendly, especially compared to standard satellite imagery, which can be expensive to obtain and analyze. Small-scale agriculture continues to be an important source of food for many Latin Americans. The incorporation of mapping techniques and aerial imagery has the potential to help sustain and monitor agrobiodiversity, enhance food production, implement effective water and soil management practices, and promote agro-tourism, all while bolstering livelihoods throughout the region.