Successful advocacy for legal recognition of the sector

Giel Ton, Christian Gouët and Ninoska Gonzalez

Bolivia is the poorest country in South America. The majority of Bolivians are indigenous (mainly Aymara and Quechua), accounting for at least 60-70% of the population and for an even higher proportion of the rural population. This indigenous population constitutes the vast majority of the poor and extremely poor in Bolivia. Bolivia is a country that bridges two major regional blocks, in a geographical and political sense: the Comunidad Andina de Naciones (CAN) and the Mercado Común del Sur (MERCOSUR). It is the first country in which structural adjustment programmes were implemented (in 1985) and agricultural policies have been shaped accordingly for two decades. Most producer-support instruments in agriculture (tariffs, price regulation and credit subsidies) have been discontinued since 1985. Moreover, until 2005, only a limited number of ‘new instruments’ for agricultural development and innovation were introduced beyond pilot experiment levels, with the exception of substitutes for coca production. This political situation has changed quite dramatically since 2006, when the Morales government not only re-introduced several rural support instruments that had characterised the pre-1985 period, such as soft loans and direct interference by the state in agricultural markets, but also developed a range of new policies to benefit smallholders in agriculture.

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Advocacy challenge

The current Bolivian political situation is characterised by the government’s policy emphasising indigenous identity, market regulation and endogenous growth, which contrasts with the open-market policies of preceding governments. The sector of producer associations represented by the Bolivian Coordinating Platform of Economic Peasant Organisations (Coordinadora de Integración de Organizaciones Económicas Campesinas Indígena y Originarias – CIOEC-Bolivia) had a problematic relationship with the Morales government. As most smallholder producers are inhabitants of rural areas, there is broad support for a government that, more than ever, tries to revert investments from urban to rural areas and from the private sector to state enterprises. However, in political discourse and practice, a differentiation is made between between communitarian, village-oriented organisations (sindicatos, ayllus) and functional market-oriented organisations (Organizaciones Económicas Campesinas – OECAs). This debate influences governmental policies on rural economic development and defines the political space for CIOEC in relation to other farmer unions. Sindicatos are territory-based, village organisations that represent all households in the village and defend the interests in relation to land rights and social investments, and that support an interventionist role of the state in markets. OECAs have a more restricted and better defined membership of self-selected smallholders in one or various villages and direct their demands especially to the facilitating role of the government in creating market access.

CIOEC opposed the neo-liberal doctrine of free markets and private entrepreneurship and was quite successful in doing so in 2000-2006. After 2006, their political influence weakened. In 2006, during the political campaign of Evo Morales they refused to explicitly support the MAS, the political party of Evo Morales, and were therefore not included in the coalition of unions supporting the new government. Although

CIOEC had several delegates from OECAs in the governing party MAS, they did not hold key positions. Also, CIOEC favoured market-facilitating institutions but opposed state enterprises and interventionist policies such as food price control when these negatively affected the collective marketing activities of their members.

Lessons learnt

  • CIOEC-Bolivia had made a proposal for an OECA Law based on the content of a series of lobby agendas, from 2000 onwards -‘Agenda para el Desarrollo Estratégico de las OECAs’ (CIOEC-Bolivia, 2000)- and had experience in commissioning research to support these advocacy priorities. ESFIM was not a novel approach but a welcome opportunity to implement a specific research-advocacy priority. This previous experience proved vital for the successful implementation of the ESFIM research, even when the AGRINATURA support was very limited.
  • The strategic planning process to strengthen the operational internal structure of CIOEC and its services to their members, facilitated by Agriterra, was highly functional in generating and embedding ESFIM-type activities in CIOEC-Bolivia, and vice versa. This indicates the synergy that it is possible to achieve when ESFIM activities are set in the context of wider organisational support to national farmer organisations.
  • As board members and farm leaders change every two to four years, the memory of the organisation needs its advocacy strategies systematised. The current board and technical team had lost control over the OECA Law that was proposed in 2004 and approved (partially) in 2008. The consultancy to define the status quo and to review the observations made to the original proposal proved very important for re-launching the OECA Law in 2012. The successful advocacy proved vital to recovering faith in CIOEC-Bolivia as an influential political representative body for economic farmer organisations.
  • The key moment to influence and upgrade the research support process was in the formulation phase, when the terms of reference for the consultants were defined. Follow-up communication with and back-stopping of consultants that were hired by the national farmer organisation proved difficult, as contracting was fully in the hands of CIOEC. The consultants and experts were, therefore, accountable to CIOEC and not necessarily inclined to link-up with the European-based researcher. In the collaborative research, the time-span allowed for obtaining results was very short and the consultation process very intense and concentrated in time, thus the AGRINATURA researcher had little influence on actual content of the proposal. The AGRINATURA researcher discussed the Initiative Law in August 2012 with the advocacy officer just before the national public launching event, and in December 2012, CIOEC contacted the AGRINATURA researcher to reflect on the comments received during the negotiation process with the other farmer unions. Due to the eminent political character of the proposal, the farmer leaders and board members were important in shaping the political space for the proposal, together with the technical support by the team in the CIOEC office and lawyers working with the various parliamentary commissions.