Bolivia is among the countries with the greatest rates of forest cover worldwide, according to Global Forest Watch.
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Deforestation in Bolivia – An Overview
Growing soy farms are destroying Bolivia’s forests and other natural ecosystems. However, the chances of action look slim given that the government is primarily concerned with economic growth and that there is minimal market demand for products free of deforestation.
Over the past eight years, Bolivia’s deforestation rates have surged by 259%, mostly due to the country’s expanding agricultural sector.
Bolivia destroyed over 596,000 hectares of forest in 2022 alone, ranking third in the world after Brazil and the Democratic of Congo. The development of soy farms to satisfy the rising demand for animal feed is the main cause for concern.
Most of Bolivia’s soy production is situated in the eastern department of Santa Cruz, where nearly three-quarters of the recent deforestation has occurred.
In addition, the area is home to a rich ecosystem that includes armadillos, huge otters, and maned wolves, as well as the Chiquitano, a dry forest named for the local Indigenous population. The growth of soy accounts for about 19% of the deforestation in Chiquitano.
The cultivation of soy was associated with 77,090 hectares of deforestation and conversion in 2020, rising to 105,600 hectares in 2021, according to new Trase statistics released in August. Bolivia has far more severe deforestation connected to the growth of soy than in other South American countries.
For every thousand metric tons of soy produced in Bolivia in 2021, 31.8 hectares of original vegetation were removed; this is five times higher than in Paraguay, seven times more than in Brazil, and thirty times more than in Argentina. Over the previous eight years, Bolivia’s deforestation rates have climbed by 259%.
Recognizing Bolivia’s Issue with Deforestation
The political factor is the primary one. By establishing more benevolent regulations, the Bolivian government is promoting the growth of soy crops to satisfy the country’s increasing export demand.
For instance, it has altered the land allocation of forest areas to permit cultivation, like in the department of Beni, and raised soy export quotas.
The Bolivian government started a biofuel development initiative in 2022 and is investing about US$700 million. This might lead to increased deforestation and land conversion, as well as a significant increase in the demand for soy.
The Bolivian government has authorized the destruction of land previously removed without a permit, as well as the issuance of an increasing number of permits to clear land for the cultivation of soy.
In the rare instances where illegal deforestation is punished, the fines are small—US$0.2 per hectare as opposed to US$200 per hectare in other neighboring nations.
There are also financial motives. Bolivia’s soy industry is far less productive than that of other nations. Bolivia produces substantially less soy than Brazil, Argentina, and Paraguay, which produce 2.7–3.5 tonnes per hectare. Bolivia produces about 2-2.3 tonnes per hectare.
This implies that growing soy requires greater acreage. The development of soy output may easily be financed using loans from Bolivian banks. Deforestation is also fueled by land speculation, which helps to offset the lower soy crop revenues. Securing land tenure is achieved through clearing land.
Major Causes of Deforestation in Bolivia
Along with soil erosion, biodiversity loss, and altered weather patterns, deforestation in Bolivia also impacts indigenous communities whose livelihoods depend on forests. The Amazon region is more vulnerable to flooding than other locations due to deforestation.
- Overconsumption of Natural Resources and Machine-Based Agriculture
- Small-Scale Agriculture
- Cattle Ranching
- Forest fires
- Mining and Oil/Gas Extraction
- Hydroelectric Dams
- Population Growth and Migration
- Road Infrastructure Construction and Improvement
- Fuelwood Extraction
1. Overconsumption of Natural Resources and Machine-Based Agriculture
Overuse of resources has a detrimental effect on Bolivia’s natural resources’ capacity to regenerate, leading to deforestation. People fail to develop replacement plans for the various resources they utilize at unsustainable rates. Large tracts of forest have been lost as a result, leaving the terrain desolate and incapable of supporting animal or plant life.
Bolivian farmers use machines and technology to boost productivity and efficiency. Farmers can quickly cultivate and harvest crops on a huge scale with heavy gear. The drawback is that it may result in soil erosion.
2. Small-Scale Agriculture
Numerous labor-intensive production methods, primarily including rice, maize, and perennial crops like bananas, are included in small-scale agriculture. The corresponding agents frequently aim to produce both cash income and sustenance at the same time. Exports account for a very tiny portion of small-scale farmers’ output.
