Country Pasture/Forage Resource Profiles


BOLIVIA


by
Dr.Raúl R. Vera



1. Introduction
2. Soils and Topography
3. Climate and Agro-ecological Zones
4. Ruminant Livestock Production Systems
5. The Pasture Resource
6. Opportunities for Improvement of Pasture Resources
7. Research and Development Organizations
8. References
9. Contacts
10. Author


1. INTRODUCTION

Bolivia is a landlocked South American country of 1 098 581 square kilometres in size (see Figure 1). Its population amounts to 6 420 792 inhabitants according to INE (1992), with 8 329 000 estimated for 2000 (CEPAL, 1999) and with a growth rate of 2.33 percent (According to the World Factbook the July 2006 population estimate was 8,989,870 with a growth rate of 1.45%). The urban population is 65 percent of the total (2000 estimate) growing at a rate of 1.8 percent, versus 0.5 percent rural (CEPAL, 1999). Approximately 55 percent of the population is believed to be of "pure" indigenous Indian descent, 25-30 percent mestizo, and 15 percent European.

Land uses include 33 percent agricultural, of which 5 percent is arable, 93 percent pastures, and a negligible percentage is irrigated (Table 1). Bolivia is divided by two parallel Andean ranges or cordilleras, on a roughly north-south axis, into three distinct ecozones: a vast semi-arid Altiplano plateau between the western range (Cordillera Occidental) and the eastern range (Cordillera Oriental), with Lake Titicaca on its northern end; semi-tropical Yungas and temperate valleys of the Cordillera Oriental; and eastern lowlands (Oriente), including the semi-arid Chaco.

Table 1. Land resources of Bolivia, 1 000 hectares (Source: FAO databases, estimates for 1998).

Land area

Agricultural area

Arable area

Permanent crops

Permanent pastures

Arable, percent agricultural

Agricultural percent land area

108,438

36,034

1,974

229

33,831

5.5 percent

33.2 percent

Agriculture is an extremely important sector, with 60 percent of farmers in the highlands and 20 percent in relatively fertile valleys. The arable land was estimated at 2.3 ha per person in 1993 (Dirven, 1999). Of the total area, 51 percent (mainly in the eastern lowlands and north-eastern flanks of the Cordillera Oriental) is covered by forest. Agriculture accounted for 23 percent of GDP in 1987. It employed about half (46 percent) of the official labour force in 1986 and accounted for only 15 percent of total exports in the late 1980s. Coca growing, a long standing customary crop, has become a major social problem.

Bolivia has the second largest population of South American camelids, after Peru, and a large number of sheep and cattle (Table 2). The lowland Departments of Beni, Santa Cruz and Pando account for 54.2 percent of the ruminant stock, the Altiplano Departments of La Paz, Oruro and Potosí have 26 percent, and the remaining 19.8 percent is found in the inter-andean Departments of Cochabamba, Chuquisaca and Tarica. Despite a growing production of beef and milk (Table 2) the country is a net importer of both commodities (Table 3), although for beef and veal by 2003 there were more exports and for milk products the gap was closing.

Table 2. Bolivia: statistics for livestock numbers, meat and milk production for the period 1996-2005
(Source: FAO databases 2006)

Years
Stocks / Products
1996 1997 1998 1999 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005
Cattle (,000) 6,118 6,238 6,387 6,556 6,725 6,457 6,576 6,680 6,822 6,822
Sheep
(, 000)
8,039 8,232 8,409 8,575 8,752 8,902 8,902 8,596 8,550 8,550
Goats (,000) 1,500 1,496 1,496 1,500 1,500 1,500 1,501 1,501 1,501 1,501
Other camelids
(,000)
1,838 1,850 1,850 1,900 1,900 1,900 1,900 1,900 1,900 1,900
Beef and veal
(Mt)(,000)
143.2 147.3 150.2 155.3 159.8 160.9 164.6 168.2 172.0 172.0
Goat meat
(Mt)(,000)
5.8 5.8 5.8 5.8 5.8 5.8 5.8 5.8 5.8 5.8
Sheep:
mutton and lamb
(Mt)(,000)
14.2 14.6 14.8 15.3 15.7 16.3 16.9 17.6 18.0 18.0
Meat of other camelids
(Mt)(,000)
2.4 2.4 2.6 2.7 2.8 2.8 2.8 3.0 3.0 3.0
Cow mil, fresh
(Mt)(,000)
195.1 202.2 191.1 230.7 231.5 170.0 291.0 240.0 233.7 233.7

Table 3. Bolivia: Imports and Exports of Beef and Veal, Milk, and Wool, Metric Tons
(Source: FAO databases 2006)

    1995 1996 1997 1998 1999 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004
Beef and veal
(,000)
Imports 0.1 0.7 1.2 0.2 0.3 0.8 0.2 0.1 0.0 0.0
Exports 0.5 0.4 0.1 0.4 0.2 0.2 0.4 0.3 0.2 0.6
Milk equivalent
(,000)
Imports 41.9 61.0 58,5 73.4 57.4 68.0 61.2 54.8 57.9 37.9
Exports 4.7 1.3 3.4 4.4 4.6 19.4 21.2 24.1 31.1 24.8
Wool, greasy Imports 3 3 0 1 1 10 11 18 0 0
Exports 89 356 226 152 60 203 153 156 101 15
Wool, scoured Imports 0 1 0 0 10 0 0 0 0 0
Exports 12 12 35 8 3 0 0 8 8 1

Land tenure across the country varies very greatly. In the eastern lowlands properties tend to be large and the sector is dominated by large farms and ranches, whereas small farmers predominate in the valleys and foothills. Land tenure patterns in the highlands are complex, but communal areas and very small farms tend to predominate as described in section 4 in relation to ruminant production systems.


