Bolivia Agriculture, Forestry, and Livestock

By | December 10, 2021

Given the very varied conditions of the relief and climate, there is a very large variety of soil products in Bolivia, which, moreover, is cultivated on a very limited total area (about 2 million hectares, i.e. 1.7 % of the total area). It is estimated that, after removing the surface occupied by inland waters, woods, human dwellings and the barren by nature, the country can dispose, for agriculture and livestock, of about 80 million hectares, sufficient to feed for the minus a population of 25-30 million residents. On the plateau, cereals, potatoes, legumes and fruit trees are grown. Maize is mainly used for making chicha, fermented drink much appreciated by the Indians, and together with the wheat reaches up to 3600 m. high. Barley and potatoes are also grown above considerable surfaces, and even at greater heights. In some provinces (of Mizque, in the department of Cochabamba, of Cinti, in that of Chuquisaca, and of Cercado, in that of Oruro) the cultivation of the vine is of special importance, of which two varieties are widespread: the criolla, which comes from ancient plantations made by the Spaniards, and the bordelesa or francesa, of French origin, but imported from Peru and Argentina. Cultivation is still carried out with primitive systems: in the province of Cinti, however, modern systems have been tried. The average production is 100-150 quintals of grapes per hectare: some provinces (Cinti, Mizque) give even more. The national product, which could be greatly increased, because the areas suitable for the vineyard are very extensive, is not sufficient for the request of the country, which imports 3/4 of the wine consumed from Chile and Argentina. Of fruit trees, up to 3000 m. apple, pear, peach, cherry and plum trees are grown.

In the highlands, irrigation is widely used, especially in the southern part, which is more arid. For Bolivia 2010, please check

The slopes and valleys of the Eastern Cordillera have thriving plantations of sugar cane, tobacco, coffee, rice, coca and cocoa, which are the most notable products of Bolivian agriculture. Sugar cane is cultivated in a particular way in the department of Santa Cruz, which alone can satisfy the demand of the country and also provide for a small export, as has been the case in a few years. Both the cultivation of cane and the treatment of sugar are done with aged systems and means. The lack of good communication routes and therefore the difficulty of transport prevent this crop from spreading. Sugar cane is also cultivated for the manufacture of alcohol, which in the department of Santa Cruz alone reaches an annual production of over 10,000 hectoliters.

Many varieties of tobacco are grown in the departments of La Paz, Cochabamba, Santa Cruz, Tarija and Beni; very extensive are the areas favorable to this crop, whose current production (about 15,000 quintals per year) is hardly sufficient for the country’s request. Coffee, perhaps of a higher quality than Moka, is grown mainly in the yungas region, and is renowned. The production, which is estimated to fluctuate between 12,000 and 15,000 quintals per year, is not sufficient for internal consumption. Rice has significant plantations in the eastern regions, and can be grown at any time of the year, yielding a crop every 5-6 months. Its cultivation could extend immensely, because it is favored by the soil and climate conditions. Current production is small, and Bolivia has to import a significant amount of this cereal from abroad every year. Excellent is the Bolivian cocoa, the plant of which thrives especially in the Beni department, in the territory of Colonias and in the yungas region.: Production exceeds internal demand and therefore gives rise to a certain export. Characteristic is the cultivation of coca, which occupies vast areas on the eastern side of the eastern Cordillera (departments of La Paz and Cochabamba) between 650 and 1600 meters above sea level. Each year the various cocales in the country produce a total of almost 3.5 million kg. of coca, worth over 3 million Bolivianos. The 3 / 4 of the production coming from the department of La Paz. In regression is the importance of the cinchona, from which the cinchona is extracted, which was once one of the most notable plant products in Bolivia. It is found throughout the external slope of the Eastern Cordillera; vast forests of cinchona, never exploited, also extend into the department of Santa Cruz. Also in decline, as in other South American regions, after the introduction of crops in the Malacca peninsula, in Ceylon and in the Dutch Indies, is the production of rubber, extracted in Bolivia from Hevea or Castilloa, very frequent in the forests of northern Bolivia (territory of Colonias and department of Beni), in alluvial soils subject to periodic flooding. The ruin of the cinchona bark trade was conducive to the exploitation of rubber plants. Towards 1880 the center of production was on the upper Beni: little by little the basins of the lower Beni and the Río Madre de Dios were included in the exploitation area, then, towards 1900, those of the Río Abuna and Río Acre. From the Llanos de Mojos, from Santa Cruz, from the province of Apolobamba, a considerable immigration stream moved towards the Madeira basin, which was followed by the development of some commercial centers such as Cobija, Riberalta and Villa Bella. Production, which was still around 5,000 tons in 1919, is declining rapidly. Most of the rubber is sent to Madeira and passes through Brazil; a small part is transported by land to the ports on Paraguay (Descalvado, Puerto Suárez).

In the forests of SE Bolivia. (Chaco) there are large quantities of Quebracho wood, still unexploited.

Livestock farming is relatively well developed. It is estimated that Bolivia owns 4,200,000 sheep, 442,000 goats, 2,320,000 cattle, 200,000 horses, 190,000 donkeys, 175,000 mules and 500,000 pigs. Herds of llamas and alpacas are very frequent on the plateau. Cattle are abundant especially in the Chaco region, where however they are subject to periodic decimation, when too little rain makes the pastures insufficient. Cattle breeding was also flourishing in the Beni department, where more than 1 million heads lived. Disastrous epizootic diseases destroyed a large part of this cattle, reduced to no more than 200,000 heads. In the region included in the current department of Santa Cruz, numerous cattle and horses were introduced by the Jesuits and then passed into ownership to the state.

Sheep abound in temperate climate regions, especially in the Cochabamba department, and give excellent meat; with their milk they produce very valuable cheeses (quesos de Paria) There are few horses, both for the natural conditions of the region and because they are too often affected by epidemics. The Bolivian horse is usually small in size and very resistant to the harsh temperatures of the plateau. The llama is the most useful animal for the natives, since, being very sober, it is used for transport even in the most squalid and almost devoid of pastures. Its excrements are used as fuel, the meat is a good food, the wool gives discreet fabrics: with its skin the ojotas are made, indigenous footwear. The wealth of many regions is made up solely, it can be said, of the flocks of llamas. The alpaca is bred almost exclusively by the Indians, for its very precious wool. Some attempts have been made, but with poor results, to breed also the vicuna, which is very frequent, in the wild, in the highest and most inaccessible areas.

Overall, both agriculture and livestock so far have limited and almost exclusively local economic value. On the other hand, the mining production of Bolivia has considerable importance in world trade. The mining industry would not have been able to reach its current development if the railways had not been built which, starting from the Chilean ports of Arica and Antofagasta, connect the main centers of the plateau with the coast, reaching as far as La Paz, in Cochabamba., in Potosí and in Sucre. It should be borne in mind that most of the Bolivian mineral deposits are located in very high areas, difficult to access, desert, and therefore devoid of food resources. This explains how, until a few years ago, only the richest deposits were exploited, and how the exploitation was done with completely primitive methods. In fact, the difficulty in transporting the machinery used in the modern mining industry to the mines was enormous.

Bolivia Agriculture