Extraction, inequality and indigenous peoples: Insights from Bolivia

Authors Bebbington, D.Humphreys
Year of Publication 2013
Type of Publication Journal Article
Journal Environmental Science & Policy
Volume 33
Pagination 438–446
Open Access No


For most of the last two hundred years, the Bolivian Chaco has existed at the physical and political margins of the nation state. Following the discovery of large quantities of natural gas in the mid-1990s the region has become a motor of national economic growth and fertile ground for political disputes. In large measure, these disputes reflect differing approaches to the governance of the Chaco's ecosystem services and the unequal distribution of the benefits and costs that this governance might deliver. This article explores how a shift in the global valuation of one ecosystem service has interacted with valuations of a range of other ecosystem services in the Chaco and with existing "contextual" relationships of inequity to produce new, and reinforce prior, patterns of inequity. The article draws on the experiences of two indigenous populations whose territories are impacted by natural gas extraction and who have suffered long histories of discrimination and exclusion. These lessons from Bolivia have wider relevance for the governance of ecosystems affected by resource extraction. I argue that any effort to reduce inequality of outcomes produced by the governance of ecosystem services should first recognize and address asymmetric relationships and inequities in access to economic and political opportunity prior to undertaking new forms of resource exploitation rather than after the fact.