Landscape of Migration

Mobility and Environmental Change on Bolivia's Tropical Frontier, 1952 to the Present

By Ben Nobbs-Thiessen

342 pp., 6.125 x 9.25, 12 halftones, 4 maps, 2 graphs

  • Paperback ISBN: 978-1-4696-5610-6
    Published: April 2020
  • Hardcover ISBN: 978-1-4696-5609-0
    Published: April 2020
  • E-book EPUB ISBN: 978-1-4696-5611-3
    Published: March 2020
  • E-book PDF ISBN: 979-8-8908-5643-2
    Published: March 2020

Flows, Migrations, and Exchanges

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In the wake of a 1952 revolution, leaders of Bolivia's National Revolutionary Movement (MNR) embarked on a program of internal colonization known as the "March to the East." In an impoverished country dependent on highland mining, the MNR sought to convert the nation’s vast "undeveloped" Amazonian frontier into farmland, hoping to achieve food security, territorial integrity, and demographic balance. To do so, they encouraged hundreds of thousands of Indigenous Bolivians to relocate from the "overcrowded" Andes to the tropical lowlands, but also welcomed surprising transnational migrant streams, including horse-and-buggy Mennonites from Mexico and displaced Okinawans from across the Pacific.

Ben Nobbs-Thiessen details the multifaceted results of these migrations on the environment of the South American interior. As he reveals, one of the "migrants" with the greatest impact was the soybean, which Bolivia embraced as a profitable cash crop while eschewing earlier goals of food security, creating a new model for extractive export agriculture. Half a century of colonization would transform the small regional capital of Santa Cruz de la Sierra into Bolivia's largest city, and the diverging stories of Andean, Mennonite, and Okinawan migrants complicate our understandings of tradition, modernity, foreignness, and belonging in the heart of a rising agro-industrial empire.

About the Author

Ben Nobbs-Thiessen is the chair in Mennonite studies and assistant professor of history at the University of Winnipeg.
For more information about Ben Nobbs-Thiessen, visit the Author Page.


“Boldly conceptualized, richly documented, and elegantly written, the book is much more than another case study of regional development in Latin America.”—Agricultural History Review

“As a transnational account of Bolivian agrarian history, Landscape of Migration succeeds in its goal to understand how divergent actors shaped the landscape of the Bolivian lowland in the second half of the twentieth century.”—H-Environment

“Nobbs-Thiessen tells a compelling story of how migrants transformed Bolivia’s historically marginal lowlands in the decades after World War II. Gracefully weaving together local, national, and global threads, Nobbs-Thiessen shows how the rapid growth of Santa Cruz was driven by internal migrants from the Bolivian highlands, by Okinawans displaced by U.S. military projects in the Pacific, and by Mennonites fleeing environmental and economic hardship in Northern Mexico. Built on migrant technologies and organisms, this cosmopolitan colonization turned a forested hinterland into a vibrant and expanding agricultural frontier, creating a power center that has decisively shaped contemporary Bolivian politics.”—Stuart McCook, author of Coffee is Not Forever: A Global History of the Coffee Leaf Rust

"This book makes a significant contribution to the social sciences by looking at questions of migration, agrarian citizenship, and land use patterns in Santa Cruz, Bolivia. Santa Cruz has recently received a lot of scholarly and popular attention for its relationship to the expansion of agro-industry, soy monocultures, and new forms of Brazilian investments. This book provides the historical and political economic context for understanding how and why this region has become an epicenter for agrarian production and the agro-industrial resistance to the Morales administration."--Nicole Fabricant, author of Mobilizing Bolivia’s Displaced: Indigenous Politics and the Struggle over Land

"Landscape of Migration is an urgently necessary reflection on how the movement of people, plants, and knowledge can transform place--in this case, the ecologically delicate drylands and tropical forests of eastern Bolivia. Nobbs-Thiessen follows the Okinawans and indigenous highlanders who joined the postrevolutionary "March to the East," opened new agricultural frontiers, and staked a claim as agrarian citizens. The book culminates by entangling the histories of two global sojourners: soybeans and the Mennonites who cultivated them. Landscape of Migration masterfully reveals how a previously unrecognized web of transnational policies, human aspirations, and agrotechnologies transformed a neotropical wilderness into an ecologically precarious breadbasket."--Christopher Boyer, author of Political Landscapes: Forests, Conservation, and Community in Mexico

"Bolivia often is the forgotten country of the Americas, and Landscapes of Migration shows the country's many transnational connections and fascinating history. The environmental and agricultural transformations of twentieth-century Bolivia created a unique story for Latin America, one that Nobbs-Thiessen tells in an engaging and compelling way."--Sterling Evans, author of Bound in Twine: The History and Ecology of the Henequen-Wheat Complex for Mexico and the American and Canadian Plains, 1880–1950