Additionally, this includes some integrated cow rearing in multipurpose small-scale farming. Usually, each family cultivates two hectares or so every year using a shifting farming strategy. Most of the small-scale growers are native people who moved from the highlands.
The northern Andean Piedmont’s humid regions and the area north of Santa Cruz are home to the majority of them.
Producers in the latter region have been adopting mechanical production systems at an increasing rate; these systems fall under the heading of “mechanized agriculture” in those cases.
Native Americans in the lowlands are few and have a negligible impact on deforestation and agricultural output.
3. Cattle Ranching
Bolivia’s deforestation issues are largely caused by livestock ranching. Large tracts of forest must be cleared to make room for cattle, which devastates habitat.
Furthermore, the use of fertilizers and pesticides during the cow feed production process may contaminate streams and degrade the land.
4. Forest fires
The use of fire as an agricultural tool to clear land for cultivation is the main cause of forest fires in Bolivia. The high cost of alternative approaches and the lax regulation over intentional burning are likely the underlying causes.
Apart from demolishing portions of the forest and altering its initial canopy, fires have the potential to alter the initial species composition. This includes the introduction of alien species that eventually surpass native species, leading to the depletion of ecosystem services and the impossibility of recovering or repurposing these areas.
Burning also reduces soil fertility because it burns dead organic materials and prevents ecosystems from naturally regenerating. The most harmful effects are the loss of trees and the accumulation of flammable material, which causes cycles of fires that get worse over time.
5. Mining and Oil/Gas Extraction
The effects of mining and oil and gas extraction operations on Bolivia’s forest cover are not well documented. There is some mining activity in the lowlands, particularly in Santa Cruz, even though mining has been established throughout the entire west of the nation.
Deforestation and the conversion of forest cover into open production areas have direct effects on forests. Indirect effects occur when nearby woods are damaged or lost and are used as a source of raw materials for underground mine construction or mining camp construction.
One example is the deforestation and forest degradation brought about by gold mining in the tropical province of Larecaja in the Department of La Paz (areas of Guanay, Tipuani, and Mapiri).
Here, a large number of small-scale miners organized in cooperatives mine gold in open pits and underground mines, typically using environmentally harmful methods. Controlling these activities is made more difficult by informality.
The mining mega-projects Don Mario and Empresa Siderúrgica del Mutún have the potential to have significant effects on deforestation because of the anticipated demand for vegetal charcoal, among other reasons. These projects are located to the southeast of Santa Cruz.
Similarly, the Brazilian steel industry may raise the market for Bolivian vegetable charcoal.
The mining of alluvial gold in several Amazonian rivers has little effect on the forests, but it does result in mercury use-related contamination.
As a result of prospecting and field clearing associated with oil and gas extraction, deforestation is also a result of these activities. Yet, the development of access roads has most likely had an indirect impact.
6. Hydroelectric Dams
Bolivia has a lot of hydroelectric power potential that might be exported.
While strong slopes in the Andes allow for the generation of energy with relatively little water, large-scale hydroelectric projects in the Amazon typically have significant adverse effects on the environment due to the flooding of vast forest areas caused by the dams. These projects also have severe effects on local populations, biodiversity, and the climate.
Methane produced by the decaying of submerged biomass has an impact on the climate.
Building several dams in the Madera River basin as part of the Initiative for the Integration of South America’s Regional Infrastructure (Iniciativa para la Integración de la Infraestructura Regional Suramericana, IIRSA) is a program with enormous potential effects.
The San Antonio and Jirau dams, located on the Brazilian portion of the Madera River, are now under construction and would likely result in the inundation of forests in Bolivia.
The massive Cachuela Esperanza project, which Bolivia has planned, is expected to flood between 57,000 and 69,000 hectares of forest.
The Bala Dam on the Beni River is another planned dam that could have a big impact.
7. Population Growth and Migration
Even though intentional colonization is no longer a major factor, population changes have a big impact on the demand placed on forests. Individuals from western Bolivia who are landless or have limited land continue to migrate in an attempt to settle in the lowlands.
Simultaneously, the natural population development in the settlement areas leads to a rise in the demand for land, as seen by the area surrounding El Choré Forest Reserve.
Land conflicts are on the rise since typical settlement regions no longer have an excess of land.
