South America

Smallholder sorting “papalisa” (Ullucus tuberosus), an Andean tuber, Department of Cochabamba, Bolivia
Photo: Sarah-Lan Mathez-Stiefel

South America illustrates just how fragile development successes can be: poverty, hunger, social inequalities, and political polarization are once again on the rise. At the same time, global socio-economic trends like land use change – often due to land grabbing – and climate change are ratcheting up the pressure on natural habitats and indigenous communities.

However, the region is also very rich in natural resources and hotspots of biodiversity. And it boasts remarkable cultural diversity rooted in its indigenous heritage. This creates fertile ground for social and technical innovations, civil-society movements, and original approaches to sustainable development.

Research focuses

CDE research initially centred on the Andes region. In light of the relentless exploitation of resources, accompanied by massive growth of monocultures and disregard for indigenous rights in lowland areas, CDE’s research programme expanded to other regions of the continent – in particular the Amazon basin.

With an eye on regional linkages, CDE’s engagement in South America focuses on governance issues in the following areas:

  • Agroecology and sustainable food systems
  • Sustainable value chains
  • Labour and gender issues
  • Ecosystems and biodiversity
  • Environmental justice
  • Land rights and land use


New project: Gold mining in Peru and trade to Europe and Switzerland

The project “Gold mining in Peru and trade to Switzerland and Europe: Identifying entry points for transformation” aims to achieve concrete improvements in the currently socially and ecologically unsustainable practice of gold mining in Madre de Dios.

New project: Indigenous knowledge for conservation governance innovations

Traditional knowledge of Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities (IPLC) are central to protected area management. That’s why they should have a greater say in conservation governance. Examples in the Peruvian Amazon show how this can work. CDE and the Wyss Academy are investigating the outcomes of IPLC-led governance schemes and their potential for other forest frontier contexts.

Amazonia: The bittersweet taste of chocolate

During her research in Ecuador, our PhD student Léa Lamotte came across the “Western lifestyle” – in a place where people are looking for alternatives to rainforest destruction. In her first blog post in our “Coffee Corner”, she takes us on a journey to Amazonia.

Commodity supplier? No, coffee entrepreneur!

CDE doctoral student Samuel Brülisauer visited some of new “coffee farmers” in Peru – and now kicks off our new blog: “Coffee Corner”. In this space, CDE staff and students will share their insights into coffee and cocoa production and the associated value chains, with a focus on sustainability.