Market intermediaries and rural people in Bolivia's forest products sector: Are trusting partnerships possible?


James T. Murphy (email:


Decentralization in access to and control of Bolivia's forest resources, coupled with a rising global demand for tropical hardwoods, raises important questions about whether increased trade and community forest management (CFM) initiatives can enable forms of market integration that have more favourable outcomes for rural communities. This paper assesses the prospects for such a transition through an examination of the relationships linking wood product market intermediaries (brokers and buyers) to rural suppliers and forest communities in Bolivia. The analysis centres on whether trust – conceptualized as a power-laden sociospatial process driven by multiscalar factors – can evolve between buyers and suppliers such that more progressive (sustainable and mutually beneficial) partnerships devolop. Focusing on three types of buyer–supplier relationships in Bolivia – direct ties between wood brokers/buyers and suppliers, nongovernmental organization (NGO) mediated exchange relationships and Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certification of suppliers – our findings show how trust building initiatives that focus on one scale may fail if factors at other scales create obstacles to collaboration, Given these relational constraints, CFM strategies in Bolivia currently face limitation on their viability as economic development strategies.