The Malleability of Participation: Agricultural research and neoliberalism in Bolivia

A new paper title: ‘The Malleability of Participation: The Politics of Agricultural Research under Neoliberalism in Bolivia’ with Kees Jansen and Carolina Gonzalez has been published online in Development and Change Journal

Please see below my post/summary of this research in Bolivia.

At the beginning of the 2000s, the public research model represented by the experimental stations of the Bolivian Andes collapsed.  As part of the administrative decentralization law enacted in 1995 the Bolivian Institute of Agricultural Technology (IBTA) was closed in 1998 and replaced by the Bolivian System of Agricultural Technology (SIBTA) four years later.  The decentralization process was part of broader policy packages starting in 1985 that advocated for a reduced role of the state in rural development, bowing to pressure from international financial institutions as the IMF and the World Bank (Assies, 2003; Perrault, 2007).  SIBTA dispensed with the experimental stations. They were transferred to the departmental governments that did not have either the budget to maintain the stations and research staff nor the experience to manage these centers.  The institutional gap generated during this period of transition facilitated their progressive abandonment. Some stations were at the mercy of the civil unrest of the social struggles in the Andes under the leadership of Felipe Quispe and the Pachakuti Movement, along with the demonstrations against water privatization (water war) in Cochabamba and the coca farmer blockades in the Chapare region against the neoliberal economic project (Albó, 2003)[1].  Some stations were dismantled while in others the abandonment and time corrode the infrastructure, machinery and laboratories.  Gene banks of crops such as tubers and Andean roots, minor cereals, forages, camelides, sheep, and fruit species, as well as documents and passport sheets were lost, making it impossible to continue with any on-station research (Coca 2010; Quispe, 2005).

New PictureSIBTA contributed to the advent of non-state actors, especially non-governmental organizations (NGOs), in agricultural research and extension services. These organizations were seen as an alternative to the ineffective, politicized and bureaucratic state-driven research centers (Kaimowitz, 1993).  It was thought that their privileged presence at the local level and their technical capacity away and protected from political control of the state gave them a privileged position to generate research processes relevant to society (Hartwich, et al., 2007a; 2007b). Words like participation, market-based demand for technology and the strengthening of farmers’ capacities started to be dominant (Ranaboldo, 2002). A new way of governing science production lead by neoliberal politics emerged.

Using the case of PROINPA, a national NGO and a forerunner in agricultural research in the Bolivian Andes, our new paper discusses how neoliberal restructuring embraced an increased use of participatory methods by research organizations that once were part of the state system for agricultural research but had become privatized.  Inspired by Foucault’s work on governmentality and neoliberalism, we conceptualize participation as a productive new way of governing people, a technology of government, rather than a simply repressive tool through which power is exercised.  We show how PROINPA shaped participatory methods to create moments of ‘real’ participation. Although PROINPA used participation mainly for their managerialist effectiveness, it also had to play politics to balance its notions of technical expertise, globalizers and developers wishes with local contexts and demands.  We argue that participation is not only about power, social relations and processes, but is also about reconnecting people and things and whether it makes sense to people, researchers and farmers alike, heavily relies on technological success. Our new paper seeks to contribute to the ongoing debate of participation in development and the normalization of participatory methods in agricultural technology innovation and its implications for thinking about technological improvement and politics

[1] The invaded statation were: Patacamaya station in August 2002, the Kallutaca and Huayrocondo stations in September and October of 2003, and the Belén station in 2004 (El Diario, 2004; El Diario, 2005).


Albó , X. (2003). Pueblos indios en la política. La Paz: Plural-CIPCA.

Assies, W. (2003). David versus Goliath in Cochabamba: Water rights, neoliberalism, and the revival of social protest in Bolivia. Latin American Perspectives, 30(3), pp.14–36. Available at:

Hartwich, F., Alexaki, A., & Baptista, R. (2007a). Innovation systems governance in Bolivia: lessons for agricultural innovation policies: Intl Food Policy Res Inst.

Hartwich, F., & Jansen, H. G. (2007b). El rol gubernamental en el proceso de innovación agropecuaria: La experiencia de Bolivia. Research briefs.

Kaimowitz, D. (1993). The role of nongovernmental organizations in agricultural research and technology transfer in Latin America. World Development, 21(7), 1139-1150.

Perrault T. (2007). ‘De la ‘guerra del agua’ a la ‘guerra del gas’: gobernabilidad de recursos, neoliberalismo y protesta popular en Bolivia’. In, Crespo C. and Spronk S. (eds) 2007. Después de las Guerras del Agua, Plural Editores. La Paz, Bolivia.

Ranaboldo, C. (2002). Asistencia Técnica y Sector Agropecuario Campesino: Y si dejáramos de pensar en “un sistema”?, Condiciones y Posibilidades Productivas del Campesino Andino en el Libre Comercio. La Paz.