A Comparative Analysis of Nicaraguan Pottery Value Chains

Open Access
Brewton, Thomas Seader
Area of Honors:
Community, Environment, and Development
Bachelor of Science
Document Type:
Thesis Supervisors:
  • Theodore Roberts Alter, Thesis Supervisor
  • Theodore Roberts Alter, Honors Advisor
  • Nicole Sheree Webster, Faculty Reader
  • value chain
  • marketing
  • Nicaragua
  • pottery
  • joint action
  • upgrading
  • supply chain
  • development
  • economic development
  • community
Hundreds of artisans live in isolated communities in Nicaragua who have been given the gift and responsibility of carrying on their ancestral tradition of producing handmade pottery. Today, the potters are challenged more than ever before to uphold and preserve their artistry while also securing economic stability. The potters’ challenge of maintaining a quality of life while preserving their cultural heritage has become more complex throughout the past century due to political unrest, fluctuations in economic and foreign policy, globalization, environmental concerns, and many other factors. In my thesis, I examine multiple Nicaraguan pottery value chains with the purpose of identifying ways that Nicaraguan potters in isolated communities can improve their joint actions with other value chain participants to maximize sustainable income growth. I first assess a pottery community in which many potters have been able to leverage their joint actions to position themselves along their value chain in ways that have sustained or increased their profitability. In addition to conducting a value chain analysis of this established pottery community, I also assess the value chains of four isolated pottery communities. By taking an asset-based community development approach to my research, I strategically framed my research objectives so that I could learn from the potters in the more established community and apply my findings and analysis to the potters in the more isolated communities. The results of my research verified in multiple ways that all Nicaraguan potters are positioned in buyer-driven value chains, which significantly influences the distribution of power amongst the potters, their buyers, and other value chain participants. As a result, the potters are pressured to primarily focus on meeting their buyers’ needs. While the potters need to satisfy their buyers, this pressure can limit their opportunities to upgrade along their value chain. However, if the potters take a holistic stance of their positioning along their value chain, they can leverage their joint actions with all of their value chain participants to fulfill upgrading opportunities that would help them to sustain or increase their profitability. Additionally, my research proved that there is a hierarchy in regards to the types of upgrading achieved by Nicaraguan potters. First, they primarily pursue upgrading opportunities that address their production process and product improvement. By prioritizing process and product upgrading, the potters are able to efficiently produce high quality products that please their buyers and sustain their income. Once the potters are satisfied with their production process and product improvement, they can typically focus on other types of upgrading that allow them to manage another role in the product cycle, sell their work in new markets, or create entirely different work other than pottery. In summary, my thesis examines the intersection between the potters’ relationships with other value chain participants and the potters’ ability to advance their positioning along their value chains. While my findings and analysis of the potters from the established community standardize my work, I tailor the application of my findings and analysis from the established community to the potters from each isolated community. By achieving this, I fulfilled my research objectives for my thesis. While I consider my thesis to be completed upon submission, I do not consider the research process as a whole to be finished at this point. I believe that I have a responsibility to bring back key insights of my thesis to the Nicaraguan potters using a language, rhetoric, and medium that will be engaging to them. By seeing the research process into completion, I get to offer my expert knowledge to the Nicaraguan potters in a way that they can understand and apply it themselves.