It is believed that there are currently over 400,000 people living in the settlement regions of Andean colonists and that these areas have a reasonably strong yearly population growth rate (roughly 5% based on www.ine.gob.bo), partly due to the effect of migrations.
Similar to this, Andean settlers and Mennonites were creating new colonies out of preexisting ones.
Typically, newly established Andean colonies began employing automated farming at this time, with financial assistance from more established colonies (such as Chapare investors, as per Rafael Rojas’s direct correspondence).
Additionally, the Bolivian government is aiding in the spread of Andean settlers by providing funds for agricultural projects in the Municipality of Concepción via the Pro Tierras national fund, for instance.
One of the main causes of deforestation that has lately come to light is the establishment of new Mennonite settlements.
These new colonies were also established as a means of expanding Mennonite colonies that already existed in Bolivia, based on anecdotal evidence and an analysis of high-resolution satellite photos. These colonies are built on land that is bought on the open market and subsequently cleared—often without a permit.
Lastly, it is anticipated that domestic demand for agricultural products will rise in urban areas. Because the production of beef needs relatively vast land areas, and increasing pressure on forests, the demand for beef has a higher impact.
8. Road Infrastructure Construction and Improvement
Bolivia’s road system is still, in general underdeveloped, with less than 2,000 km of paved roads found in the lowlands.
However, recent significant road construction projects have made it easier to get from rural areas to departmental capitals and international markets.
The Santa Cruz-Trinidad route, for instance, was paved at the same time as significant forest conversion occurred as a result of various agricultural operations, particularly the automated production of soybeans and rice.
An additional instance involves the increase of livestock in the southern region of Guayaramerín, seemingly due to the construction of a new road that connects to Trinidad.
The development of Bolivia’s basic road network in conjunction with IIRSA20 would undoubtedly put additional strain on the forest, endangering a significant swath of essentially virgin forest.
The opening of smaller roads, such as forest roads, has significant effects in addition to building major core roadways.
By directly removing and destroying biomass, timber exploitation sometimes contributes to the degradation of forests. The fundamental force is the need for timber on a national and worldwide scale.
While bigger impacts could be anticipated due to informal or illegal harvesting, it is possible to presume that legal logging does not severely alter forests because it should respect the forest’s regenerative potential.
It’s unclear how logging affects a forest’s ability to regenerate. The species composition likely has the biggest impact, as it may have an adverse influence on the reproduction of wood species like Spanish cedar and mahogany, potentially resulting in their local extinction.
Because more fuel accumulates in ground vegetation as a result of forest extraction, there is an increased danger of forest fires.
10. Fuelwood Extraction
In many rural locations in Bolivia, using fuelwood is linked to increased costs and restricted access to other fuels, such as LPG gas.
Because regeneration is slower in dry forests, its effects are more pronounced. The removal of dead biomass may have an impact on the amount of organic matter in the soil, whilst the utilization of living trees may cause the structure to shift toward more open forests.
Significant Effects of Deforestation in Bolivia
Bolivia has floods brought on by deforestation, which has an impact on the nation’s agricultural output and primarily impacts indigenous inhabitants. Food insecurity is a problem in this country since food is expensive and in short supply.
This has a disproportionate effect on women in Bolivia. Women are especially susceptible to poverty as a result of the loss of subsistence farming and agriculture since they lack alternate forms of income. Men move to the city to work in industrial environments in the meanwhile.
An Oxfam research states that water shortages result from glacial retreat’s reduction of water sources from alpine rivers and lakes. Furthermore, Bolivians experience harsh weather occurrences more frequently, which increases the frequency of natural disasters.
Lastly, as temperatures rise, more favorable circumstances are created for the spread of diseases carried by mosquitoes.
Other repercussions of deforestation in Bolivia include
- Loss of Habitat
- Increased Greenhouse Gases
- Atmospheric Water
- Soil Erosion and Flooding
- Effects of Deforestation on Indigenous People
1. Loss of Habitat
The extinction of animal and plant species as a result of habitat loss is one of the most hazardous and distressing consequences of deforestation. Forests are home to 70% of all land animal and plant species. Deforestation endangers not just our recognized species but also undiscovered ones.
The rainforest’s canopy, which controls temperature, is derived from the trees that protect certain species.
