The quinoa boom in Southern Altiplano of Bolivia : Agrarian transformations, discourses and socio-environmental tensions

Abstract : The globalization of quinoa (Chenopodium quinoa) production began in the 1980s in the Southern Highlands of Bolivia. It has generated transformations in the agrarian system of the region questioning the production sustainability. The low quinoa yields experienced by quinoa producers within indigenous communities is a major issue for the different actors of the production chain, scientists, development institutions and policy makers. Today, they mainly attribute it to soil degradation. Consensus that changes in current field-level practices are needed has led to a search for agro-technical innovations. This study analyses the transition from subsistence agriculture to an export-oriented production system, underlying factors that could explain low yields and territorial resource management issues. We use various theoretical frameworks (farming systems, political ecology and collective action) to characterize the changes that occurred at different temporal and spatial scales, from actual producers’ individual life courses to the history of this region for the last forty years. Interviews, participatory observation, workshops and role-playing games were conducted in four rural communities. Results show that explaining low yields by soil degradation has no sound scientific basis. Moreover, this explanation does not take into account the complex interactions that exist between environmental, technical, social and political factors. In fact, this study first shows that actual farming practices are not adapted to the agro-ecological conditions of the new production areas, and that the organic certification norms are not sufficient to ensure the production sustainability. It also stresses the emergence of social tensions related to the new rules of land access and land use, which emerge in a context of weakening of the community’s authorities, of high spatial mobility and of the diversification of activities among the farmers. It finally reveals a disconnection between research and development activities and this new context. Soil degradation is an agro-technical discourse disseminated among market chain actors which hides crucial problems. Rebuilding a sustainable relationship between communities and their environment require collective agreements for land and agricultural resource management, and a broader vision that takes into account social, institutional and political processes.
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Manuela Vieira Pak. The quinoa boom in Southern Altiplano of Bolivia : Agrarian transformations, discourses and socio-environmental tensions. Agronomy. AgroParisTech, 2012. Español. ⟨NNT : 2012AGPT0090⟩. ⟨tel-01077876⟩

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