Erosion in Bolivia
by Frank Aragona and Kristina J. Owens
Bolivia, situated in the heart of the South American continent, is often referred to as the Tibet of South America. The comparison is telling, for Bolivia's landscape is a mosaic of high mountain peaks, low land valleys, and extensive tropical rainforest. An unfortunate consequence of the steep Andean terrain is a severe problem with soil erosion. This page is aimed at providing information and sources on the problem of soil erosion in Bolivia. General information and links on soil erosion and soil conservation techniques are provided, along with some general information on Bolivia. We have tried to include as many links related specifically to the problem of soil erosion in Bolivia
In order to understand the problem of erosion in Bolivia, a firm understanding of the cultural and historical forces involved is necessary. Below are some links that provide cultural, economic, and historical information on Bolivia.
Bolivia News and facts in English! information about Bolivia for those people wanting to visit or are just interested in the culture.
CIA Fact Book-is a site that has a lot of really good information about the country's geography, people, government, economy, communication, military, transportation, and transnational issues.
More facts about Bolivia is a similar site with general country information, but has more details of Bolivian history.
U.S. State Department: Bolivia an extremely detailed and comprehensive study that covers all aspects of Bolivian culture and society.
The World Factbook Page on Bolivia is a similar page that has access to more pictures along with vital information about many of the same topics.
Bolivia Internet 24 color photos of Bolivia
Bolivian Times Weekly Newspaper an English newspaper on the internet, with headline news, sports, opinion and color photos.
La Razon -is a Bolivian Newspaper. You can search by using some key words such as Medio ambiente, erosión, cultivo, agricultura, or forestal for the following terms: environment (issues), erosion, agriculture/farming, and forestry.
Los Tiempos is another Bolivian Newspaper. This site also has links to other resources in the country. It includes government agencies such as the Department of the Environment Instituto de Estudios Medioambientales . There are also other sites that are provided. If you have problems bringing them up, just type in the address rather then click on it.
Images of Bolivia
Picture of Lake Titicaca
Another Picture of Lake Titicaca
Erosion by wind, water and gravity is a natural process that occurs in all terrestrial ecosystems. Generally, the soil formation rates in natural ecosystems equal or exceed the rate of soil loss through erosion (Singer and Munns 1987). Farming, deforestation, and grazing livestock are all examples of human activity that upset this natural balance and accelerate the rate of soil loss through erosion. Considering the slow rate of soil formation and the importance of agricultural production for rural communities, the severity of this problem can not be understated. Below is a list of links related to the general, worldwide problem of soil erosion.
Soil Erosion Factsheet describes the causes and effects of soil erosion.
The U.S. Global Change Research Information Office has a nice summary of soil and sediment erosion, with some discussion of measurement techniques and a list of references.
Living with the Land is actually designed to teach children about soils and erosion, but the site has some excellent descriptions of basic soil science, some great pictures and a cool experiment.
NSCSS Edaphology, Physics and Chemistry Page for the more technically minded, this page has a long list of links related to the scientific and technical aspects of soils management.
The causes of soil erosion in Bolivia are a function of the steep, mountainous topography and the unique cultural forces that have shaped the country throughout its history. Godoy (1984) argues that deforestation in the Andean highlands dates back to the 16th century, when indigenous farmers were drawn into a colonial taxation system designed to provide fuel for the growing mining and housing industries. Revenues were collected and paid in the form of native shrubs, dry llama dung, and many different species of grasses. Without vegetation to slow run-off, absorb excess water, and hold the soil together, massive amounts of fertile topsoil have been lost to erosion. Today the process of deforestation continues in Bolivia and the Third World. Below are some links on deforestation in Bolivia.
A History of Tropical Deforestation in the Bolivan Amazon a 100 page thesis that describes the social and historical forces that have driven deforestation in the Bolivian Amazon, and the ecological consequences.
Deforestation in Bolivia has three Landsat satellite images that depict the historical process of deforestation in Santa Cruz.
Landsat NASA Pathfinder University of Maryland This site has extensive research on rates of deforestation throughout the 80's and 90's in Bolivia as well as other areas of South America. If you have access to Arcview you can download the images. If you do not have arcview click here to see the image with legend.
Population pressure is another significant factor contributing to the overall decline in Bolivian soils. With a population of 7 million inhabitants, Bolivia is one of the least densely populated countries in South America. Total population, however, is a poor indicator of population pressure. Over half of all Bolivians live on the high Altiplano, a huge source of pressure on the fragile lands. Click here to a see a table with a summary of population by ecological zone. As more and more people use wood for cooking and clear the land for agriculture, the need to slow the process of erosion is more pressing than ever. The following websites are all related to soil erosion in Bolivia.
World Bank The World Bank is sponsoring a number of projects, from Health to Natural Resource Management. This page specifically aims at Bolivia, but from here you can find information on other countries where the World Bank is involved.
Trade and Environment Database a case study on the socio-economic and environmental aspects of gold mining in Bolivia, which is a major contributor to soil erosion.
Landslide Erosion Rates in Cordillera Bolivia This site has a synopsis of erosion rates and some good TM image comparisons.
University of Zurich The University of Zurich geography department has a bit of information on vegetation cover.
