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The New Face of Debt-Peonage in the Bolivian Amazon: Social Networks and Bargaining Instruments

Abstract

The debt-peonage system is an agreement between patrons and laborers in different economic activities worldwide. A common feature is social exploitation of laborers that generate profits to the patrons. In recent literature it has been argued that debt-peonage can be an economically sound arrangement that secures the needs of actors. The paper evaluates to what extent traditionally strong debt-peonage in forest-dwelling communities in the Bolivian Amazon, has developed in a way that better secures the needs and economic interest of multiple actors. Case studies in sixteen communities yielded qualitative information on debt relations between peasants, traders and former patrons. Debt-peonage changed from a mechanism to provide and keep workforce indebted to new social relationships, equitable commercial links, opportunity to access work capital and production chain diversification. This rapid shift was caused by important changes in land and forest regulations.

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Correspondence to Wil De Jong.

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Cardona, W.C., De Jong, W., Boot, R.G.A. et al. The New Face of Debt-Peonage in the Bolivian Amazon: Social Networks and Bargaining Instruments. Hum Ecol 42, 541–549 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10745-014-9666-4

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s10745-014-9666-4

Keywords

  • Habilito
  • Brazil nuts
  • Community forestry
  • Land reforms
  • Forest policy reforms
  • Barraca