Land Tenure

Land Tenure

Before the 1952 Revolution, Bolivia's land distribution was the worst in Latin America; some 4 percent of all landowners possessed more than 82 percent of the land. A major success of the land reform program was the redistribution of nearly 50 percent of peasant lands within its first two years. Although greatly improved from the prerevolutionary period, broad disparities in land tenure remained in the 1980s. Analysts estimated that over 90 percent of the farms in the highlands and valleys remained under twenty hectares in the 1980s. These farms typically were one to three hectares in size and were worked by nearly 80 percent of Bolivia's more than 700,000 farmers. The majority of farmers in the highlands were also members of agricultural cooperatives. Only 40 percent of the farms in the eastern and northern lowlands were under twenty hectares; the most common size in that region was fifty to seventy-five hectares, but subsistence farming existed as well.

Nearly 60 percent of all farmers lived in the highlands in the late 1980s. Highland parcels were the smallest in the country, had the least fertile soils, and had been worked for the longest period of time. Highland farmers received under 40 percent of all rural income, although they represented about 60 percent of the rural population.

Twenty percent of the country's farmers were located in the relatively fertile valleys. These farmers fared much better than their Altiplano counterparts on the high plateau (Altiplano) between the two mountain ranges in western Bolivia. Plots averaged between five and ten hectares, and because of the more fertile and less exhausted soils, a larger share of that land was in use compared with the Altiplano. Farmers in the valleys were frequently able to harvest two crops annually, as opposed to the one crop a year on the Altiplano.

The largest farms were found on the sprawling and often isolated eastern lowlands, where about 20 percent of the country's farmers worked 65 percent of the country's land. The lowlands produced the bulk of all agricultural output and virtually all of the sector's exports. Although about 16 percent of the lowland farms were of subsistence size (five hectares or fewer), the great majority of the region's land was owned by medium-to-large landowners actively engaged in commercial agriculture. The power center of the agricultural sector was located in the southeastern department of Santa Cruz, where landholdings often exceeded 5,000 hectares.

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