******************** POSTING RULES & NOTES ********************
#1 YOU MUST clip all extraneous text when replying to a message.
#2 This mail-list, like most, is publicly & permanently archived.
#3 Subscribe and post under an alias if #2 is a concern.
MR Online posts an article that fails to mention that the Bolivian land
management authority itself estimates that 87 percent of the fires
originated from illegal fires set by farmers.
Here's the NYT reporting:
Mr. Morales’s opponents attribute the wildfires on the government’s
landmark campaign to hand out free land to peasants and open up new
areas to agribusiness.
Those policies won Mr. Morales broad support among the poor while
placating the country’s conservative business groups. But they came at
the cost of leaving swaths of previously virgin jungle and bushland
exposed to uncontrolled slash-and-burn farming, critics say.
Bolivia’s land management authority estimates that 87 percent of the
wildfires now started as illegal fires set by farmers.
Political analysts said Mr. Morales’ response was partly driven by a
desire to maintain the votes of core supporters among small-scale
indigenous farmers, who often lack the machinery and capital to clear
the land without resorting to fire.
“If the small families don’t burn their plots, how are they going to get
by?” Mr. Morales said on the campaign trail Tuesday. “The small producer
has just half a hectare for yuca and a hectare for corn to eat. That’s
Here is the FT reporting on the "agrarian revolution" in Bolivia's most
How soya wealth is changing the Bolivia’s Santa Cruz province
Its vast soya crop puts Santa Cruz province on the front line of an
Benedict Mander OCTOBER 26, 2015
Hopping off a horse-drawn cart in the isolated Mennonite community of
Manitoba, Johan Peters admits it is inconvenient that farmers like him
are forbidden to use rubber tyres on their tractor wheels, fitting them
with metal teeth for grip instead.
Even so, the ultra-conservative religious group in Bolivia’s eastern
lowlands is thriving. Struggling to express himself in Spanish, Peters
resorts to a virtually extinct dialect of German that survives in a
handful of Mennonite communities in the fertile plains of Santa Cruz
province to explain the reason for their success: soya.
“This is the most productive farming area in Bolivia,” says Jacob Fehr,
the vice-president of the more liberal neighbouring Mennonite colony of
Chihuahua, founded 26 years ago. Over the past decade, his community of
about 220 families has more than doubled the amount of land they own and
farm to 25,000 hectares, largely thanks to the recent boom in commodity
These farmers are on the front line of an agrarian revolution in Bolivia
that in recent decades has attracted Japanese and Russian immigrants as
well as large-scale investments from Brazil and Argentina. This has
driven explosive growth in the economy and population of Santa Cruz
province, whose eponymous capital is one of the fastest-growing cities
in the world and now the largest in the country, with around 2m
inhabitants — nearly a fifth of the national population.
Santa Cruz is the powerhouse of Bolivian agriculture. It represents
about 60 per cent of national farming yield, with soya accounting for
more than half of the province’s production. With neighbouring
Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay already saturated with soya crops, the
potential for expansion in Santa Cruz, where much land is underutilised,
has led some to see it as South America’s next agricultural frontier.
Such hopes have only been strengthened by the fall in global oil prices,
which has forced energy-producing countries such as Bolivia to seek
alternative and more sustainable forms of income. With soya alone
representing Bolivia’s third-biggest source of foreign exchange after
gas and mining, the government has announced ambitious plans to boost
the area of land under cultivation from 2.7m hectares last year to 4.5m
hectares by 2020.
“There is enormous potential here,” says Gabriel Dabdoub, a prominent
businessman in Santa Cruz, who believes the agricultural sector cannot
flourish without support from the government to boost productivity
levels, which lag far behind the agricultural giants of Brazil and
Argentina. But doubts remain as to how committed the government is to
promoting agriculture, and what kind. “It is the million-dollar
question,” says Dabdoub.
René Orellana, Bolivia’s planning minister, said in an interview that of
$48bn in planned public investments by 2020, the government is aiming to
invest more than $5bn in agriculture, and about $2.5bn will be spent on
building agro-industrial complexes. He emphasised that the investments
would be focused on strengthening small producers in the western
highlands and non-traditional exports with high added value, rather than
the soya farmers of Santa Cruz.
Still, relations between big landowners and the government have improved
a great deal since the tense early years of Evo Morales’ presidency. His
need to maintain support among his power base, the poor indigenous
population in the highlands, led to serious clashes with the more
affluent citizens of Santa Cruz, who have always yearned for greater
autonomy from La Paz. “We realised that we were not going to get
anywhere fighting, so we said, let’s talk,” says Jaime Suárez, a farmer
involved in negotiations with the government. Nevertheless, landowners
complain that dialogue has yet to translate into action, with
bureaucracy posing a particular problem.