Map of main topographic characteristics of Bolivia

2. SOILS AND TOPOGRAPHY

A brief mention of the main topographic features was made above. The Andes define the country's three geographic zones: the mountains and Altiplano in the west, the semi-tropical Yungas and temperate valleys of the eastern mountain slopes, and the tropical lowlands or plains (llanos) of the eastern lowlands, or Oriente. The Andes run in two great parallel ranges or cordilleras. The western range (Cordillera Occidental) runs along the Peruvian and Chilean borders. The eastern range (Cordillera Oriental) is a broad and towering system of mountains stretching from Peru to Argentina. Between the two ranges lies the Altiplano, a plateau 1 100 km long and 120 to 160 km wide; the Bolivian portion of the Altiplano is 800 km long.

Bolivian soils are extremely varied and reflect the variable topography and slopes of the landscape. Table 4 shows some of the characteristics of soils in a few of the "land systems" identified by Cochrane et al. (1985) in Bolivia. It is clear from the data quoted, that the alluvial soils of the agricultural region closest to the city of Santa Cruz, in the Bolivian lowlands, are relatively most fertile despite their low organic matter content . The latter are the soils that have supported the rapid expansion of soybeans and to a lesser degree, sown tropical grasses, in that region.

Table 4. Soil characteristics in a number of Bolivian land systems

  pH OM, % P, ppm Ca, meq % Mg, meq % K, meq %
Sta. Cruz, well drained lowlands, 0-20 cm (1)

7.2 (usually contain moderate Na concentrations)

1.6

4.9

13.2

0.7

0.20

Beni, poorly drained lowlands 3-12 cm (2)

5.2

n.a.

5.0

3.3

2.2

0.46

Cochabamba, interandean region, alluvial soil, 1-15 cm (2)

4.7

n.a.

10

n.a.

0.9

0.1

La Paz, highlands, 5-12 cm (2)

5.5

n.a.

7

0.9

1.0

0.2

(1) Martínez (1992)
(2) Cochrane et al. (1985)
n.a. = not available


3. CLIMATE AND AGRO-ECOLOGICAL ZONES

Although Bolivia lies entirely within the tropics, climatic conditions vary widely, from tropical in the lowlands to polar in the highest parts of the Andes. Temperatures depend on elevation and show little seasonal variation. In most places rainfall is heaviest in summer, and yearly amounts tend to decrease from north to south. Northern lowland areas have a tropical wet climate with year-round high temperatures, high humidity and heavy rainfall. Daytime highs average above 270 C all year round in most locations. Rain often falls as brief thunderstorms, sometimes accompanied by strong winds and hail.

Central lowland areas have a tropical wet and dry climate. From October through April, northeast trade winds predominate and the weather is hot, humid, and rainy (Figure 2) From May through September, however, dry southeast trade winds take control and precipitation is minimal. During this season clear days and cloudless nights allow higher daily maximums and lower nightly minimums than during the rainy season. Occasional strong winds from the south, called surazos, reach the region in winter and bring low temperatures for several days.

The Chaco has a semi-tropical, semi-arid climate with extreme temperatures. North-easterly winds bring rain and hot humid conditions only from January through March; the other months are dry with hot days and cool nights. Record temperatures reach 470 C.

Figure 2. Monthly rainfall and temperature in Sta. Cruz, eastern lowlands of Bolivia

Temperatures and rainfall in mountain areas vary considerably. The Yungas, where the moist northeast trade winds are pushed up by the mountains, is the cloudiest, most humid, and rainiest area, receiving up to 1 520 mm annually. Sheltered valleys and basins throughout the Cordillera Oriental have mild temperatures and moderate rainfall, averaging from 640 to 760 mm (Figure 3). Temperature drops with increasing elevation, however. Snowfall is possible above 2 000 meters and the permanent snow line is at 4 600 m. Areas over 5 500 m. have a polar climate. The Cordillera Occidental is a high desert with cold, windswept peaks. The Altiplano, which also is swept by strong, cold winds, has an arid, chilly climate, with sharp differences in daily temperature and decreasing amounts of rainfall from north to south (Figure 4). Average highs during the day range from 150C to 200C, but in the summer tropical sun, temperatures may exceed 270C. After nightfall, however, temperatures drop rapidly to just above freezing. Lake Titicaca exerts a moderating influence, but even on its shores, frosts occur in almost every month, and snow is not uncommon.

Agro-ecological zones are discussed below, in relation to topography.

Figure 3. Mean monthly temperature and rainfall, Cochabamba, andean valleys

Figure 4. Mean monthly rainfal and temperature, La Paz, Bolivian highlands

Altiplano

The Peruvian-Bolivian Altiplano is a plateau 1 100 km long by 120-160 km wide which runs between the cordilleras at an average altitude of 4 000 m (Quiroga, 1992).The Bolivian portion is 800 km long, with a total area of 123 000 km2 and contains most of the Departments of La Paz (capital city of Bolivia), Oruro and Potosí. Although the Altiplano covers only 12 percent of Bolivia’s land area, it has 35 percent of its population, including 42 percent of the urban population and 24 percent of the rural inhabitants. The Altiplano is a high altitude basin, which includes a plain known as Puna, and a series of mountain ridges. It is covered with sediments of disappeared lakes, partially dried lakes (e.g. the Titicaca) and residues of other large, salty, lakes. Humidity in the Altiplano decreases from north to south, and salinity of the existing lakes increases in the same direction. The geology of the region, and the existence of various basins within the Altiplano, explain its variability; interested readers will find a detailed ecological description in Quiroga (1992) among others.

Yungas and Other Valleys

Temperate and sub-tropical valleys abound throughout the Andean region. The north-eastern flank of the Cordillera Real is known as the Yungas, from the Aymara word meaning "warm valleys." This land is among the most fertile in Bolivia, but poor access has hindered its agricultural development.