Similar to a desert, deforestation causes a more dramatic night-to-day temperature change that could be lethal for many residents.
2. Increased Greenhouse Gases
The absence of trees not only results in habitat loss but also increases the amount of greenhouse gas discharged into the atmosphere. As beneficial carbon sinks, healthy forests take up carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Deforested places emit more carbon and lose that ability.
3. Atmospheric Water
By assisting in the regulation of the water cycle, trees also contribute to the control of atmospheric water levels.
The Amazon rainforest is one of the most significant woods for controlling water cycles on Earth. Together, its millions of trees send moisture into the atmosphere, forming atmospheric “rivers” that control the weather patterns on Earth.
There is less water in the air to return to the soil in deforested areas. Dryer soil and the inability to cultivate crops result from this.
4. Soil Erosion and Flooding
Deforestation also contributes to coastal floods and soil erosion. Trees aid in the retention of water and topsoil, which supplies the rich nutrients needed to support more forest life.
In the absence of wood, farmers are forced to relocate and continue the cycle as the soil erodes and washes away. These unsustainable agricultural practices leave behind barren soil, which makes it more vulnerable to flooding, especially in coastal areas.
5. Effects of Deforestation on Indigenous People
The Indigenous tribes that reside there and rely on the forest to support their way of life are also in danger when enormous tracts of forest are cut away, causing exposed soil to deteriorate and the habitats of several species to be destroyed.
Their way of existence is directly and immediately impacted by the disappearance of woods. A lot of Indigenous tribes rely on the forest’s resources for building materials, food, medicine, and cultural purposes.
The loss of these resources presents numerous obstacles to the health and welfare of these people, many of whom are found in isolated locations surrounded by thick forests.
Human rights are affected by deforestation, especially for the numerous Indigenous tribes that live in frontline villages.
Frontline communities frequently have little influence over changes made to their local environment by businesses and the government. These populations also experience the most direct and dangerous effects of climate change and environmental deterioration.
Before the destruction starts, the governments of countries that include rainforests frequently try to drive out Indigenous groups. This violates these Indigenous communities’ sovereignty, particularly when governments don’t ask for their approval and consultation before beginning any initiatives.
Possible Solutions to Deforestation in Bolivia
Numerous strategies might be implemented to halt or slow down Bolivia’s deforestation rate. A large number of non-governmental organizations and groups have developed policies to improve the conditions for animal grazing and even to recover deforested lands.
- Joint Mechanism of Mitigation and Adaptation for Integrated and Sustainable Management of Forests and Mother Earth
- FAO and Bolivia Partner on Forest Protection
- Application of Sustainable Grass for the Grazing of Cattle
- Plant Trees
- Engage in Ecoforestry
- Raise Awareness
- Respect the Rights of Native People
- Encourage Groups that Combat Deforestation
- Restoring Ravaged Woods
1. Joint Mechanism of Mitigation and Adaptation for Integrated and Sustainable Management of Forests and Mother Earth
Under the leadership of Evo Morales, Bolivia took a formal stance against the commercialization of the environment and in favor of protecting Mother Earth’s rights starting in 2006.
Bolivia created a substitute plan known as the “Joint Mechanism of Mitigation and Adaptation for Integrated and Sustainable Management of Forests and Mother Earth” in response to its rejection of REDD. In international climate change negotiations, this plan was also advanced.
It encourages land use planning at many levels of government and focuses on local experiences for an integrated and sustainable management of natural resources.
2. FAO and Bolivia Partner on Forest Protection
With funding from the Forest and Farm Facility (FFF), participants from 17 producer groups around Bolivia took part in a Market Analysis and Training (MA&D). Participants learned about the successes and failures of collective businesses by visiting associations of rubber tappers and Brazil nut collectors in Pando, Bolivia.
The Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN (FAO) and the University of Pando signed an agreement to hold future training.
Under Bolivia’s 2012 Framework Law of Mother Earth and Holistic Development for Living Well, which aims to support business models that challenge free market models and provide a holistic solution to social development and forest protection, the MA&D training, which took place from November 17–22, 2014, is just one part of a more ambitious program.
