Essay on Deforestation In Bolivia

Bolivia has one of the highest deforestation rates in South America, second only to Brazil. This effect is seen particularly in eastern Bolivia where the interregional effects of Brazilian policy and infrastructure can easily be felt across the border. Bolivia, as well as other regions in the Amazon are largely inhabited by a wide variety of indigenous cultures that depend on the natural resources of a region for their livelihood and existence.

The largest factor in rapid deforestation and desertification of natural resources in Bolivia is the interference of national and international entities in the politics and production of resources at the local and regional level. There are four important social groups, which can then be explained in to smaller sub groups, which are influential in the land use policies of Bolivia. These include three non-mechanized indigenous groups, four mechanized farming groups, two cattle ranching groups, and the forest products sector.

In the last decade much of South America has seen an increase in land use caused by both intensive and extensive cattle use. Small scale slash and burn tactics are often used by non-mechnized indigenous cultures in the effort to support their families in a subsistence lifestyle. Commercial and large scale deforestation is often caused by the migratory phenomenon and the creation of road networks. Some colonies are formed by government and state, but more frequently spontaneous settlements are created along highway corridors.

Bolivia contains over 36,900 species of mammals alone. Recent scientific research of the eastern range of Bolivia projects that there remain over 20 species as yet uncovered by science. These species are often not unknown to the local indigenous cultures who have been sustainably managing both forested regions and grasslands for the span of untold generations.

The cause of deforestation in Bolivia is “the result of many pressures, both local and regional, acting in various combinations in different geographical locations. “Dominating the broad clusters of proximate causes is the combination of agricultural expansion, wood extraction, and infrastructure expansion, with clear regional variations. ” Bolivia can be separated into several temperate zones the most important of which are the Antiplano, Andean Highlands, lowlands, and Amazonian rainforests. The first two regions we will discuss are the Antiplano and the Bolivian lowlands.

These are directly related as they have a large influence on one another due to seasonal population migration, due to the dry season found in the Antiplano. This is a region that is often inhabited by different ethnic groups which have been present in the region for centuries, these cultures include; the Guarani, Chiquitano, Guarayo, Siriono, Moxeno, Tsaiman, Tacana, Araona, Chacobo, Esse Eje, Ayoreode, and other less notable groups. Indigenous cultures generally maintain large tracts of forested land as well as secondary forest fallow land.

Often lowland indigenous communities are located at or near their own forested reserves and so often implement community wide farming practices that help to preserve and complement these forest resource direct contrast to this Andean indigenous colonists have a much greater impact on the forest in their region. The major crops grown in this area are rice, sugar cane, and coca which are largely produced through manual labor. Production is limited by a very high rainfall regime, as well as lack of technology and access to capital.

Slash and burn agriculture and rotational fallow have led to extensive deforestation and low intensity land use. Their footprint is in some ways similar to those of more technologically advanced social groups, though we do see a larger abundance of secondary forest in these areas which do allow for more bio diversity than the fully mechanized farm tracts. The third climate zone we will discuss is the Amazonian rainforest which faces the greatest threat of deforestation.

The Chiquitania dry forest contains perhaps the world’s largest eserve of extremely hard wooded timber species. This region is within a commercial logging zone which pays royalties to the state. Much of this capital is funneled back into the financially corrupt state government and very little is seen by indigenous cultures. However, recently we have seen a shift in state policy as a new emphasis on habitat conservation is taking prominence. Under the new scheme, concessionaries are required to implement management plans with rotational harvests spanning 30 years, and royalties are based on the area of the concession.

In eastern Bolivia we see large tracts of undisturbed rainforest, where there is little or no influence caused by social groups. We are seeing these virgin forests at a great risk due to the ever expanding cattle ranching enterprises. Traditionally we saw a cultural emphasis on extensive cattle ranching which utilizes the naturally occurring environment, while grazing cattle on native shrubs and grassland. As new technologies increase the productivity and profitability of farming we are seeing a large increase in foreign investors, particularly from Brazil.