The eastern slopes of the Cordillera Central descend gradually in a series of complex north-south ranges and hills. Rivers draining to the east have cut long narrow valleys; these valleys and the basins between the ranges are favourable areas for crops and settlement. Rich alluvial soils fill the low areas, but erosion has followed the removal of vegetation in some places. The valley floors range from 2 000 to 3 000 m. above sea level and this lower elevation means milder temperatures than those of the Altiplano. Two of Bolivia's most important cities, Sucre and Cochabamba, are located in basins in this region.

The valleys cover 15 percent of the Bolivian territory, and have 24 percent and 36 percent of the urban and rural population of the country respectively. Farms in the valleys tend to be very small, frequently under one hectare each. The valleys generally have Mediterranean climates, with rainfall concentrated in a few months and ranging between 200 and 600 mm, and have traditionally been dominated by very small landowners ("minifundistas"). Strong farmers’ associations have developed since the 1980’s, and offer a variety of services (information, inputs, milk marketing, training and education) to their members. Crops, roots, fruits, vegetables and sown forages are grown, and if irrigation is available, more than one cropping season is feasible. Nevertheless, intensive utilization of land in small farms has led to widespread erosion.

Eastern Lowlands

The eastern lowlands include all of Bolivia north and east of the Andes. They represent 63 percent of the Bolivian territory and have 32 percent and 18 percent of the urban and rural population respectively. Thus, although comprising two-thirds of the national territory, the region is sparsely populated and until the late 80’s, it played a minor role in the economy. Differences in topography and climate separate the lowlands into three areas. The flat northern area, made up of Beni and Pando departments and the northern part of Cochabamba Department consists of tropical savannas and rain forest. Mean altitude in Beni is 155 m, mean temperature is 270 C (9-400 C), and average rainfall is 1 800 mm distributed between November and May. Because much of the topsoil is underlain by a clay hardpan, drainage is poor, and heavy rain periodically converts vast parts of the region into swamp. Heavy clay soils have a pH of 5.1 on average.

The central area, comprising the northern half of Santa Cruz Department, has gently rolling hills and a drier climate than the north. Forests alternate with savanna and much of the land has been cleared for cultivation, mainly for soya. Santa Cruz, the largest city in the lowlands, is here, as are most of Bolivia's petroleum and natural gas reserves. The south-eastern part of the lowlands is a continuation of the Chaco of Paraguay. Virtually rainless for nine months of the year, this area becomes a swamp for the three months of heavy rains. The extreme variation in rainfall supports only thorny scrub vegetation and cattle grazing, although recent discoveries of natural gas and petroleum near the foothills of the Andes have attracted some settlers to the region.

Most of Bolivia's important rivers are in the water-rich northern parts of the lowlands, particularly in the Alto Beni (Upper Beni), where the land is suitable for crops such as coffee and cacao. The northern lowlands are drained by wide rivers, including the Mamoré, Beni, and Madre de Dios, all of which flow northward into the Madeira River in Brazil and eventually into the Amazon. On the contrary, the southern rivers are shallow and sandy, and constitute part of the Paraná River basin.


4. RUMINANT LIVESTOCK PRODUCTION SYSTEMS

The Altiplano

Livestock systems in the highlands include pastoral and agropastoral systems. Although animals are not necessarily the main source of family income, their role is crucial to survival, since it is a far less risky enterprise than cropping and other agricultural activities (Iñiguez, 1996). Throughout the Altiplano cattle, and in particular oxen, are extremely important for draught. They are generally used until 8-9 years of age after which they are slaughtered and their meat sold in local markets. It is only in the northern area, near the Titicaca lake and under the influence of the large urban market of La Paz, that small unsophisticated dairies can be found. These farms supplement milk produced by large and modern peri-urban dairies in the vicinity of the city.

Sheep are kept in the Altiplano for meat and wool. Originally introduced by the Spaniards, breeds such as Merino, Churra, Manchega and some others are widespread. In 1972 it was estimated (Quiroga, 1992) that 36 percent of the highland sheep population was in the Northern Altiplano, 57 percent in the Central region and 7 percent in the Southern Altiplano. Sheep raising is an extremely important subsistence activity for large numbers of peasants (Quiroga, 1992) since it provides clothing material, meat, disposable income and barter. Also, and together with camelids, they are used to graze crop stubbles in an attempt to maintain soil fertility. Nevertheless, wool yields are very low (under 1 kg/head) and quality is deficient by international standards.

Raising camelids is an integral part of the Andean culture and tradition. Llamas, alpacas and vicuñas provide efficient pack animals, meat, wool and fibre, leather, manure and fuel (dung). Their habitat is generally above 3 800 m, and alpacas in particular tend to be concentrated in areas well endowed with bofedales (see Table 5 for characteristics). During the 90s an effort was made by Andean countries to promote clothing and handcrafted garments made of camelids’ wool or fibres in niche international marks thus adding value to these native animals and increasing peasants’ income. How successful this initiative will be remains to be seen.

Table 5. Main grazing land types of Bolivia, and their average dry matter yield (Source: Alzérreca, 1985)

 

Altiplano

Andean Valleys

Lowland pastures

Altitude, meters

>3000

500-3000

< 500

Type of vegetation

Range

Stubbles

Grasslands

Stubbles

Savanna & Chaco

Stubbles

‘000 km2

201,924

15,030

107,369

4,263

397,888

5,825

percent of country

18.4

1.4

9.7

0.3

36.3

0.5

Average d.m. yield, kg/ha.year

< 800

< 400

400-1000

400-800

1000-2500

500-1000

Two general livestock systems can be identified in the Altiplano (Iñiguez, 1996):

  1. Pastoral system, that predominates where crops are not feasible and where rainfall is under 300 mm per year. The system is based on the use of llamas, alpacas and sheep: alpacas are generally confined to the more humid niches, whereas llamas are found in the more marginal environments. Criollo sheep overlap with both camelids, and provide the bulk of meat eaten by households;
  2. Agropastoral systems are better suited for crop production and are found in areas with 350-600 mm rainfall. Traditional Andean crops and barley are grown, as well as small areas of irrigated lucerne (Medicago sativa). The latter as well as crop stubbles and residues are fed to cattle and sheep, which also have access to communal ranges.

