Laggards or Leaders: Conservers of Traditional Agricultural Knowledge in Bolivia


  • We are grateful to the families of 11 rural communities who collaborated in the project, as well as the research team in Adapting to Change in the Andean Highlands: Practices and Strategies to Address Climate and Market Risks in Vulnerable Agroecosystems. Partial funding for this research was provided by the United States Agency for International Development and the generous support of the American People for the Sustainable Agriculture and Natural Resources Management Collaborative Research Support Program (SANREM CRSP) under terms of Cooperative Agreement No. EPP-A-00-04-00013-00 to the Office of International Research and Development, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, and by the McKnight Foundation under Grant Agreement 09-784. In addition, we give special thanks to Magali Garcia, Elizabeth Jimenez, Rogelio Quispe, Gladys Yana, and Cecilia Turin and members of the Andean Community of Practice for their support of this project.


Many sustainable agricultural practices are based on local and traditional farming knowledge. This article examines the conservation and loss of three traditional practices in the Bolivian Altiplano that agronomic research has shown increase the resiliency of small farmers in the face of climate-related risks. These practices are the use of manure, the use of local forecasts and risk-management strategies, and the preservation of crop biodiversity. Although these practices are widely used today, farmers have been steadily abandoning them during the past decade. This article examines the characteristics of those who maintain and those who abandon traditional practices to see if the abandonment of local knowledge can be explained by the adoption-diffusion literature. This research does not support the adoption-diffusion literature; although the factors related to conservation are slightly different for each practice, the findings do not support the idea that young, educated, and wealthier farmers are more likely to reject local knowledge. Instead, off-farm activities such as migration, employment, and trade seem to be related to the decline in local practices as each affects the availability of labor and the availability of people to learn these practices.