Republic of Bolivia
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Contributor: Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations
Contact: Jean Bonnal

Republic of Bolivia

The terms and data used in this publication are in no way an indication of the authors' position regarding the legal status of the countries, territories, cities, or zones mentioned, or of their authorities or borders.

A. General Country Data

Surface Area1,084,380 sq. km
Population (millions)7.8
Population Growth2.4%
Urban Population60.8%
Density (1995)7 inh/sq. km
GDP (1994) Billions US $ 5.51
GDP per Capita US $ 706
Currency Boliviano
National Budget13% of GDP
Human Development Indicator0.530
HDI Ranking (out of 174 countries)113

Borders, Topography and Climate

Bolivia is bordered by Brazil on the north and west, Peru and Chile on the west, and Argentina and Paraguay on the south.Two chains of mountains, the Eastern Cordillera and the Western Cordillera, stretch across Bolivia. The country is divided into three distinct regions : the Altiplano, or region of high plateaus; the Yungas, deep, wooded and well irrigated valleys; and the Llanos, or Eastern Plains. The Altiplano has an average

height of 3,800 m. Most of the population and industry are concentrated in the northern part .of the plateau. The southern part of the country is arid. The Yungas region starts from the foothills of the Eastern Cordillera, where many valleys begin. It is a fertile region whose activity is mainly agricultural. Most of this region becomes swampy during the humid season (December-February); however, the land remains above water and is good grazing ground. Finally, the Eastern Plains, with a tropical climate, cover more than half of the territory and the region is crossed by many tributaries of the Amazon.

Being in the tropics, Bolivia has a hot and humid climate but because of its varying altitudes, the country has different climatic conditions. In the regions with the highest elevations, the climate is cold and dry with glacial winds and rarefied air and extremes of temperature. The climate is milder in the lower regions. Annual average temperatures vary between 8 degrees centigrade in the Altiplano, and 26 degrees centigrade in the Llanos. The dry and cold season lasts from April to October and the rainy season goes from November to March. The average temperature at La Paz is 10 degrees C, and is 12 degrees C at Sucre.

Characteristics, and Recent Developments of the Political System

Bolivia is a constitutional republic with the president as head of state. The extant constitution goes back to 1825 though it has been amended many times. The president, vice-president and the government hold executive power. The president and vice-president are elected by universal suffrage for a term of five years. The Congress is bicameral : it comprises a Senate of 27 members and a House of Deputies of 130 members. All are elected for five-year terms. The constitutional capital is Sucre, while the administrative capital and seat of government is La Paz; both are the major cities of Bolivia. The principal political parties are the Movement of the Revolutionary Left (MIR), the National Revolutionary Movement (MNR), and the Democratic Nationalist Action (AND).

The country is divided into nine departments, administered by prefects appointed by the president. Each department is divided into provinces, administered by sub-prefects also appointed by the head of state. At the bottom of the administrative ladder are the municipalities ruled by mayors, elected by universal suffrage.

Agriculture in Bolivia

Agriculture is an important activity within the Bolivian economy. Practically half of the work force is employed in agriculture and constitutes about 20% of the GNP in 1993. Though Bolivia is currently self-sufficient in sugar, rice, and beef, it still has to import certain foodstuffs. Bolivia's major crops are potatoes, sugar cane, cotton, coffee, corn, rice and wheat.

Aside from these legal crops, there is another type of produce : a large part of agricultural revenue comes from the illegal growing and transformation of cocoa leaves from which cocaine is made. The Bolivian government has tried to have cocoa replaced by other crops but this has given rise to a number of problems and the cocoa leaf remains to be one of the major sources of national revenue.

Forests cover a large part of the country but they are being tapped extensively and it is necessary to manage them more carefully to avoid the deterioration of the environment. About 8% of Bolivian territory is currently protected and Bolivia is the first country to have reached a

"debt for nature" agreement, which retires the country's international debt in exchange for protecting threatened regions. This agreement concerns 800, 000 hectares, mostly in the humid, tropical forest, which is particularly rich in biodiversity.

Current Economic Situation

Since 1985 Bolivia has tried with much difficulty to put into effect a program of structural adjustment and economic stabilization. The most decisive efforts in this regard date back to 1992 and 1993, when a major privatization program was launched. In 1994, the economic restructuring program started to produce its first results. Inflation went down considerably and many production sectors including agriculture, showed rapid growth.