Yungas and Other Valleys

Two grassland-based ruminant systems predominate (Iñiguez, 1996).

Intensive to semi-intensive Holstein-based dairy production is common in valleys near large urban centres, and in particular near the city of Cochabamba. Small producers, some landless, predominate. Those with little or no land rent paddocks and also graze animals along roads and other open areas. Medium to large dairies rely on lucerne and maize, the latter conserved mainly as silage. Concentrate supplementation is common. On-farm milk yields among medium and large producers average 13 kg milk/day/cow, but the overall average for the Cochabamba area is closer to half that amount. As elsewhere in subtropical and tropical Latin America, animal breeding and improvement of the genetic potential of animals have advanced more rapidly than improvements in feeding strategies and grassland management.

Valleys lacking ready access to urban centres are characterized by smallholder agropastoral systems. Agriculture, frequently based on two crops per year, is the main land use. Cattle and/or sheep and goats are grazed on open lands in daytime and housed at night. They are also supplemented with crop stubbles and residues, such as maize stover, particularly during the long dry season. As in the Altiplano, ruminants are valued for their manure, and are widely used for draught. Cattle and sheep tend to be crosses of European breeds with Criollo.

Eastern lowlands

Grassland-based ruminant production systems in the lowlands vary a great deal depending upon the type of vegetation, i.e., seasonally-flooded tropical savannas, the semi-arid Chaco, or the increasingly crop-oriented area east of Santa Cruz.

Extensive beef production is practically the only feasible ruminant production system in the seasonally-flooded savannas of the Beni, Pando Departments and areas of Santa Cruz farthest away from roads and urban centres. Land tenure in the region is characterized by large privately-owned ranches, frequently with several thousand hectares each. Medium ranches range between 2 000 and 4 000 ha. The three Departments account for 70 percent of the Bolivian cattle herd.

The tropical savannas of Beni are subject to alternate flood and drought. The rainy season is between late September and late April (similar to what occurs in the Brazilian areas east of the border); rivers carrying water from the Andes towards the Amazon basin flood two thirds of the area by December and until August. During this period, the Zebu (Nellore) and Zebu x Criollo cattle concentrate on portions of the paddocks that remain a few centimetres above water level ("alturas" and "semi alturas", Tables 5 and 7); similar grazing systems are found in poorly drained savanna areas of Brazil, Colombia, and Venezuela. Carrying capacity of the savannas ranges between 3 and 8 ha per head. These systems are subject to very minimal management and are constrained by the difficult accessibility of most paddocks during the rainy season. Therefore all animal categories (cows, heifers, calves, bulls and steers) generally run together and are harvested once or twice a year. In some remote areas, animals may be slaughtered on-farm and the carcasses flown to urban centres, but three important all-weather roads are under construction.

There are 50 slaughter plants, and these are estimated to provide half of the beef consumed in Bolivia. Not unexpectedly, yields, extraction rates and reproductive performance are low, with breeding cows typically having calving intervals of two years. According to the Fondo Ganadero del Beni, carcasses of 3 year old steers weigh 180 kg; nevertheless, technologically advanced ranches reach yields of 200-215 kg carcass weight (Bauer, 1993 cited by Morales and Abasto, 1999). Numerous diseases are endemic, and mineral deficiencies are common. In the flooded savannas, capybara, Hydrochoerus hydrochoeris, (the world’s largest rodent, native to South America) is very widely distributed and hunted for its meat and hide. No systematic efforts at researching joint wildlife-cattle management have been made, despite positive experiences in comparable areas of Venezuela.

Table 6. Main ecological regions of Bolivia for ruminant production (Source, Alzérreca, 1985)

Eco-Region Subhumid Puna
(N Altiplano)
Arid-semiarid Puna (Central Altiplano) Arid-semi-arid high Puna (S & W Altiplano) Subhumid high Puna (E Altiplano) Semiarid to subhumid valleys Subhumid lowland and Andean forests Semiarid forest, Chaco Seasonally flooded savanna
Temperature, 0C

6-10

8-11

6-9

7-12

14-22

20-22

26-30

27

Rainfall, mm

520-650

350

50-280

450-1,200

310-1,200

700-1,200

700-800

1,800

Altitude, m

3,800-4,100

3,000-4,000

3,900-5,000

3,000-5,000

1,500-3,000

500-1,600

300-500

180-250

Uses 1

Crops

Sheep

Cattle

Sheep

Camelids

Crops

Cattle

Camelids

Sheep

Cattle

Camelids

Sheep

Cattle

Goats

Crops

Cattle

Sheep

Goats

Horses

Crops

Cattle

Horses

Goats

Crops

Cattle

Goats

Horses

Cattle

Horses

Carrying capacity, ha/AU/year

5-8

7-21

20-41

7-21

5-28

4-13

6-30

3-8

1 In order of decreasing relative importance

The Department of Santa Cruz has 370 621 km2 and represents a third of the Bolivian land area. Without doubt, it has the highest agricultural potential of the country. East of the city of Santa Cruz, capital city of the Santa Cruz Department, the land is flat, soils tend to be alluvial as a consequence of the runoff from the Andes, and the original vegetation was forest. The region is presently largely deforested and since the 1980s has experienced a dramatic expansion of intensive soybean-based cropping, following and adapting much of the technology employed in the Brazilian Cerrados, on the other side of the border. Similarly, there has been a rapid, and unquantified expansion of sown tropical pastures, again under the influence of Brazilian practices. Pastures are dominated by Brachiaria decumbens and Brachiaria brizantha, with a minor contribution of other species such as B. humidicola, Panicum maximum and others.

