Conflicts and Tensions between the MAS government and NGOs in “Post-neoliberal” Bolivia

ONG1The explosion of NGOs in the developing world is especially associated with neoliberalism. They were seen as the ideal vehicle with which to replace the state. This model emerged from specific liberal conceptions of civil society and its relation to the state in particular. It has been argued that Latin America is now experiencing a post-neoliberal era. This does not mean that neoliberalism and its impact have been eradicated completely, nor that a new model has replaced it, but rather it is an open-ended process characterized by policy experimentation, which may eventually move towards a postneoliberal model. Bolivia, yet again, is at the forefront of such experimentation, as indeed it was at the beginning of the neoliberal era. Such a transitional period naturally brings into question hegemonic development paradigms which have been so influenced by neoliberalism. And among these the role of the NGO is particularly questioned, especially in the countries governed by so-called “New Left” parties, where they were once so hegemonic (except for Venezuela). This mirrors wider debates on the role of NGOs within the development literature and their power to de-politicize development issues.

1014f0a4-5d94-4836-915e-32c1df8c6060_lauzan-evusaid-1-A recent article examined  the growing conflict between NGOs and the so-called post-neoliberal MAS government in Bolivia. This government proposes to re-politicize agrarian development by favouring a prominent role for the state and sees NGOs as a threat to social transformation.  We engage with critiques of development intervention as de-politicizing and with viewpoints that argue that politicization often neglects technological aspects.  We examine how particular definitions of the political and technological field play a role in the growing conflict between NGOs and the MAS goverment.  We show that NGOs appear to have found the space to respond to public confrontation and adapt their interventions to post-neoliberal politics.  While the MAS government is making efforts to bring the state back in, NGOs are trying to accommodate to a highly politicized environment by highlighting their technical strengths and filling the current void in providing technological services. The analysis shows how in development processes the boundaries between the political and technical domain are not fixed. Instead, they are continuously redefined in a process in which actors shift their activities (concrete practices as well as discursive justifications) between these domains.

If you are interested in this paper email me or access the paper in the following link:

Cordoba, D. and Jansen, K. (2015) Realigning the Political and the Technical: NGOs and the Politicization of Agrarian Development in Bolivia. European Journal of Development Research. Advanced online publication.


The Return of the State in Agrarian Development and its Contribution to Food Sovereignty in Bolivia

A summary of my paper in the Journal of Agrarian Change on the return of the state in Bolivia, and in general in Latin America!

  In the 20th century several Latin American countries turned to state control of agricultural production and commercialization to meet domestic demands for food (e.g. through marketing boards), but since the mid-eighties this state intervention declined due to a strong process of liberalization.  More recently, we see a return of the state in Latin America, driven by the so-called ‘New Left’, of which the Bolivian case is one example (besides Argentina, Ecuador, Nicaragua, Uruguay and Venezuela).  Once in power, the Movement towards Socialism (MAS) government officially rejected the dominant food regime led by large-scale industrial agriculture in the east of the country.  It prioritized peasant and communitarian economies and conceptualized the state as the main instrument to realize change.


A recent study led by CIAT in collaboration with the Knowledge, Technology and Innovation Group at Wageningen University, and funded by the Collaborative Crop Research Program from McKnight Foundation, explored the current role of the Bolivian state to enhance food sovereignty.  It asked how the Bolivian state has tried to implement agrarian policies in the agro-chain as an alternative to the dominant food system in the country to benefit small farmers and national food sovereignty.

To address this question, the study examined the case of the Empresa de Apoyo a la Producción de Alimentos (EMAPA, Company for the Support of Food Production).  EMAPA, created in 2007 as one of the 18 new public companies financed with revenues from hydrocarbons and minerals, has to support production, commercialization, and stabilization of the agricultural market (rice, wheat, maize and soybean).  EMAPA offers seeds, agricultural inputs, and technical assistance to small and medium producers with 0 per cent interest loans and purchases from small and medium producers to offer an alternative to the vertically integrated systems of commercialization dominated by the agribusiness sector.



By focusing on EMAPA, we studied the capacity of the Bolivian state to intervene in rural development, to enhance food sovereignty, and to increase their control over regional elites and international non-state actors that dominate in Santa Cruz, the department where EMAPA concentrates most of its intervention. We examined three aspects of this state intervention for food sovereignty: a) The institutional arrangement to meet its goals; b) the relative autonomy of the state to formulate and implement alternative views on agrarian production and its independence from actors who may affect the fulfillment of its objectives; and c) the capacity of state organizations to carry out these alternatives that enable food sovereignty in favor of small farmers.


Far from the often-heard criticisms of the State intervention, this study shows how the Bolivian government has extended the much needed state’s support (credit and inputs) to places and people where it did not exist, helping small farmers to carry out agricultural production.  However, for the most part the findings question the lack of state leadership in generating technological changes to break small farmers’ dependency ties with the agro-industrial sector and adapt agricultural technology to local problems. It also makes clear the immense difficulties that the Bolivian government faces in bringing food prices under control and enabling food production for poor people, especially in the cities. These have included popular protests against EMAPA, the skyrocketing of food prices in 2008 and 2010 and the lack of state capacity to intervene in food production and commercialization.

If you want to read more about the findings of this study, please visit this link or e-mail us.