Farmers with European heritage have cultivated land or raised cattle in Bolivia since the 16th century. The lowlands of Bolivia of have been productivity centers for mechanized agriculture starting in the mid 1960’s beginning with cattle, rice, as well as sugar cane, while slowly transitioning to production in cotton, soy beans, and intensive cattle ranching. While extensive cattle management remains the largest sector in the cattle industry we are seeing their role shifting as they go from major beef producers, to supplying calves and cows to the intensive cattle ranchers and mechanized farm groups.

Deforestation by intensive cattle ranchers has been influenced largely by the ongoing reform of land tenure. During the 1970’s and 1980’s, large tracts of state land were distributed to individuals who had political influence. The most intensive land use in Bolivia occurs on mechanized farms on the alluvial soils of the Rio Grande plain. Approximately 42% of total deforestation has occurred in this area. In 2002 scientists examined the deforestation rates in the three most effected regions; these were Southeast Asia, Latin America, and Africa.

Of these three regions Latin America showed the lowest actual deforestation percentages, but at a rate of 2. 5 X 106 ha year -1, the annual loss of forest area was almost the same as the loss estimated in Southeast Asia. Fueled by the global economy international markets have played an integral role in the expansion of the agro-industrial corporations who are becoming dominate in much of South American culture. Investors have a number of economic and financial incentives to clear land in an effort to increase productivity and profitability.

The most important of these is the relative inexpensiveness of rural land tracts, the nutrients stored in local flora and fauna ensure good crop harvests the initial years of the investment cycle when employing slash and burn technology, and lastly few permits or regulations are in effect for small land purchases. When we compare the rates of deforestation in modern Bolivia with those of the past five decades we see a decided increase in both urbanization and the rate at which natural resources are being extracted from the environment.

Despite policies enacted in the late 1990’s aimed at promoting environmental conservation we have not seen an observable reduction in deforestation and find that deforestation has actually increased in some protected areas. “The rate of land-cover change continues to increase linearly nationwide, but is growing faster in the Santa Cruz department because of the expansion of mechanized agriculture and cattle farms. ” Most mechanized farms in the Rio Grande plains produce sugar cane, rice, cotton, soybean, beef, dairy, poultry, or several of these varieties.

All of these crops are highly mechanized and require large amounts of water, fuel, fertilizer, machinery, and infrastructure to cultivate and harvest. Many Bolivians forgo owning either cars or trucks and instead will lease the services upon necessity. Often they will own tractors but eschew modern rubber wheels in favor of traditional steel wheels which compact soil and often lower farming efficiency. Many Bolivian farmers are slow to adopt new technology which causes a noted lag in productivity and efficiency as they fall behind modern farming techniques.

Bolivia, as well as the rest of South America, has experienced a large amount of land change and resource depletion in the last 50 years. While deforestation for cattle ranching is the leading factor in forest conversion, no single economic or social factor can be held responsible for resource depletion. Land use in Bolivia is dictated by the implementation of vario production models backed by several classes of economic and social groups. The differences in economic classes can be seen in the supply of product, machines, capital, and access to both domestic and international markets.

Cultural differences influence the location and planning of future settlements, but economic and production models dictate how quickly and completely natural growth and habitat are converted to pastureland, cropland, or secondary forest fallow. South America is uniquely situated to utilize an ever replenishing resource that is indefinitely available; water. As we begin to build greater understanding of how the great forests of the world produce and encourage rain we see the impact even small scale deforestation can cause.

Santa Cruz, Bolivia is located directly over a large aquifer that could be recharged indefinitely by precipitation and the high volume Andean rivers. Unfortunately irrigation and the associated infrastructure requires more capital and a slower rate of return than small ventures or purchases with the slash and burn method of deforestation. The supreme cause of deforestation in Bolivia is the national and international interference in the local commodity markets. These markets are the principle force behind mechanized farming and slash and burn deforestation practices.

Both domestic and foreign markets stimulate resource depletion through the demand for commodities such as rice, sugar, tin, soybeans, beef, and cotton. The investment of foreign countries in Bolivia’s infrastructure, as well as various colonization programs, has fueled the drive for more pasture and cropland at the detriment to all. As we build community and governmental understanding of the costs and consequences that rapid deforestation will have long term we begin to see a shift away from intensive land use and see more effective conservation being implemented.