Political and Socioecological Challenges to Bolivia’s “Social Control” Policy, La Paz, Bolivia


Political and Socioecological Challenges to Bolivia’s “Social Control” Policy, La Paz, Bolivia


Research Question

1) Does the Bolivian government’s controversial new coca law exacerbate or ameliorate the uneven effects of “social control” on coca union politics and livelihood security between and within the coca growing regions? If so, how?

2) How are Chapare region coca growers perceiving and adapting to the socioecological crisis presented by the coca-killing fungus?


After weeks of violent protests, on February 24, 2017 the Bolivian house of deputies passed a long-awaited and controversial “coca bill” to increase coca cultivation limits under the government’s “Coca Yes, Cocaine No” policy. Meanwhile, the persistence of a coca-killing fungus in the Chapare coca growing region raises questions of whether it is even ecologically possible to cultivate more coca, and if the “Coca Yes, Cocaine No” (CYCN) policy is politically or environmentally sustainable in the long-term. Bolivia’s innovative CYCN policy has been praised globally and among scholars of drug policy studies as one of the first successful alternatives to punitive “drug wars,” yet the new coca law and the persistent fungus threaten to undermine this flagship policy. This project will build from previous research on CYCN, contributing to drug policy reform research and critical health studies.

Methods Used

I will employ surveys, semi-structured interviews, and participant observation. Surveys and semi-structured interviews will elicit data on peoples’ interpretations of the new coca law, and their experiences with agrochemicals and the fungus. Surveys in the two coca growing regions will allow me to solicit information from coca growers on the economic, ecological, and health impacts of the fungus, and their reactions to the coca law. Interviews will allow me to go into greater depth with some of the growers, and to take seriously the perspectives of respondents, teasing out complementarities and contradictions between their experiences and prevailing political and policy rhetoric across these two regions. Finally, participant observation and note taking during coca cultivation, at the regional coca union offices, in people’s fields, and at coca markets will be important for examining practices that are unacknowledged in speech.


This fieldwork will make possible the publication of at least two articles. One will focus on the controversial coca leaf bill and the grounded ramifications of the CYCN policy in coca growing communities, situated within the critical policy studies literature. The second will focus on the environmental health and justice aspects of the research, situated within the political ecologies of health literature. This research will also facilitate my ability to apply for further grant funding to continue a larger longitudinal project with collaborators.

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Human Geography

Political and Socioecological Challenges to Bolivia’s “Social Control” Policy, La Paz, Bolivia


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