There are two cattle-based production systems. Near to urban centres "dual purpose" production systems are common among small and medium ranchers. These are characterized by crossbred cows (crossesof Zebu with Criollo, Brown Swiss or Holstein) that are milked once daily with their calf at foot to allow milk let down (Patterson et al., 1981). Typical saleable milk yields range between 2 and 6 kg milk/day/cow, frequently in extended lactations of over 280 days and fed exclusively on low-input pastures, supplemented with mineral mixtures and with some cut-and-carry forage (elephant grass or sugar cane) during the dry season. In regions further from urban centres and roads, properties tend to be larger, 300 - 1 500 ha on average, and generally combine crops such as soya and cereals with cow-calf and beef fattening operations. Crop and cattle activities are seldom integrated in a planned manner so well integrated crop-livestock systems are scarce although the potential is reputedly high (Martínez, 1999).

Extensive beef production systems also characterize the semi-arid tropics of Bolivia, part of the large Chaco ecosystem that extends over Argentina, Bolivia, Paraguay and Brazil, as indicated in Tables 5 and 6. The area tends to be hot and combines extensive grassy fields with shrubs and low thorny trees. Beef breeding ranches mostly have Criollo cattle, well adapted to climate and vegetation. The grass stratum, seasonally supplemented by browsing shrubs and trees is the only forage. Beef productivity is extremely low as a consequence of the low carrying capacity of the area and minimal management. Despite very large ecological differences from the savanna region the constraints of these systems are very similar (Iñiguez, 1996).

Table 7. Plant communities and main genera and species found in eight important ecological regions for ruminant production.(Sources: Alzérreca, 1985, 1992; Beck, 1988 cited by Morales and Abasto, 1999; Quiroga, 1992)

Ecoregion Plant community (local names) Characteristic genera and species
Subhumid Puna (N Altiplano) Bofedal Distichlis humilis, Carex sp., Oxychloe andina, Calamagrostis spp.
Chilliguares (=Chillihuares) Festuca dolichophylla, Lachemilla spp., Trifolium amabile
Totoral Scirpus, Juncus
 

Arid-semiarid Puna (Central Altiplano)

Bofedal Oxychloe andina, others above
Pajonal Festuca ortophylla, Stipa spp., Calamagrostis spp.
Pajonal de Ichu Stipa ichu, Stipa sp., Erodium cicutarium, Aristida sp.
Chilliguares Festuca dolichophylla
Tolar (=Tholar) Parastrephia lepidophylla, Baccharis microphylla, Adesmia spp.
Tolar-pajonal Parastrephia lepidophylla, Baccharis, Festuca, Stipa
Gramadal Distichlis humilis, Muhlenbergia fastigiata, M. peruviana
Arbustal de Cauchi Suaeda fruticosa, Atriplex cristata
 

Arid-semi-arid high Puna (S & W Altiplano)

Bofedal Oxychloe andina, Ranunculus sp.
Tolar Psila boliviensis, Fabiana densa
Gramadal Distichlis, Werneria
Matorral de polylepis Polylepis tomentella, P. tarapacana, Stipa ichu, Stipa sp.
Pajonal Stipa sp., Festuca sp.
Subhumid high Puna (E Altiplano) Bofedal Distichlis, Plantago
Pajonal de ladera Festuca, Stipa, Paspalum
Gramadal Geranium, Werneria
Arbustales de satureja Satureja, Chuquiraga
Semiarid to subhumid valleys Churquiales Acacia, Aristida, Bouteloua
Subhumid, lowland and Andean forests Matorral Acacia, Prosopis, Desmodium, Andropogon
Pajonal Chloris, Paspalum, Leptochloa
Semiarid forest, Chaco Matorral Rupretchia, Setaria, Bromelia,
Sabana rasa Aristida, Cassia, Chloris
Sabana arbolada Aristida, Mimosa, Aspidosperma
Seasonally flooded savanna Bajios Leersia hexandra, Luziola peruviana, Paspalum acuminatum, Eleocharis acutangula
Curiches Hymenachne amplexicaulis, Leersia hexandra, Cyperus giganteus, Eichornia azurea
Sartamejales Paspalum, Eleusine
Alturas Sporobolus indicus, Paspalum plicatulum, Eleusine tristachya, Axonopus compressus, Desmodium spp., Centrosema spp.
Semi-alturas Paspalum virgatum, P. stellatum, Panicum laxum, Erichloa punctata

5. THE PASTURE RESOURCE

The vegetation of Bolivia has been classified from different viewpoints but there is no generally agreed classification of its rangelands. Nevertheless, the classifications drawn by Cochrane (1973) and by Alzérreca (1992) show overall agreement and are used here. Complementary ecological maps have been presented by Quiroga (1992).

The estimated area of grazing lands, including some relatively marginal areas, amounts to 707 200 km2 or 64 percent of the Bolivian territory (Alzérreca, 1985) distributed between the three physiographic regions of the country (Table 5) which include, in a West-East direction, the Altiplano or Andes Highlands, the Andean valleys and the eastern lowlands (Figure 1). These three regions encompass a high degree of variability and they can usefully be subdivided for ruminant production into eight main ecological regions, summarized in Table 6 (Alzérreca, 1985; Quiroga 1992). Within each region, different plant communities can be found, the most important of which are described briefly in Table 7 which includes approximate estimates of current dry matter yields. Nevertheless, the latter vary greatly with rainfall, and as can be appreciated in Table 8, the Northern Altiplano has yields substantially above the average.

Table 8. Expected dry matter yields (metric t/ha.year) of different forages under different management scenarios in the Northern Altiplano of Bolivia (Source: Estrada, Paladines and Quiros, 1998)

Species or plant community Current management conditions Excellent management
Medicago sativa

2-3

7-10

Phalaris sp. + M. sativa

3-4

8

Bofedal

2.5

n.d.

