Environmental Management

, Volume 59, Issue 3, pp 464–476 | Cite as

Whose Knowledge, Whose Development? Use and Role of Local and External Knowledge in Agroforestry Projects in Bolivia

  • Johanna JacobiEmail author
  • Sarah-Lan Mathez-Stiefel
  • Helen Gambon
  • Stephan Rist
  • Miguel Altieri


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.


Traditional agricultural knowledge Local knowledge Agroforestry Knowledge co-production Bolivia 



We thank all interviewees for their time, support for, and interest in the study, especially the agroforestry farmers. We also thank two anonymous reviewers for helpful comments, as well as Amanda Morgan and Marlène Thibault for language editing. This research was supported by the Swiss National Science Foundation [grant number P2BEP1_148876].

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare that they have no competing interests.

Supplementary material

267_2016_805_MOESM1_ESM.docx (23 kb)
Supplementary Information


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • Johanna Jacobi
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  • Sarah-Lan Mathez-Stiefel
    • 2
    • 3
  • Helen Gambon
    • 2
  • Stephan Rist
    • 2
  • Miguel Altieri
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Environmental Science, Policy, and ManagementUniversity of CaliforniaBerkeleyUSA
  2. 2.Centre for Development and EnvironmentUniversity of BernBernSwitzerland
  3. 3.World Agroforestry Centrec/o International Potato CenterLima 12Peru

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