Does Market Integration Buffer Risk, Erode Traditional Sharing Practices and Increase Inequality? A Test among Bolivian Forager-Farmers
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Sharing and exchange are common practices for minimizing food insecurity in rural populations. The advent of markets and monetization in egalitarian indigenous populations presents an alternative means of managing risk, with the potential impact of eroding traditional networks. We test whether market involvement buffers several types of risk and reduces traditional sharing behavior among Tsimane Amerindians of the Bolivian Amazon. Results vary based on type of market integration and scale of analysis (household vs. village), consistent with the notion that local culture and ecology shape risk management strategies. Greater wealth and income were unassociated with the reliance on others for food, or on reciprocity, but wealth was associated with a greater proportion of food given to others (i.e., giving intensity) and a greater number of sharing partners (i.e., sharing breadth). Across villages, greater mean income was negatively associated with reciprocity, but economic inequality was positively associated with giving intensity and sharing breadth. Incipient market integration does not necessarily replace traditional buffering strategies but instead can often enhance social capital.
KeywordsCooperation Sharing Risk management Food security Tsimane Bolivian Amazon Market integration
We thank the Tsimane who participated in this study and Tsimane Health and Life History Project personnel. We also thank Monique Borgerhoff Mulder, Sam Bowles, and the participants of the Santa Fe Institute Workgroup on Dynamics of Inequality in Small-scale Societies for stimulating discussions.
Compliance with Ethical Standards
The study and all methods were approved by the Institutional Review Boards (IRB) of the University of California, Santa Barbara, and the University of New Mexico. In Bolivia, all procedures were approved by the Tsimane Government (Gran Consejo Tsimane), by village leaders and by study participants. Because many Tsimane do not read or write, participant permission was verbal and it was obtained twice: an initial affirmation to participate and a second confirmation once all procedures had been explained.
Conflict of Interest
The authors declare no conflicts of interest.
Funding was provided by grants from the National Science Foundation (BCS-0136274, BCS-0422690) and National Institutes of Health/National Institute on Aging (R01AG024119, R56AG02411). Adrian Jaeggi was supported by postdoctoral fellowships from the Swiss NSF (PBZHP3-133443) and the SAGE Center for the Study of the Mind.
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