B. On-going Decentralization Process

Background, Objectives, and Legal Framework

The decentralization process was launched in 1994. The government's decision to go ahead in this direction was taken as a reaction to pressure from various communities for more recognition and for participation. As a result, the principal objective of the decentralization policy was to respond to demands for cultural recognition of the various ethnic groups of the Bolivian nation. Also pressured by international organizations, the government had the decentralization law approved in 1994.

Functions, Resources, and Autonomy of Decentralized Entities

In accordance with this law, departments and provinces were assigned new responsibilities relating to implementation and financing, whereas municipalities and townships were assigned decision-making powers hitherto not assigned to them. Even more important, unlike what has happened in other countries, Bolivia took the precaution to provide the necessary budgetary resources to the new jurisdictions so that they can carry out the functions assigned them in the context of decentralization. Thus the 1994 reforms doubled the fiscal resources given to the municipalities.

Local jurisdictions (townships, municipalities, and to a lesser extent, the organizations of civil society) were clearly and decisively targeted by decentralization. Local authorities have considerable autonomy regarding the finances transferred to them. The intermediate level of government does not enjoy the same autonomy in the use of resources. In any event the supervision of the decentralized entities is the responsibility of the Ministry of Human Development and the National Secretariat for Popular Participation. Decentralization in Bolivia made it possible to move from a highly centralized system of public service delivery to a more decentralized service delivery, to the extent that municipalities were assigned responsibility for local infrastructure under the watchful eye of grassroots committees and other types of civil society organizations.

C. Decentralization and Rural Development

Forms of Decentralization, Agricultural and Rural Development Policy Formulation

The process of decentralization in the agricultural and rural sector started in 1993-94 but on account of its complexity, it was not possible to adhere to its implementation schedule. In spite of this, one can already notice an extensive devolution of powers to subnational governments. Devolution to civil society organizations on the other hand, has been limited. Similarly, deconcentration and delegation are less far-reaching than devolution, and hence one can speak in terms of a real "municipalization" of rural development in Bolivia. Executive powers have been restructured so that they can fit in with the new decentralization policy, which specifically targets the local level.

Though basically determined at the national level, modalities for rural development planning combine ascending and descending procedures. This has made it possible for policy to be modified to take into account regional and production characteristics, and more consultations with the local level, as well as basic coordination at departmental level. Consultation and coordination procedures for equipment and rural infrastructure break down as follows : decision-making at national level, local financing, and control, monitoring and evaluation by departments.

Decentralization and Agricultural Support Services

As far as the decentralization of the major agricultural support services are concerned, the definition of policy relating to extension, and irrigation has been transferred to departments, while the national level remains the principal authority for policy formulation regarding training, research, and credit. The most important changes concerning financing relate to extension and irrigation services, which were assigned to the local and intermediate levels respectively.

The configuration of the roles of the various actors in service delivery is relatively balanced: NGOs play an important role in training, producer organizations in irrigation, and the private sector in the supply of inputs. All the same, the state has a strong presence In the supply of extension, research, and agricultural credit.

Support Policies, Constraints and Evaluation of the Decentralization Process

The support policy for the decentralization process adopted by the Bolivian government has been very good : there has been a general information campaign, and training for both technical services and subnational jurisdictions. Training for subnational jurisdictions could be considered to have been insufficient. The decentralization process sought neither the promotion of new organizations of the civil society, nor the adoption of support mechanisms for existing organizations. It was decided rather to rely on the country's pre-existing forms of organization.

The targeting of the local level, and the lack of solid policy to improve the workings of the intermediate level have led some observers to conclude that the major constraint of the decentralization process was on the one hand, the want of coordination among different levels of government, and on the other, the lack of capacity of the intermediate level (the departments).

On the whole, decentralization in Bolivia seems to have had a positive impact on anti-poverty programs, on social infrastructure (health, housing, and education), production infrastructure (roads, irrigation, and warehouses), and on citizen participation. The impact on agricultural support services and on environmental protection has been less positive.


A positive element of the decentralization process in Bolivia which should be underlined, is the institutionalization of local forms of organization and their legal recognition. The law on citizen participation recognized different organizations, including ethnic-based organizations, as the principal discussion partners of local governments. Hence, a large number of indigenous and peasant organizations have set out to take advantage of open participation in local government so that they can play a central role in the management of their own affairs.