Forests and the forestry sector


Roughly half Bolivia¿s land area (53.1 million hectares) is covered by natural tropical forests, and more than 2 000 tree and shrub species have been identified. The forests are mostly tropical and deciduous, although the climate and hence the types of forest vary considerably depending on altitude. Closed moist lowland rain forests cover a large part of the northeastern third of the country. These forests are part of the Amazon Basin system and the species found here include large-leafed mahogany (Swietenia macrophylla), Cinchona spp., Terminalia spp. and Calophyllum spp. Areas of dry tropical forest and savannah are also found in the lowlands. The dominant species change gradually depending on altitude, ranging from Phoebe porphyria to Eugenia spp. and Podocarpus spp., then, at the highest altitudes, to Polylepis spp. The country has an extensive network of more than 66 protected forest areas.

Bolivia holds first place in the world in terms of certified natural tropical forests, mainly according to the principles and criteria laid down by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC). By June 2003, 970 213 ha had been certified and it was estimated that by the end of 2003 the figure would be about 1.4 million hectares.

Planted forests cover about 46 000 ha, 52 percent of them made up of Eucalyptus spp., 40 percent of Pinus spp. and 8 percent of other forest species. There have been no government promotion programmes or incentive mechanisms to encourage afforestation and enrichment planting in the country¿s natural forests.

According to official figures for 2001 from the Bolivian Forest Supervisory Authority, 6.4 million hectares of forests are in production. The main system of forest tenure is through concessions on State-owned forest land, which covers 5.7 million hectares (89%), with private forest companies accounting for 5 million hectares (78%) through 76 concessions. Since the new Forest Code has been in force, 700 000 ha of forest concessions have been returned to the State, representing 12 percent of the total original area. The reasons for this significant reduction in concessions include the following:

  • the cost of retaining rights over concessions (harvesting licences);
  • technical and legal restrictions on harvesting traditional species such as oak, cedar and large-leafed mahogany;
  • problems for producers over harvesting the various lesser-known species;
  • the lack of competitiveness of the Bolivian forest industry on the international market, combined with limitations on domestic consumption;
  • conflicts with campesino or indigenous communities over ownership claims or territorial overlapping with concessions.
Economic contribution
There are no official figures on the contribution of the forestry sector to Bolivia¿s gross domestic product. Taking only silviculture into account, its share is estimated at approximately 1 percent, while industrial and commercial harvesting contributes about 2 percent. In other words, the Bolivian forestry sector contributes about 3 percent to the gross domestic product.

Sawnwood is the country¿s main industrial wood product and most of the production is exported. In 2001, total exports of forest products were valued at US$85.9 million, with timber products accounting for US$54.3 million and non-wood forest products for US$31.6 million. Bolivia imports a small amount of forest products, mainly paper.

Bolivia¿s present production is well below the extraction volume authorized by the country¿s Forest Supervisory Authority, a situation resulting from such factors as:
  • limitations on harvesting and processing capacities;
  • the high financial cost of some of the technical and legal requirements;
  • high fuel and transport costs;
  • difficulties over introducing lesser-known species on to the market;
  • financial limitations (lack of working capital) of logging companies and/or forest industries;
  • the recession in the Argentinean market, one of the main importers of Bolivian forest products;
  • strong competition from the Brazilian forestry sector, which can supply similar species at a lower cost.
Despite the control of the Forest Supervisory Authority, unofficial information indicates that the present annual production of roundwood in Bolivia is 1.1 million cubic metres ¿ considerably higher that official figures. The difference could be the result of illegal extraction, some but not all from clearing activities. Most roundwood is processed with chain saws. It is estimated that illegal logging has increased under the new Forest Code.

Bolivia has a huge variety of non-wood forest products, especially in the Amazon forests. Brazil nuts and palm hearts are the main economically harvested non-wood forest products today. Rubber is also obtained from Hevea brasiliensis trees. Products such as latex and quinine used to hold primary positions and there are indicators that latex could recover a leading position, inasmuch as it is a natural product and new industrial applications have been discovered thanks to the development of new technology.

Last updated: November 2003

last updated:  Thursday, January 14, 2016