Academic journal article Theory in Action

Bolivia's Food Sovereignty & Agrobiodiversity: Undermining the Local to Strengthen the State?

Academic journal article Theory in Action

Bolivia's Food Sovereignty & Agrobiodiversity: Undermining the Local to Strengthen the State?

Article excerpt


In Bolivia, farmers, NGOs and State actors3 share common concerns for ameliorating the country's remarkable biodiversity. Critical discourse and efforts contend with damage done by modem agriculture practices and the 'Green Revolution,' which transformed farming systems to necessitate the use of agro-chemicals and mono-cropping practices, and prioritized a limited variety of 'cash' crops over others to meet market demands. The resulting loss of agrobiodiversity is an ongoing concern and efforts to reverse these trends draw connections with the importance of agrobiodiversity conservation as a way to contend with climate change and as a way to fortify the right to Food Sovereignty, the underpinning logic of which involves the right to produce, distribute and consume nutritious, culturally appropriate food in a way that is ecologically sustainable.

Evo Morales, heading the Movement Toward Socialism (MAS) party, came to power on an anti-neoliberal and anti-colonial platform that vowed to make several changes that would reduce dependence on foreign interests and benefit (indigenous) Bolivians. Among the plans were the well-known renationalizing of the gas and oil industries, as well as land reforms and increased attention to equal rights for indigenous populations, and along gender lines, with an emphasis on Andean cultural concepts. In 2009 Bolivia adopted a new constitution, emphasizing and clarifying the rights of indigenous peoples, based in the liberal tradition of human rights and aspects of what is sometimes referred to as the Andean cosmovision, such as the relationship and roles between humans and the earth. Following Venezuela and Ecuador's lead, Bolivia adopted the notion of Food Sovereignty into the new constitution.

The data for this article arise from interviews with agricultural development workers during my ethnographic research in two Quechua farming communities in the Bolivian Andes in 2010 and a return visit in early 2011. In both communities farm households have been participating in ecological agriculture practices with a local NGO and have more recently joined a State research pilot project into organic agriculture with a national organic certification scheme. Despite the shared concerns for increasing agrobiodiversity, food sovereignty and organic farming, between the farmers, the NGO and the State, tensions were evident in the power imbalances embedded in these relationships.

The non-govemmental organization, which I have called ODEP (which in English stands for, "Ecological Development Organization of Potosí") has more than a decade of experience working with farming communities and associations in several districts in Norte de Potosí. Among its major funding partnerships is a Canadian NGO concerned with food and livelihood security in marginal farming communities in several countries of the global South. Together, they worked on themes of organic production and adaptation to climate change, composting, agrobiodiversity and soil conservation, and micro-irrigation, among others. ODEP's work is practical, generally working in the fields or hands-on with projects, while also having theoretical components in monthly workshops, with demonstrations and planning sessions for future work or events such as ODEP's agrobiodiversity fairs.

This article highlights two State organizations working on ecological agriculture projects; one working directly with the farmers in the study where the data was collected and the other working more broadly across Bolivia. Though the regions vary in which these governmental organizations are active, both do similar work to ODEP; providing training in ecological agriculture practices as well as carrying out research in both ecological and conventional agriculture.

What emerged in the interviews with government-employed agronomists is that the State's need to maintain the stability and profitability of the current agribusiness for exportation leads to emphasizing independence and ownership over sustainability. …

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