Indigenous smallholders’ involvement in public food procurement markets in Bolivia: How institutional logics influence inclusion and exclusion processes

PhD defence

Geovana Carla Mercado Ramos


The use of public procurement as a policy tool for economic and social development, leads to a high degree of controversy among different constituencies. Current discourses about public procurement include the use of public procurement in the promotion and support of small businesses, the promotion of prioritized sectors in the domestic industry, and the development of green or sustainable procurement. The purchases for school food programs in Bolivia are a good example of an attempt to use public procurement as a tool to enhance the participation of small providers in secure markets. The rules have recently been modified and a preference in public tenders of up to 40% of the evaluation score was granted to smallholders and local products compared to other types of providers. Nonetheless, smallholders’ participation in the Bolivian public food procurement is very low. The recent transformation of public procurement has led to a high degree of complexity in the field, due to contradictory logics and practices, as well as disconnection among field participants. In this dissertation the Bolivian public food procurement field, its change process and the responses of smallholder farmers when trying to sell their food products to local school food procurement programs are examined. The dissertation includes four scientific research articles related to the interaction among public food procurement, smallholder farmers and local and national governments. The results of the dissertation research point to different aspects of 1) the introduction of food sovereignty logics to the public food procurement field, 2) the smallholders’ efforts to re-categorize themselves from being perceived as informal market agents to legally recognized food providers, 3) the conflicts emerging between two opposed institutional logics operating in the field, and 4) the smallholders’ strategic attempts to deal with these conflicts. At the macro level, micro and small-sized enterprise, i.e., peripheral actors in the field, allies with social movements in an attempt to leverage political and economic resources for field transformation. Through efforts leading to their re-categorization as formal businesses, smallholders obtain privileges to access public procurement market granted by new regulations designed to foster food sovereignty. However, at the meso and micro level, the complexity originated by divergent institutional logics, affects the smallholders’ market inclusion. As a reaction to this situation, they respond by enacting different strategies in order to ease their access and ensure permanence in the market. In spite of their efforts and a favourable legal framework, smallholders continue to be excluded from the public procurement market, by the prevalence of corporate food regime logics, which continue to shape the legitimate practices related to public food procurement.


Carsten Nico Portefée Hjortsø, Associate professor, Department of Food and Resource Economics (IFRO), University of Copenhagen


Paul Rye Kledal, Dr., Institute of Global Food and Framing IGFF

Assessment Committee

Chair: Aske Skovmand Bosselmann, Associate Professor, Department of Food and Resource Economics (IFRO), University of Copenhagen

Eva Boxenbaum, Professor, Department of Organisation, Copenhagen Business School

Giel Ton, Research Fellow, Institute of Development Studies