The use of purchased items such as fertilizers, tractors, and irrigation systems remained extremely low in the 1980s because traditional farming methods continued to dominate. Because of their isolation and lack of technical support, Bolivian farmers used less fertilizer, about two kilograms per hectare, than any other country in the Western Hemisphere. Most small farmers used natural fertilizers, such as manure, but even large farms in Santa Cruz found chemical fertilizers (all of which were imported) expensive because of transportation costs. The signing of an accord for a natural gas pipeline with Brazil in 1988, however, improved Bolivia's prospects for manufacturing its own chemical fertilizers. Bolivia's use of tractors, 0.2 per 1,000 hectares, was also the lowest in the Western Hemisphere. Most tractors were used in Santa Cruz. As the lowlands took on a greater role in agriculture, that ratio was expected to improve. By the late 1980s, just about 5 percent of the country's land was irrigated, one-third more than a decade earlier.
Government extension services for farmers remained extremely inadequate in the late 1980s. Only one agricultural agent existed for each 7,000 farming households. The chief research institution for agriculture was the Bolivian Institute for Agricultural Technology (Instituto Boliviano de Tecnología Agrícola--IBTA). Established in the mid-1970s, the IBTA concentrated mainly on new seed varieties for cash crops in the lowlands. The Institute for the Rural Development of the Altiplano (Instituto para el Desarrollo Rural del Altiplano--IDRA), the Center for Tropical Agricultural Research (Centro de Investigaciones de Agricultura Tropical--CIAT), and the national universities performed further research.
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