Instead of REDD+, Bolivia established the Plurinational Mother Earth Authority, which is in charge of three mechanisms related to climate change, one of which is the joint mitigation and adaptation mechanism (MCMA), which the FFF will support by helping to build local forest farm business models to mitigate and adapt to climate change, as well as by supporting producer representation in MCMA national and regional platforms.
To expedite and expand community-level legal registration, the FFF will: establish a national producer federation; and provide funding to national and regional associations to assist forest farm producer organizations in creating and implementing sustainable business strategies to enable their representation in the MCMA.
To advance sustainable farm and forest management, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED), and the FAO formed the Forest Forests Fund (FFF) in September 2012.
3. Application of Sustainable Grass for the Grazing of Cattle
Farmers in Bolivia clear forests to provide pasture for their cattle through fires, but they are also taking steps to stop additional deforestation with the help and knowledge of non-profit organizations in the country.
A new variety of grass from Columbia that farmers use for the experiment enables more cows to graze on smaller land. 40 cows could now graze on the same area of ground as there were with the old grass, which allowed only one cow to do so per hectare.
Also, this project contributes to the health of their livestock. Given that agriculture employs 65% of Bolivia’s workforce, it is critical to maintain the health of the cattle while also ensuring the survival of the rainforest.
4. Plant Trees
The simplest way for individuals and governments to stop deforestation is to plant trees. One way to think about a government’s long-term investment in the environment for the good of the community is to plant trees.
Additionally, we are lowering the volume of water that flows off the hills. Rock falls and landslides, which occasionally injure people or animals or destroy property, are prevented by tree roots.
Tree planting and upkeep are essential to the community’s general health and quality of life.
5. Engage in Ecoforestry
The government can work with other nonprofit and for-profit organizations to engage in eco-forestry.
Eco-forestry is a method of managing forests that prioritizes ecological restoration over financial gain. Using this technique, specific trees are cut down on purpose with the least amount of damage to the forest overall.
This strategy aims to gradually remove mature trees while mostly maintaining the ecology of the forest.
6. Raise Awareness
Large-scale environmental problems, such as deforestation, often continue because people are unaware of and don’t understand them. The government should educate the public about the consequences of deforestation and the actions that may be taken to halt it successfully.
People can reduce deforestation by becoming more aware of the effects of their actions, such as consuming palm oil.
More education and information are essential, even for farmers. If local farmers receive education about the most efficient ways to manage their properties, there will be less need to destroy forest areas for farming. Ultimately, farmers are the custodians of our soil.
7. Respect the Rights of Native People
Deforestation destroys the lives of millions of indigenous people, even though this problem is not widely recognized or known. Under the cover of dishonest governments, large multinational corporations willfully abuse the rights of locals in numerous remote locations.
The best examples of this kind of abuse and disdain are those associated with the spread of palm oil plantations in Southeast Asia or the Amazon, where cattle ranching is common and sometimes results in conflicts and even physical attacks on native populations.
However, when indigenous people are given equal rights and their customary lands are preserved, the occurrence of (illegal) deforestation decreases since they may then lawfully fight for the preservation of their woodlands.
The rights of indigenous people must be upheld, supported, and respected by the government.
8. Encourage Groups that Combat Deforestation
Numerous regional and international organizations strive to implement sustainable forestry practices and put an end to deforestation. The government can help them in their efforts to stop deforestation.
9. Restoring Ravaged Woods
Restoring damaged forests over many decades is a challenging undertaking that needs close planning and supervision. It is not easy, but it is necessary if we are to avoid losing all of our woods.
Governments have a big part to play here since they can have a big impact on how deforested areas are restored. The great thing about forest restoration is its ability to entirely regenerate and give us a fresh start.
As we have seen in this article, there has been a massive rate of deforestation in Bolivia and this will continue to increase except more innovative steps are taken in many areas of the nation. This calls for enlightenment as many are still ignorant of their actions hurting the climate.
Don’t you think that it is time to put an end to environmental degradation? I do think so.
We can come up with our way of reducing or stopping deforestation like some concerned farmers are doing in Bolivia. You can start somewhere. Plan trees, and enlighten people about the consequences of their actions towards the climate. Let’s spread the word Earth needs us.
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A passion-driven environmentalist by heart. Lead content writer at EnvironmentGo.
I strive to educate the public about the environment and its problems.
It has always been about nature, we ought to protect not destroy.