Whose Knowledge, Whose Development? Use and Role of Local and External Knowledge in Agroforestry Projects in Bolivia
Agroforestry often relies on local knowledge, which is gaining recognition in development projects. However, how local knowledge can articulate with external and scientific knowledge is little known. Our study explored the use and integration of local and external knowledge in agroforestry projects in Bolivia. In 42 field visits and 62 interviews with agroforestry farmers, civil society representatives, and policymakers, we found a diverse knowledge base. We examined how local and external knowledge contribute to livelihood assets and tree and crop diversity. Projects based predominantly on external knowledge tended to promote a single combination of tree and crop species and targeted mainly financial capital, whereas projects with a local or mixed knowledge base tended to focus on food security and increased natural capital (e.g., soil restoration) and used a higher diversity of trees and crops than those with an external knowledge base. The integration of different forms of knowledge can enable farmers to better cope with new challenges emerging as a result of climate change, fluctuating market prices for cash crops, and surrounding destructive land use strategies such as uncontrolled fires and aerial fumigation with herbicides. However, many projects still tended to prioritize external knowledge and undervalue local knowledge—a tendency that has long been institutionalized in the formal educational system and in extension services. More dialogue is needed between different forms of knowledge, which can be promoted by strengthening local organizations and their networks, reforming agricultural educational institutions, and working in close interaction with policymakers.