Journal of Mountain Science

, Volume 3, Issue 4, pp 334–346 | Cite as

Reconciling local and global agendas in sustainable development: Participatory research with indigenous Andean communities

  • Robert E. RhoadesEmail author
  • Virginia Nazarea


This paper discusses participatory research in the Andes and presents a case study in Cotacachi, Ecuador, where sustainability scientists and indigenous people seek common ground in their respective but drastically different research and social agendas. Participatory research based on Andean experiences pre-dated and inspired much of the later international movement in agriculture, health, and conservation. Andean communities have a long history in demanding that outsiders address the needs of the community as a condition for carrying out scientific or applied activities. What an Andean community, however, sees as relevant may or may not be within the rubric of ‘participatory research’ as it is practiced throughout much of the world. In fact, overzealous participatory researchers are just as bothersome as their predecessors bearing long questionnaires. More important to Andean people is an equitable relationship with researchers and developers in which exchanges of value are made. A distinction between ‘enriching’ and ‘extractive’ research is drawn. In the case of the SANREM project in Cotacachi, Ecuador, scientists carried out enriching research activities of interest to local people as a way to generate social capital for conducting basic research which does not have an obvious, immediate local benefit. The requested research did not have a conventional participatory methodology but provided valuable products (educational opportunity, germplasm, community visualization tools, and information) to the indigenous community in exchange for time and resources to conduct research on more basic natural resource questions. We argue that in the Andean context the key to reconciling the needs of scientists and of local needs is seeking new forms of equitable collaboration which reach beyond the present and now somewhat tired discourse of ‘participation’.


Andes indigenous peoples participatory research sustainability 


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Copyright information

© Science Press 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of GeorgiaUSA

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