Using a political ecology lens to examine forest restoration, water insecurity, and climate change in rural Bolivia

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Meagan Rathjen

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Approximately 20% of Bolivia’s population are water insecure, with most living in rural areas. Climate change is expected to exacerbate this condition. Since the 1990s, Bolivia has lost around 20% of its forest cover, mainly to agricultural production, reducing water retention. Bolivia recently committed to restore 4.5 million hectares of degraded forests by 2030, as part of their Nationally Determined Contributions stemming from the Paris Agreement and aligning with the United Nations’ Decade on Ecosystem Restoration. As such, it is critical to assess restoration interests, potential, and challenges from rural communities’ perspectives and evaluate restoration priorities at multiple scales. Our study focuses on five rural municipalities in Vallegrande, Bolivia, a semi-arid agro-ecological zone. By conducting and analyzing 30 rapid ethnographies and semi-structured interviews with community members, natural resource professionals, and other governmental and non-governmental actors, we find some level of local ecological knowledge regarding ecological conditions and the associated needs for restoration, suitable species, traditional land use patterns, and current changes. We find that some actors connect forest restoration with improved water security, although such knowledge has not been sufficiently incorporated into local restoration programs. We find that community members desire certain species for livelihood reasons, some of which are actually ill-fitted to the local water reality. These results reveal dynamic power relations within and among groups of actors regarding whose knowledge, needs, and desires are being acknowledged, considered, and acted upon. Insights from this research can be used to inform the development of equitable, inclusive, and sustainable forest restoration.

Resource Type:
Audio/Video, Conference Presentation, SER2019

Society for Ecological Restoration