Running a workshop with community leaders to initiate field work in Bolivia

Last December our project partner Fundación TIERRA ran a workshop with local leaders from the Chiquitania region in preparation of our collaborative research on the field. The meeting intended to present the initial ideas of the research project, to identify the most prominent social-ecological characteristics and problems and to scope for possible case study communities. This blog post summarizes the results of this workshop.

Since the beginning of our joint project with Fundación TIERRA in 2020, we have been unable to start the fieldwork in Bolivia. This mainly due to the health risks and travel restrictions related to the pandemic. However, we have managed to establish a very close communication with our partner, and managed to convene a first workshop with local community-leaders from the Chiquitania region, where we want to do the research.

The workshop was run and organized by TIERRA and took place in the city of Santa Cruz. Community leaders and representatives from five indigenous and peasant communities of the Chiquitania region were present. In the workshop, the initial project ideas were presented and a dialogue was held about how the project could contribute to better understand issues related to food sovereignty and social-ecological interactions and how it could generate relevant information for transformative action.

The dialogue helped to identify the main issues that communities are facing and the level of interest to participate in our research. It also allowed us to get feedback on our research questions and potential methods, in order to better adapt them to the Chiquitania’s context.

Forest fires are among the most important threats in the Chiquitania region. (Photo by Philipe Kittelson Caba)

The most important issues

The most important issues that were raised and discussed by the leaders during the workshop were the following:
  • Water scarcity in the communities is increasing. It seems to have multiple causes, like droughts, increasing temperatures, deforestation and the construction of water infrastructures, such as dams.
  • Fires and ongoing deforestation have reached historically high levels, leading to a dramatic biodiversity This problem is aggravated by the expansion of the agricultural frontier, especially for large-scale agro-industrial plantations and livestock farming. This is rapidly transforming the livelihoods of local communities.
  • Land tenure is insecure. The communities need support for enforcing their rights as landowners and for identifying and protecting biodiversity.
  • Food production is insufficient. Although home gardens are an important source of food, it is not enough.
  • Many men and young people migrate to cities to find other sources of income.

The subsequent further cooperation

This short overview gives an impression of the most pressing problems in the region, and our questions and methods will be linked to these. For example, we will assess the role of agrobiodiversity in sustainable farming and food sovereignty. Issues will be studied from a biocultural perspective, by including agroecological, sociocultural and political analyses which can better inform the implementation of solutions by community leaders and their partners.

Since we want to develop a participatory and solution-oriented research, we prioritize our close collaboration with Fundación TIERRA and local communities. Although, we do not aim at directly solving the problems mentioned, we hope we can support the communities by compiling useful information and analyses, and make the results accessible communicating them widely in pertinent formats for the people on the territories, which is something that the members of the workshop highlighted to be important. Thus, it hopefully will provide input for action and decision-making processes. In addition, we hope to support networking and knowledge exchange through collaborative networks, so that the project can facilitate bridging research with transformative action.

Overall, the feedback from the workshop was very positive. The participants found the project relevant and potentially useful. Importantly, they want us to visit their territories and to learn about their realities more in detail –we hope we can follow that wish as soon as possible.

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