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Bolivia Crops
Sources: The Library of Congress Country Studies; CIA World Factbook
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    Harvesting corn in Azurduy Province, Chuquisaca Department
    Courtesy Inter-American Foundation (Wilhelm Kenning)


    An El Ceibo farmer harvesting cocoa in the Alto Beni area of Nor Yungas Province, La Paz Department
    Courtesy Inter-American Foundation (Wilhelm Kenning)

    Food Crops

    Potatoes, the basic staple of highland Indians since pre-Inca times, remained the most important food crop in the late 1980s. In 1988 approximately 190,000 hectares, mostly in the highlands, produced 700,000 tons of potatoes (see table 6, Appendix). These figures compared unfavorably, however, with 1975, when 127,680 hectares provided 834,000 tons of potatoes, indicating that yields were dwindling. Bolivia was generally self-sufficient in potatoes (over 200 varieties were grown), but imports were needed during occasional periods of drought or freezing. Bolivia also exported some of its harvest to Brazil. The lack of new seed varieties, chemical fertilizers, and irrigation systems, together with the continued exhaustion of the highland soils, was responsible for the low yields. In the late 1980s, the lack of financial credit at planting time represented the greatest impediment facing potato growers.

    Corn was the second major food crop, and its importance was growing. Corn covered more hectares than any other crop. In the late 1980s, approximately 300,000 hectares provided more than 475,000 tons of white corn, the traditional corn of Bolivia. Yellow Cuban corn, grown in the tropical areas of Santa Cruz, was becoming more common; 160,000 hectares produced 350,000 tons of yellow corn in 1988. Sixty percent of the corn (both white and yellow) was grown by small farmers in the valleys, with the remaining 40 percent planted by medium-to-large farmers in Santa Cruz. Small farmers used at least half of their corn for human consumption, as animal feed, or for brewing chicha, the primary intoxicating beverage consumed by Bolivian Indians. The other half of their production and most of the commercially farmed corn were sold to Bolivia's forty private animal-feed plants, which bought 50 percent of the country's annual corn output. Many corn farmers were members of the Corn and Sorghum Producers Association (Productores de MaĆ­z y Sorgo--Promasor). Promasor was particularly active in Santa Cruz, where its members also produced 20,000 tons a year of sorghum, a drought-resistant crop, from some 6,000 hectares of land.

    Rice was an increasingly popular crop in Bolivia. Eaten by people in the lowlands and valleys since the 1950s, rice became the focus of government import-substitution policies beginning in the 1960s. In the late 1980s, the country was generally selfsufficient in rice, some years importing and other years exporting. Bolivia's rice, however, was not of high quality by international standards, thus limiting export markets. In 1988 some 90,000 hectares of land, mostly in Santa Cruz and Beni departments, produced 140,000 tons of rice. Bolivia imported onefifth of its total consumption of rice in 1988. Approximately 20,000 small farmers produced the bulk of the country's paddy rice and, in turn, sold it via truckers to thirty private rice mills.

    Barley was a common crop in the highlands and was particularly well suited for the high altitudes. In 1988 the cultivation of 80,000 hectares by 300,000 highland farmers produced 75,000 tons of barley, which was used primarily in the country's robust beer industry. About 10 percent of the barley was consumed on the farm as fodder. Bolivia imported about one-quarter of its total consumption of barley in 1988.

    Quinoa, the "mother grain" of the Incas, was the only food crop in the highlands that experienced sustained growth during the 1970s and 1980s. Cultivation of quinoa, which grows only above 2,000 meters, jumped from 15,640 hectares producing 9,000 tons in 1980 to 45,800 hectares producing 21,140 tons in 1984, and production continued to expand in the late 1980s. High in fiber and rich in protein, quinoa was a potential health food in industrialized countries.

    Despite repeated attempts by the government's National Wheat Institute (Instituto Nacional del Trigo) to make the nation selfsufficient in wheat production, Bolivia produced only about 20 percent of the wheat that it consumed in the late 1980s. In 1988 about 88,000 hectares produced 60,000 tons of wheat. In the same year, 280,000 tons of wheat were imported. In 1988 the United States Agency for International Development (AID) provided 180,000 tons of wheat through its Public Law 480 (PL-480) Food for Peace Program. Western Europe and Canada operated programs similar to the AID program but on a smaller scale. Argentina provided wheat in exchange for Bolivian natural gas. Smuggled wheat flour from Peru and Argentina represented a serious menace to domestic wheat production. In 1988 analysts estimated that 60,000 tons of smuggled wheat had entered Bolivia annually. Small traditional farmers in the highlands and large soybean farmers in Santa Cruz provided most of the country's 1988 wheat harvest, which was roughly equivalent to output in 1978, but only wheat from the Santa Cruz area was used for commercial milling. Analysts believed that wheat would produce higher yields when the proper tropical seeds, fertilizer, and irrigation methods were used.

    Bolivians produced a wide range of vegetables, fruits, and other food crops, mostly for local consumption. The principal vegetable crops included kidney beans, green beans, chick peas, green peas, lettuce, cabbage, tomatoes, carrots, onions, garlic, and chili peppers. Also common were alfalfa, rye, cassava, and sweet potatoes. Some of the most popular fruits were oranges, limes, grapes, apples, quince, papayas, peaches, plums, cherries, figs, avocadoes, pineapples, strawberries, bananas, and plantains. Fruits increasingly competed with coca cultivation in the 1980s.

    Data as of December 1989

    NOTE: The information regarding Bolivia on this page is re-published from The Library of Congress Country Studies and the CIA World Factbook. No claims are made regarding the accuracy of Bolivia Crops information contained here. All suggestions for corrections of any errors about Bolivia Crops should be addressed to the Library of Congress and the CIA.

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Revised 10-Nov-04
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