Bolivia Agriculture and Fishing Overview

Agriculture and fishing

Agriculture’s share of the economy in Bolivia has steadily declined over several decades. Nevertheless, the industry still employs a large part of the population. Many Bolivians are small farmers and live in self-catering.

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In the highlands, small lots are mainly used by farmers who keep llama animals and grow potatoes and quinoa, among other things. In the valleys east of the Andes, small farmers also dominate with simple cultivation methods. Here, however, the soil is more fertile and the climate milder, and the crops more varied. In the lowland to the east there is modern large-scale farming for export crops. Most important of them is soy, but sugar cane, oilseeds, cotton and coffee are also grown. Livestock breeding of mainly sheep and alpacas provides meat, hides and wool for both exports and the domestic market.

The land distribution is very skewed. A small group of large landowners control most of the agricultural land, while the large mass of small farmers share a small proportion. Indigenous peoples’ struggle for increased rights is closely linked to the right to land. For Bolivia defense and foreign policy, please check themotorcyclers.

After Evo Morales took office as president in 2006 (see Modern History), state land began to be distributed to landless poor farmers. A law was also passed that allows the state to forcibly buy unused privately owned land and to seize land acquired illegally. The land is left to small farmers. A total of 20 million hectares of land, or one-fifth of the land area, is said to be redistributable. The 2009 constitution also set a limit on land ownership to 5,000 hectares for new acquisitions. However, the law does not seem retroactive, but anyone who already owns more land may retain it.

Land reform has faced strong opposition from the big landowners, who threaten to defend their property by force. Some of them also run the risk of getting rid of the cheap labor they have in the form of poor rural workers who are employed under state-like conditions. Workers receive food and shelter but no salary, and often end up in debt to the employer. Some of these farm workers are now allocated land by the state.

Coca cultivation

The country’s many growers of the coca bush have a strong position. One of the reasons is that the use of boil has deep roots in the indigenous people’s culture, including as a medicinal plant. They chew cookie leaves and make tea on them, to quell hunger and fatigue. However, the cookie sheets are also raw material in the production of cocaine. For many poor farmers, the cook has been the only source of income. Cultivation increased significantly in the 1970s and 1980s. Koka became the country’s most important crop by far and Bolivia one of the world’s largest coca growers.

All coca cultivation, except about 12,000 hectares for traditional use, was officially banned in 1988. Other crops would be destroyed, which also happened to a large extent. But in the early 2000s, protests against the US-backed campaign to eradicate the coca bush grew, and largely with the help of votes from cocaleros, the cocoa growers, the farmer leader and former cocoa farmer Evo Morales won the 2005 presidential election.

Morales introduced a new policy, which he called Coca Si, Cocaina No. Cocaine would be combated, but cocaine cultivation for legal purposes would be encouraged: making tea, medicine, toothpaste and more. The funding came largely from Morale’s ally in Venezuela, then President Hugo Chávez. Cocaine is banned, but the smuggling of drugs is said to have increased significantly. After a legislative change in 2017, almost the area for legal coca cultivation almost doubled to 22,000 hectares. Since 2009, the coca bush has been a constitutionally protected plant (see Political system).

Over half of Bolivia’s area is covered by forest and timber is an important export commodity. Extensive illegal logging is a serious environmental problem.

Fishing is conducted in the country’s lakes and the catch is mainly for domestic consumption.


Agriculture’s share of GDP

11.5 percent (2018)

Percentage of land used for agriculture

34.8 percent (2016)

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Electricity companies are nationalized

Two more Spanish-owned electricity companies are nationalized (see May 2012), after President Morales accused them of taking too much paid by rural consumers.

Yes to the disputed road construction

The government announces the final result of its consultation on Tipnis (see August 2012). According to the official figures, 80 percent of the building surveyed support. Critics claim that government representatives used gifts, bribes and pledges on community service, and not informed of environmental consequences. According to a separate study by the Catholic Church and human rights agencies, 30 of the 36 surveyed communities have said no to the project.


Census is carried out

Curfew is introduced and the country stands still for a day when census is carried out. Over 200,000 people complete the bill. All Bolivians must state that they belong to one of 40 ethnic groups. Fertilizers (see Population and Languages) are not available as alternatives.