Tolar

2

n.d.

  (n.d. - no data)

Altiplano

The natural vegetation is dominated by semi-arid Puna formations characterized by grasses, and less frequently shrubs, of low nutritive value. Soils tend to be low in N and P, high in NaCl, and moderate to low organic matter (Baldivia, 1998). Altiplano soils are affected by erosion to various degrees and the existing estimates of the area affected range between 30 and 80 percent, depending on the severity of the process. In fact, in some areas sand dunes have evolved through soil overuse (Baldivia, 1998) The erratic rainfall ranges between 300-600 mm per year, and is supplemented by scarce irrigation when water is available.

Communal crop and grazing lands are interspersed with privately-owned farms and all of them are grazed by mixtures of camelids (llamas and alpacas), sheep and cattle in varying proportions depending upon the location and altitude. As a consequence of pasture degradation the carrying capacity has decreased to 1.5 ha/sheep, as opposed to 1 ha/sheep of well managed Puna vegetation. Crops (potatoes, quinua [Chenopodium quinoa], various beans and others) tend to be concentrated in small areas, sometimes including small parcels sown to lucerne and various introduced forage grasses (Baldivia, 1998).

The climax vegetation of the Altiplano or Puna is considered to include the following species (Quiroga, 1992): Stipa ichu, Calamagrostis spp., Nasella, sp., Baccharis incarum, Baccharis boliviensis, and Parastrephia lepidophylla

Nevertheless, the distribution of these and other species is influenced by pedological variables. Examples of this variability and the corresponding indicator species, include (Quiroga, 1992; Alzérreca, 1985, 1992):

  • Soils of humid plains: Muhlenbergia fastigia, Haffmannseggia sp. Bouteloua simplex
  • Dry, saline plains: Anthobryum triandrum, Suaeda fruticosa
  • Dry, sandy soils: Junellia seriphiodes, Lampaya medicinalis
  • Stony, dry soils: Fabiana densa, Tetraglochin cristatum, Adesmia spp.
  • Stony, humid plains: Psila boliviensis
  • Saline soils: Distichlis humilis
  • Humid soils next to water streams: Festuca dolichophylla
  • River & lake borders: Parastrephia phylicaeformis

Regardless of location, the native pastures of the Altiplano are of low nutritive value, have low carrying capacity and only the native camelids are truly adapted and thrive. Where climatic conditions and availability of supplementary water permit, sown species are established to supplement the diet of cattle and sheep. This is particularly the case of the northern Altiplano, in the area of influence of the Titicaca lake, where introduced species such as lucerne (Medicago sativa), tall fescue (Festuca arundinacea), cocksfoot (Dactylis glomerata), Arrhenatherum elatius, Agroyron elongatum and Phleum pratense are relatively common. In the central and southern Altiplano, lucerne and weeping lovegrass (Eragrostis curvula) are the only forages of any significance. In both regions, cereals such as barley and oats are grown for cattle feeding, and experimental yields are shown in Table 9.

Table 9. Range of yields (metric t DM/ha.year) produced by forage cereals under experimental conditions in two ecological regions of the Bolivian Altiplano (Modified from Alzérreca, 1992)

Crop Semi-humid, 560 mm Semi-arid, 350 mm
Barley

7-8

2-4

Oats

4-8

1-2.5

Triticale

8-9

2.5-3.5

Yungas and Other Valleys

The original vegetation of the valleys was forest, the majority of which has disappeared or been degraded through human intervention. In consequence, pastures in the region are based on sown grasses, and to a much smaller extent, naturalized introduced species. Both were referred to in section 4, as related to the description of ruminant production systems.

Eastern Lowlands

The tropical savannas of Beni are subject to alternate flood and drought. The rainy season extends between late September and late April (similar to what occurs in the Brazilian areas East of the border); rivers carrying water from the Andes towards the Amazon basin flood two thirds of the area by December, and until August. During this period, the Zebu (Nellore) and Zebu x Criollo cattle concentrate on portions of the paddocks that remain a few centimetres above water level ("alturas" and "semi alturas", Tables 7 and 10); similar grazing systems are found in poorly drained savanna areas of Brazil, Colombia, and Venezuela. Carrying capacity of the savannas ranges between three and eight hectares per head. These production systems are subject to very minimal management, and are constrained by the difficult accessibility of most paddocks during the rainy season. Therefore, all animal categories (cows, heifers, calves, bulls and steers) generally run together and are harvested once or twice a year. In some remote areas, animals may be slaughtered on farm, and the carcasses flown to urban centres in cargo planes, but three important all-weather roads are under construction.

Table 10. Physiography of the alluvial savannas of Mojos, Beni (Source: Morales and Abasto, 1999)

Sub-region

Topography

Area

km 2

percent

Undulating plains

Alluvial plains

Alluvial plains with riverine influences

Slightly undulating

Occasional seasonal flooding

Seasonally flooded

Occasionally flooded by rivers

23.718

57.966

39.377

14.882

17,5

42,6

29,0

10,9

The Department of Santa Cruz has 370 621 km2 and represents one third of the Bolivian land area; it has the highest agricultural potential of the country. East of the city of Santa Cruz, capital city of the Santa Cruz Department, the land is flat, soils tend to be alluvial as a consequence of the runoff from the Andes, and the original vegetation was forest. The region is presently largely deforested and since the 1980’s has experienced a dramatic expansion of intensive soybean-based cropping, following and adapting much of the technology employed in the Brazilian Cerrados, on the other side of the border. Similarly, there has been a rapid, and unquantified expansion of sown tropical pastures, again under the influence of Brazilian practices. Pastures are dominated by Brachiaria decumbens and Brachiaria brizantha, with a minor contribution of other species such as Brachiaria humidicola, Panicum maximum and others. Two cattle-based production systems are practiced. Near the urban centres "dual purpose" systems are common among small and medium ranchers. These are characterized by crossbred cows (crosses of Zebu with Criollo, Brown Swiss or Holstein) which are milked once daily with calf at foot to allow milk let down (Patterson et al., 1981). Typical saleable milk yields range between 2 and 6 kg milk/day/cow, frequently over extended lactations of over 280 days and fed exclusively on low-input pastures, supplemented with mineral mixtures and with some cut-and-carry forage (elephant grass or sugar cane) during the dry season. In regions further removed from urban centres and roads, properties tend to be larger, 300-1500 ha on average, and generally combine crops such as soybean and various cereals with cow-calf and beef fattening operations. Nevertheless, the crop and cattle activities are seldom integrated in a planned manner, so that well integrated crop-livestock systems are scarce although the potential is reputedly high (Martínez, 1999).

