|By Anthony Bebbington | Mountain Research and Development, Vol. 18(2):173-181 |

Abstract: This paper extends debates about social capital to an analysis of the role of local institutions in establishing environmentally-sustainable development in the Bolivian Andes. Currently, neo-liberal orthodoxies assume an Andean environmental crisis without acknowledging that local adaptation by local inhabitants may reduce exposure to risk, and also enhance economic performance. Conversely alternative development orthodoxy refuses to accept that some regions may indeed be in irreversible decline. The paper questions each of these “orthodoxies”. It begins by outlining a framework linking environmental and rural economic regeneration to social capital formation, and then illustrates this in relation to case studies from the departments of Potosí and La Paz. Evidence suggests that local organizations have helped localities negotiate more effectively with state, market, and other civil society actors, as well as provide access to new, cleaner technology, financial resources, and new markets. However, the impact of local institutions in reversing processes of rural decline varies among locations, and for some areas progressive decline and out-migration seem likely. Rural regeneration is only likely to occur in these areas through concerted policy commitment to highland small farm production. This is unlikely in the absence of effective social mobilization at a national level.