Farmers reel off a long list of challenges. Chief among them is legal
security, with bitter complaints about government intervention in the
export sector. Most also cite the need to improve technology, problems
accessing credit, and the land-locked country’s poor infrastructure.
The relentless expansion of Bolivian agriculture has created some of the
highest deforestation rates in the world
“If we seriously want to open up our agricultural frontier, it will be
necessary to grow our agro-industrial sector as well,” says José Llano,
who heads the college of agronomists in Santa Cruz. A study co-ordinated
by Llano concluded there are almost 2m hectares of good agricultural
land in Santa Cruz that lies uncultivated, representing an extra $3.8bn
in potential revenues in addition to the $2.2bn that the province’s
agricultural sector currently generates.
Reinaldo Díaz, president of the business chamber for soya producers in
Santa Cruz, emphasises the need to remove restrictions on the use of
biotechnology, which is not a problem in Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay.
“Without biotechnology, it makes it very difficult to compete with our
neighbours,” says Díaz. “We want biotechnology to enter through the
front door, not the back window.” He claims that some non-governmental
organisations have been “brain-washing” people to oppose genetically
modified organisms. As a result, many farmers are using biotechnology
The use of precision agriculture would also raise productivity, says
Díaz, especially for smaller farmers. “Yields are much lower for small
and medium-sized producers,” says Llano.
However, the relentless expansion of Bolivian agriculture has created
some of the highest deforestation rates in the world. This has risen
from almost 150,000 hectares a year during the 1990s to as much as
300,000 hectares by 2010. Now, officials are talking of clearing as much
as 1m hectares a year, in marked contrast with the leftwing government’s
Thomas Killeen, an environmental scientist, argues that Bolivia could
increase its agricultural production dramatically “without cutting down
a single tree”. “The country could easily double or even triple
production with no further deforestation if producers adopted modern
water management while expanding crops on to underutilised pastures,” he
The barriers to deforestation-free production are largely financial,
says Killeen, since technology is capital intensive and farmers prefer
to invest their money in land. To clear a hectare of land costs about
$800, while installing efficient irrigation systems costs about $2,500
“We have to find a balance between expanding our agricultural frontier
and increasing productivity,” says Llano. Although he supports plans to
increase the area of land under cultivation, he points out that big
productivity gains can be made.
Whatever course the country adopts, there is no time to lose, says
Dabdoub. “The macroeconomy is doing well, and there are good prospects
for the next couple of years.” But he warns that falling commodity
prices and the slowdown in China will eventually take their toll.
“We need to reflect. The bonanza won’t last forever,” he says.
Bolivian quinoa was the first to gain recognised organic certification
Inca soldiers ate it to strengthen them for battle. Nasa said it was
perfect astronaut fare. It has more nutrients per 100 calories than any
other grain and people from New York to London pay roughly $10 a pound
for it, writes Andres Schipani.
Quinoa is the original superfood, much of it grown on Bolivia’s high
plains by Aymara and Quechua farmers. One of them is Guadalupe Ramos.
She lives in Jirira, a cluster of adobe houses between Potosí and Oruro
where the trademarked “royal” quinoa is grown. “This is the real thing,”
she says, cupping a handful of the organic grains. “Others may have more
but ours is the best.”
Her barb is aimed at neighbouring Peru, now the world’s biggest
exporter. “I am 70 years old and look 50, thanks to eating our quinoa,”
Bolivian quinoa was the first to gain recognised organic certification
and is highly prized, confirms Pablo Laguna, an anthropologist at
Mexico’s Michoacán College who researches quinoa. Aid and fair trade
organisations, as well as organic food importers from developed
countries, opened the gate to niche markets.
The US imports 60 per cent of Bolivia’s quinoa production; the rest goes
mostly to Europe. Exports soared from 4,900 tonnes in 2005 to 35,000
tonnes in 2013, according to the ministry of productive development and
plural economy. Shipments dropped slightly in 2014, to almost 30,000
tonnes, valued at $197m.
The price paid to Bolivian producers per kilo of organic royal quinoa
also rocketed: from under $1 in 2007 to almost $5 last year. Prices have
dropped to almost three dollars, so many farmers, like Ramos, are
hoarding 46kg bags, hoping for a rebound.
“They may have to wait a while,” says Laguna. “There is too much quinoa
being sold around the world right now.”
Full posting guidelines at: http://www.marxmail.org/sub.htm
Set your options at: