Brandt School Universität Erfurt

Salt meets Technology: Field Research in Bolivia

From October to December 2015, Janine Romero, doctoral candidate at the Willy Brandt School of Public Policy, travelled to Bolivia for an extensive field research.
Her dissertation, which is supervised by Prof. Dr. Solveig Richter, analyzes the Bolivian lithium program and its perception by local actors in the region. The Andean country Bolivia holds the most extensive lithium resources in the world and is currently developing an encompassing industrialization initiative led by its national government. Bolivia has long been an extractive country, selling its valuable primary commodities to industrial nations around the world, while being stuck in poverty. Until 2020, Bolivia plans to produce 40.000 tons of lithium carbonate and 350.000 tons of potash, a fertilizer, for the domestic as well as foreign markets. Especially in the region of exploitation, one of the poorest in the already poor South American country, expectations are high that lithium can turn the future of the country around, while some voices caution against possible negative effects in a fragile ecosystem.

 

While in Bolivia, Janine spoke to different actors involved in the program, state officials, academics, civil society and local population. She conducted nearly 50 interviews and was even given the opportunity to visit the lithium exploitation site in the Salar de Uyuni salt flat: “This was really the highlight of my visit. I could tour the premises on which production has already started on a pilot scale”. Janine assessed her field trip positively and was quite impressed with what she saw: “Being at the site, the scale of the industrialization initiative and the efforts made became clear to me for the first time. In the picture, you see me standing in front of a 15 ha pilot evaporation pool.” She will now catalog and process the information collected during her field trip to use it in the substantiation of her research.

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