Panarchy of an indigenous agroecosystem in the globalized market: The quinoa production in the Bolivian Altiplano

Winkel, T; Bommel, P; Chevarría-Ñazo, M; Cortes, G; Del Castillo, C; Gasselin, P; Léger, F; Nina-Laura, JP; Rambal, S; Tichit, M; Tourrand, JF; Cacher, JJ; Vassas-Toral, A; Vieira-Pak, M; Joffre, R

Global Environmental Change. 2016; 39: 195-204.


Agricultural globalization is blamed for destructive impacts on small farms in developing countries. Yet, many local societies are proactive in the face of these changes and show high adaptive capacity. Investigating their transformations with an integrative perspective and enough hindsight may reveal some of the bases of their resilience and adaptive capacity. Using field data and the panarchy concept of resilience theory, we analyzed the territorial and social dynamics of quinoa growers’ communities in southern Bolivia over the last four decades, a case study of regime shift in a poverty-stricken rural society which deliberately entered the global food market. Linking the dynamics of the household economy to the territorial and social subsystems over several decades, we gained insights into the interactions that shaped the rise of quinoa production in the region. We found that a vivid tradition of mobility allowing for pluriactivity on- and off-farm, combined with community self-governance, explains how local populations succeeded in articulating individual agency with collective control over their commons of land, seed resources, and social rules. Our vulnerability analysis points to landscape homogenization, social inequity, and increased dependence on external factors as potential sources of unsustainability. We conclude that, to cope with the changes of unprecedented magnitude they are facing, local producers should retain social cohesion and autonomous governance, without giving up on their heritage of mobility and economic redundancy. As regards theory, we identified cross-scale subsystem configurations critical for regime shifts, and confirm the value of panarchy in capturing complex socioecological dynamics.

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