Construction ahead: The effects of roads on indigenous people



  • Martí Orta-Martínez (Research Associate)
  • Victoria Reyes-García (ICREA & ICTA-UAB)
  • Oriol Andrés Conejero (Department of Ethnoecology, UAB)
  • Jaime Paneque-Galvez (2008-2014)

Goals. Advocates argue that road building in low-income nations facilitates market access, promotes economic development, and improves canonical indicators of well-being in the orthodox approach to development. Detractors argue that road building has many ecological and social consequences. A potential explanation for the conflicting positioning on the social effects of road building is that previous research on the topic has relied on observational studies often plagued by well-known biases from the lack of carefully chosen control groups. To improve estimates of the effects of the road on the well-being of indigenous peoples and on their use of natural resources, in the proposed research, we will use a natural experiment based on the construction of a road through a national park inhabited by three native Amazonian groups in Bolivia. Specific aims. (a) Test hypotheses from cultural anthropology about the immediate effects of road building on the well-being and use of natural resources of native Amazonians; (b) Offer to other cultural anthropologists the opportunity to add modules of interests to them for measurement by our research team at baseline and in the two immediate follow up surveys of this research, so third partices can track (at their own cost) their outcomes in the medium and long-run, after this research project ends; (c) Use the research project to train three PhD students in cultural anthropology so they can use project data for their dissertations. Methods. Research will last three years (1/2010-12/2012) and will take place in villages in Parque Nacional Isiboro-S'cure inhabited by native Amazonians (Tsimane', Yuracar', and Moxe'os). The research team includes cultural anthropologists and an economist that have been working together in the area since 1999. The study will include a baseline or pre-intervention study during 2010 (before the road is built) and two annual follow-up surveys (2011 and 2012) immediately after the construction of the road (planned for 2011). The sample will consists of two groups of villagers ' treatment and control ' which (before the construction of the road) are similar one to each other on observed features. Measures of well-being will include: (a) village income and status inequality, (b) intra-household disparities, and (c) individual cash income, (d) social capital, and (e) emotions. Measures of use of natural resources will include the extraction of natural resources used for sale and for own consumption. We will compare the short-run outcomes of villagers directly affected by the road with those of unaffected villagers. Significance. Public service to the anthropological community. This is the first study known to us where researchers offer to collect data as part of a natural experiment for third party researchers so third parties can assess the effects of the experiment on the outcome of interest to them. Road building and the subsequent increase in market exposure likely has immediate, medium, and long-run effects on well-being. Due to the nature of the funding we can only measure the immediate effects of the intervention. But because part of the data collected will be in response to the demand of third parties, this study will provide a priceless repository of data for researchers who might want to assess the medium and long-term effects of the road. The proposed research program will include the training of three PhD students. Anthropological theory. The construction of roads through native Amazonian territories has polarized defenders and critics of road building (and development) into two camps about the socioeconomic effects of road building. A single study on such a complex topic cannot bring closure to the debate, but at least it should help to produce a transparent empirical base for it.

This project is funded by the Cultural Anthropology Program of the National Science Foundation (US) (NSF# 0963999).


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