Extensive beef production systems also characterize the semi-arid tropics of Bolivia, part of the large Chaco ecosystem that extends over Argentina, Bolivia, Paraguay and Brazil. As indicated in Tables 5 and 6, the area tends to be hot and combines extensive grassy areas with shrubs and low lying thorny trees. Beef breeding ranches mostly have Criollo cattle, well adapted to climate and vegetation. The grass stratum, seasonally supplemented by browsing shrubs and trees constitutes the only forage resource. Beef productivity is extremely low, as a consequence of the low carrying capacity of the area and minimal management. Despite the very large ecological differences with the savanna region, the constraints of these systems are very similar (Iñiguez, 1996)


6. OPPORTUNITIES FOR IMPROVEMENT OF PASTURE RESOURCES

Development prospects vary widely across the country. The most difficult research challenge is presented by the agricultural and animal production systems of the high Andes, for which a rather grim analysis has recently been made by IFPRI (Walker et al., 2000). In effect, the authors argued that despite many years of research funded by national and international resources the adoption of technologies has been minimal, and suggest that the main constraint may be improved access to market and information, rather than technology. Nevertheless, it can also be argued that continuing research efforts on the interaction of livestock systems (e.g., commercial exploitation of camelids) with natural resources will increasingly be needed.

The Eastern Lowlands present totally different challenges. The region has benefited, and will likely continue to profit, from research carried out in the Brazilian Cerrados. Nevertheless, the significant difference in soils with the Brazilian savannas require research attention on their own. Cattle production systems in Eastern Bolivia are being modernized; this implies the need for improved grazing and feeding strategies, and the screening of forage species adapted to the new economic circumstances. Also, there appears to be a role for leguminous forages in the reclamation of soils compacted and degraded by intensive cropping. Lastly, the spatial and temporal integration of crops and cattle deserves continuing attention, as well as their environmental impacts.

Environmental and social impacts of pasture- and forage-based systems in the interandean valleys constitute a major priority in view of the concentration of resource-poor small farmers in those areas. The extent to which some of these valleys can contribute to the production of high value crops, as exemplified by forage seed production, needs to be ascertained. In addition to the generation of appropriate technologies for small farmers, institutional arrangements need to be developed.


7. RESEARCH AND DEVELOPMENT ORGANIZATIONS

As is true in most of Spanish-speaking Latin America government R&D institutions have been in a state of turmoil throughout the 90s, associated with the rapid rate of privatization of many of the services traditionally offered by central governments. In the case of Bolivia, numerous non government organizations (NGOs) are active, but in general they do not carry out systematic, long-term research on agricultural technology. Some (government financed) universities have modest research programmes, in general with a local or provincial focus.

IBTA, the Bolivian institute of agricultural research has a country-wide mandate on agricultural research with the noted exception of the Santa Cruz Department, but has lost a significant portion of its staff and resources.

CIAT (not to be confused with the international CIAT located in Colombia), is the centre for agricultural research in the Santa Cruz Department. It has substantial research capacity, partially supported by a small number of British researchers, but both components, the national staff and the expatriates have been subjected to decreasing financial resources.

Throughout the country a number of farmers and ranchers associations are very active in influencing rural development policies, associating small producers to face national and international markets, and in general, supporting training and capacity building. Notable examples are SEFO, a cooperative of very small farmers that specializes in production of tropical forage seed (Ferguson, 1993), and the Fundación Cipriano Baracé that concentrates on beef production in Beni.


8. REFERENCES

Alzérreca, H. (1985). Campos naturales de pastoreo de Bolivia. In Mesa Redonda sobre la Promoción del Manejo de las Praderas Nativas de SudAmérica. O. Paladines, ed., Santiago, Chile, unpublished mimeo. 1985.

Alzérreca, H. (1992). Overview of small ruminant research in the Bolivian Andean zone. In Sustainable Crop-Livestock Systems for the Bolivian Highlands, Proceedings of an SR-CRSP Workshop, C. Valdivia, ed. Columbia: University of Missouri. 1992.

Baldivia, J. (1998). Estrategias Para Recuperar El Altiplano Pachamamam Urupa Qhantawi Bolivia. Experiencias Exitosas En Mitigacion De La Pobreza.Cooperacion Horizontal En America Latina y El Caribe. PNUD-World Bank- Fundacion Interamericana. 1998

CEPAL. (1999). Boletín Demográfico. América Latina: proyecciones de población urbana y rural. Año XXXII, No. 63. Santiago, Chile, 1999.

Cochrane, T. T. (1973). The land use potential of Bolivia: a land systems map. Ministry of Overseas Development, F.C.O. London, England, 827 p.

Cochrane, T.T., L. G. Sánchez, L.G. de Azevedo, J. A. Porras and C. L. Garver (1985). Land in Tropical America. Centro Internacional de Agricultura Tropical (CIAT), Cali, Colombia; Empresa Brasileira de Pesquisa Agropecuaria, Centro de Pesquisa Agropecuaria dos Cerrados (EMBRAPA-CPAC), Planaltina, D.F., Brasil, 5 volumes

Dirven, M. (1999). El papel de los agentes en las políticas agrícolas: intenciones y realidad. Revista CEPAL 68: 171. 1999.

