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Is forest restoration the solution to water insecurity and climate change in rural Bolivia?

Authors: Meagan Rathjen, Purdue University Department of Forestry and Natural Resources, Zhao Ma*, Purdue University Department of Forestry and Natural Resources
Topics: Cultural and Political Ecology, Human-Environment Geography, Latin America
Keywords: forest restoration, community-based conservation, Bolivia, incentive-based conservation, water security, climate change adaptation
Session Type: Paper
Presentation File: No File Uploaded

Approximately 20% of Bolivia’s population are water insecure, mostly living in rural areas. Climate change is expected to exacerbate water insecurity. Since the 1990s, Bolivia has lost 20% of forest cover. Recent catastrophic wildfires burned millions of hectares of dry forest. Such forest loss has significant implications for water security and climate change. Previously, Bolivia committed to restore 4.5 million hectares of degraded forests by 2030. Since recent wildfires, the need for forest restoration has become more pressing. Thus, it is critical to assess forest restoration potential and challenges from rural communities’ perspectives and evaluate forest restoration as nature-based solutions to water insecurity and climate change at multiple scales. Our study focuses on five rural municipalities in Vallegrande, Bolivia, a semi-arid agro-ecological zone. We conducted and analyzed 30 rapid-ethnographies and semi-structured interviews with community members, natural resource professionals, and other governmental and non-governmental actors. Our results show some level of local ecological knowledge regarding suitable ecological conditions and species for forest restoration and traditional land use patterns and ongoing changes. Some actors connected forest restoration with improved water security and climate change adaptation, although such linkages were not sufficiently incorporated into local restoration programs. Community members desired certain species for livelihood reasons, some of which were actually ill-fitted to the local water and climatic realities. Our results reveal power dynamics within and among groups of actors regarding whose knowledge, needs, and desires are being acknowledged, considered, and acted upon. These insights can inform development of equitable and effective forest restoration.

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