Sustainable Livelihoods in the High Andes: Engaging smallholder farmers as instrumental to development invervension targeted at biodiversity conservation
This thesis is a case study of the impact on small-scale, marginalized Bolivian farmers from their involvement in the process to revalue native foods from the Andean region. This revaluation process revolves around a rethinking of the relationship between producers and buyers manifested in a new kind of value chain. An important contributor to the revaluation process is the LATINCROP project, which aims to conserve a selection of native Andean crops, regarded as underutilized, by commercializing them. While LATINCROP is specifically concerned with a few crops, the revaluation process also embodies the parallel efforts of individual partner organizations of LATINCROP, to address the general circumstances surrounding the lack of demand for native foods.
As my field studies in Bolivia took place in collaboration with Universidad Mayor de San Andrés (UMSA), a Bolivian partner organization of LATINCROP, the farmers I investigated were those collaborating with UMSA. It is recognized that small-scale producers play a crucial role as the custodians of native crops. For LATINCROP the farmers are therefore instrumental, as they grow some of the crops targeted by the project, and through their collaboration with LATINCROP the farmers have become involved in the revaluation process. I therefore found it more appropriate to consider the revaluation process, rather than LATINCROP in isolation, as the factor impacting the farmers.
I built my theoretical framework around the holistic, people-centered Sustainable Livelihoods Approach, which I complemented with insights from Value Chain theory. During my field studies in and around La Paz, Bolivia, I collected empirical data through interviews, focus groups and participant observation in the communities of San Juan de la Miel and Moco Moco, as well as through interviews with other stakeholders to the revaluation process, both directly and indirectly affiliated with LATINCROP.
One main finding was that the new types of linkages to formal, resourceful organizations, which the farmers in both communities had gained from their collaboration with LATINCROP, had resulted in new social relations and the acquisition of new knowledge. Another main finding was that the community with actual previous commercial experience was also the one participating in the new kind of value chain, although not without a few complications.
As my investigation took place at an early stage of both the LATINCROP project and the revaluation process, I drew on the findings of the analysis to subsequently discuss the potential impact on the livelihoods of the farmers from future activities associated with the revaluation process. I concluded that successful participation in the new kind of value chain holds the most promise to truly improve the their livelihoods, but that this had not been achieved in either of the communities. For San Juan de la Miel the issue was one of feasibility related to transaction costs, whereas for Moco Moco it was one of acquiring basic commercial experience. Given the instrumental role the farmers play in relation to LATINCROP, resolving these issues is in the interest of the project, and I therefore ultimately provided concrete suggestions on how to address these issues.