Estrada, R.D., O. Paladines y R. Quiros. (1998). Pobreza y degradación de suelos en los andes altos. La experiencia de CONDESAN. VII Encuentro Internacional De RIMISP, "Impacto ambiental de la pobreza rural, impacto social del deterioro ambiental. El rol de los instrumentos de desarrollo agrícola". 1998. http://www.rimisp.cl/

FAO Databases 2006 (website http://apps.fao.org/)

Ferguson, J.E. (1993). Seed biology and seed systems for Arachis pintoi. In Biology and Agronomy of Forage Arachis. P. C. Kerridge and B. Hardy, eds. Cali: CIAT. 1993.

INE, Instituto Nacional de Esatdística. Censo Nacional de Población y Vivienda de 1992. La Paz. 1992. http://www.ine.gov.bo/

Iñiguez, L. (1996). Assessment of livestock production systems in Bolivia. In Latin America Livestock Regional Assessment Workshop, San José, Costa Rica. University of California, Management Entity, Small Ruminant CRSP. 1996.

Quiroga, J.C. (1992). Agroecological characterization of the Bolivian Altiplano. In Sustainable Crop-Livestock Systems for the Bolivian Highlands, Proceedings of an SR-CRSP Workshop, C. Valdivia, ed. Columbia: University of Missouri. 1992.

Martínez, L. (1992). Producción de gramíneas del género Brachiaria y Panicum en Santa Cruz. In Red Internacional de Evaluación de Pastos Tropicales, RIEPT, 1ª. Reunión de Sabanas. CIAT, Brasilia, Brasil, pp. 23238

Martínez, L.(1999). Potencial de los sistemas agropastoriles en el manejo de suelos degradados en Santa Cruz, Bolivia. In Sistemas Agropastoriles en Sabanas Tropicales de América Latina. E.P. Guimarães, J. O. Sanz, I. M. Rao, M.C. Amézquita and E. Amézquita, eds. Cali: CIAT. 1999.

Morales, S. and P. Abasto. (1999). Desarrollo de un sistema de apoyo a la toma de decisiones de manejo para la ganadería del Beni, Bolivia. Unpublished. 1999

Patterson, R. T. C. Samur y O.(1981). Bress. Efecto de pastoreo complementario de leguminosa reservada sobre la producción de leche durante la estación seca. Producción Animal Tropical 6:135-140. 1981

Walker, T., S. Swinton,, R. Hijmans, R. Quiroz, R. Valdivia, M. Holle, C. León-Velarde and J. Posner. (2000). Technologies for the tropical Andes. Promoting Sustainable Development in Less-Favoured Areas. IFPRI, 2020 Vision, Focus 4, Brief 3. 2000

Other References

Macías, M. (1984). Caracterización de los suelos de la Amazonía Boliviana. OEA, Programa de Desarrollo Integral de la Amazoía. Trinidad, Bolivia, 152 p.

Webpages of Interest

The page of the Latin American Association of Animal Production, its Spanish acronym being ALPA (Asociación Latinoamericana de Producción Animal). It provides access to the summaries of papers published in the corresponding journal, Archivos Latinoamericanos de Producción Animal, which includes a section on pastures, one on ruminant production and another on production systems:

www.alpa.org.ve


9. CONTACTS

Mr. Bernardo Bauer
Fundación Cipriano Barace
Trinidad, Beni
Bolivia
Mr. Bauer email: bbauerk@mail.megalink.com
Foundation email: barace@sauce.ben.entelnet.bo

Dr. Luis Iñiguez
RERUMEN
Casilla 2294
Cochabamba, Bolivia
Fax 591-42-80738
Email rerumen@Icir.bo

NGO’s involved in natural resource management, planning:

FUND-ECO
Campus Universitario, calle 27 Cota-Cota
Casilla 3-12376
La Paz
Bolivia
Fax 591-2-797511

Centro Interdisciplinario de Estudios Comunitarios, CIEC
C. Belisario Salinas No. 228
Casilla 159
La Paz
Bolivia
Fax 591-2-432662

Protección del Medio Ambiente Tarija, PROMETA
Mendez 172
Casilla 59
Tarija
Bolivia
Fax 591-66-33873

National Agricultural Research Institute
Dr. Edmundo Espinoza
Chief, Livestock and Forages Program

Instituto Boliviano de Tecnología Agropecuaria
Contact: Dr. Humberto Alzérreca
Casilla 5783
La Paz, Bolivia
Phone: 591-2-374589
Telefax 591-2-392551

Regional Agricultural Research Institute
Centro de Investigaciones Agrícolas Tropicale
Ing. Agr. Gustavo Pereyra, Director
Av. Ejército 131,
Casilla 247
Santa Cruz
Bolivia
Fax 591-33-42996
ciat@mitai.nrs.net.bo

Cooperative SEFOS
Cochabamba
Bolivia
(Successful cooperative of small seed producers; specializes on tropical grasses and legumes)
Manager, Mr. Gastón Sauma
Phone: 591-42-88646


10. AUTHOR

Dr. Raul R. Vera is a former Senior Scientist and Leader of the Tropical Pastures Program, International Center of Tropical Agriculture, CIAT, based in Cali, Colombia. He is currently a private consultant and part-time researcher of the Catholic University in Santiago, Chile.

Raúl R. Vera
2 Norte 443 dpto. 52
Viña del Mar, CHILE 2534194
Fax (Chile) 56-2-552 9435
raulvera@terra.cl

 [The profile was prepared in late 2000, edited by J.M. Suttie and S.G. Reynolds in January, 2001 and modified by S.G. Reynolds in May 2006]