Extended environmental protection

Morales signs a new law that gives citizens the right to live in harmony with nature and avoid environmental degradation of various kinds. Mother Earth has its own ombudsman and an environmental court set up with the task of protecting nature. The law contains a section on citizens’ right to avoid development projects that change the balance of ecosystems. Indigenous peoples’ bodies dismiss the law as inadequate and criticize the fact that they have not been consulted about the final design.

Criticized contracts for road construction

President Evo Morales signs a contract with two Bolivian companies to build the first part of the disputed route through Tipnis. The decision draws attention because the local referendums to be held on the road construction have not yet been fully implemented.


The cocoa cultivars have shrunk

Land areas used for coca cultivation have decreased by 12 percent in two years, according to a UN report. It is the first decline noted since Morales became president in 2006. Many feared that crops would increase when cooperation with the United States on the fight against drugs was discontinued in 2008.

The United States does not release the ex-president

A message from the US that former President Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada will not be extradited to Bolivia provokes criticism and anger in the country. Sánchez de Lozada is suspected of genocide (see also Modern History and Political System). Extradition was an important condition for the restoration of diplomatic relations (see November 2011).


Newspapers are reported for discrimination

The government reports two newspapers, El Diario and Página Siete, as well as the ANF news agency for violating a contentious law against racism and “all forms of discrimination” adopted in 2010. parts of the country. The president said in his speech that food shortages can occur in the highlands, but that no one really needs to go without food in the fertile eastern parts. Headlines that “the President accuses people of the East of laziness” are considered by the government to be discriminatory. Both local and international journalist organizations protest.

Local vote on road construction

The government is launching a consulta – a kind of referendum where the people can make their say on one issue – about road construction through Tipnis (see September 2011 and January 2012) in 69 affected Native American communities. According to early reports, in principle everyone votes to lift the construction ban and approve the road. The result is in conflict with the view taken in a total of nine comprehensive protest marches against the building. According to the government, a change of opinion has taken place since the residents received proper information about the construction project.


Diplomatic mark against Paraguay

Bolivia takes home its ambassador from Paraguay in protest against the president being ousted by a right-wing majority in parliament.

Increased police wages following protests

After a period of strikes and protests among the country’s police, where thousands of police officers also occupied their premises, an agreement was reached on 20 percent salary increases. Clashes have occurred between striking police and government supporters. The police are considered the country’s most corrupt authority. Morales has accused the police of having political intentions and planning a coup.


Electricity companies are nationalized

President Morales nationalizes the Spanish-owned electricity company REE and explains that the company has not invested enough in Bolivia.


Morales becomes MAS presidential candidate

At a party congress, the ruling party MAS appoints incumbent President Evo Morales as its candidate in the 2014 election, despite the fact that the constitution allows only one re-election. MAS argues that the rule does not apply retroactively and that Morales can stand for a third term. The opposition is protesting and the leftist, formerly Morales Allied Movement Without Fear (MSM) is demanding a referendum on the issue.

Rising crime in big cities

More than 2,000 soldiers are sent to Bolivia’s four largest cities – La Paz, Santa Cruz, Cochabamba and El Alto – to assist the police. Rising crime – and not least the murder of two journalists in El Alto – has caused loud protests and demands for the re-introduction of the death penalty, which was abolished in 1997.

Morales: “UN should legalize cookie sheets”

President Evo Morales calls on the UN to correct a “historic mistake” and lift the ban on cookie sheets adopted in a 1961 convention. Morales speaks at a meeting of the UN Drugs Commission in Vienna, claiming the cook is part of the Bolivian cultural heritage.


Parliament decides on referendum

The MAS-dominated Legislative Assembly provides a clear sign for a non-binding referendum among residents affected by the road construction through the Amazon, despite President Morales assuring that the building has been stopped for good (see October 2011). The decision shows how difficult Morales has to balance conflicting demands from his various support troops.


Cocoa growers in protest march

Cocoa growers end a 40-day march to the capital, La Paz, where they demand that the demolished road construction in Tipnis (see September 2011) be resumed. They believe that the road is needed to enable economic development in the region.

Drug agreement with the United States

An agreement is signed with the US and Brazil on cooperation against illegal drug production in Bolivia. The agreement gives the country access to satellites to monitor coca cultivation.

Bolivia Agriculture and Fishing