Strategy for Danish Bolivian development Cooperation Another site referring to problems with erosion and deforestation and how it is affecting Bolivia's resources.
Solving soil erosion problems, in Bolivia and elsewhere, is a monumental task. There are no simple, clear cut solutions. A mix of human ingenuity, hard work, sound research and grassroots organization are necessary if we are ever to see some improvements in the immediate future. Research in development has shown that large scale, top down projects, such as those funded by large development agencies, are rarely successful in easing the plight of the poor. Alternatives to such projects have focused on community participation in identifying, organizing, and implementing project goals and objectives. It is with this intent that development workers have created Rapid Rural Appraisal and Participatory Rural Appraisal.
World Bank Participation Sourcebook an introduction to Participatory Rural Appraisal: tools, techniques, and resources.
Rapid Rural Appraisal a description of the methodology involved, written by Tony Dunn out of Charles Sturt University in Australia.
Resource Management Information System a web page that explains Rapid Rural Appraisal and Participatory Rural Appraisal.
International Institute for Sustainable Development a guide for field projects using participatory research methods.
Determining community needs is the merely the first step in developing project objectives and priorities. Considerable technical skill is required to organize and implement the goals set by community members and extension agents. Methods in soil and water conservation, agroforestry, and agronomy are all critical components in erosion control.
Several case studies illustrate some techniques being experimented with in Bolivia. Clark et.al (1999) did a cost benefit analysis of the use of boundary bunds in Bolivia to reduce soil erosion rates on farm fields. Boundary bunds are made with rocks removed from farm fields and placed along hillsides to form erosion control barriers. The result is increased sediment retention, protection of crops from livestock grazing, and higher crop yields due to increased soil depth. A similar study measured the impact of vegetative barriers on slopes in Santa Cruz and Cochabamba (Sims et.al., 1999). Vegetative barriers also reduce erosion and retain sediment loads, while providing the additional benefits of green manure for farm fields and fodder for livestock. According to Paterson (1984), planting a leguminous dry season crop in fallow farm fields will: prevent wind erosion, fix nitrogen into depleted soil, reduce the build up of weeds, and provide green fodder in the late dry season. These are only a few of the many technical solutions that are being employed to raise farm productivity and minimize soil losses to erosion. Here is a list of sites with practical scientific and technological solutions.
Improved Brick Kilns in Bolivia an article that describes the effort to introduce more efficient wood burning stoves. The goal is to reduce deforestation by making more efficient use of existing wood supplies.
Redesigning Andean Farming to prevent Erosion in Bolivia a short summary of a field project conducted in the Bolivian highlands.
Forestry Issues in Quesimpuco, Bolivia this site has a slide show with some photos of erosion problems and some proposed solutions.
Agroforester.com a site with lots of resources and a lot of relevant links.
Trees for the Future information on reforestation and conservation, with a special section on Latin America. Especially useful is the page of related links.
International Erosion Control Association contains photos, training information, resources and conference information.
Cranfield University Institute of Water and Environment an excellent site that has information on everything from agroforestry and soil conservation to irrigation engineering and soil physics.
Clark, R., Duron, G., Quispe, G., and Stocking, M., (1999) Boundary bunds or piles of stones? Using farmers' practices in Bolivia to aid soil conservation Mountain Research and Development, 3: 235-240
Godoy, R.A. (1984) Ecological degradation and agricultural intensification in the Andean highlands Human Ecology 12: 359-383
Paterson, R.T., Sauma, G, Samur, C., and Justiniano, C, (1984) The use of legumes as dry season cover crops in Santa Cruz, Bolivia, Tropical Animal Production, 9: 311-320
Sims, B.G., Rodriguez, F., Eid, M., and Espinoza, T., (1999) Biophysical aspects of vegetative soil and water conservation practices in the Inter-Andean valleys of Bolivia, Mountain Research and Development, 4: 282-291
Singer, M., and Munns, D., (1987) Soils: An Introduction, Macmillan Publishing Company , New York, New York
Anderson, Jock R., and Jesuthason Thampapillai. Soil Conservation in Developing Countries: Project and Policy Intervention. Policy and Research Report 8. April 1990. World Bank.
Barber, R.G., and Navarro, F., (1994) The rehabilitation of degraded soils in eastern Bolivia by subsoiling and the incorporation of cover crops, Land Degradation and Rehabilitation, 5: 247-259
Barber, R.G., (1995) Soil degradation in the tropical lowlands of Santa Cruz, eastern Bolivia, Land Degradation and Rehabiliation, 6: 95-107
Benton, Jane. Agrarian Reform in Theory and Practice: A Study of the Lake Titicaca Region of Bolivia.
Brown, Tony and David M. Harper (editors) The Sustainable Management of Tropical Catchment. March 1999. John Wiley & Son Ltd.
Ellis-Jones, J., and Mason, T., (1999) Livelihood strategies and assets of small farmers in the evaluation of soil and water management practices in the temperate Inter-Andean valleys of Boliva, Mountain Research and Development, 19: 221-234
Preston, D., Macklin, M., and Warburton, J., (1997) Fewer people, less erosion: the twentieth century in Southern Bolivia, The Geographical Journal, 2: 198-205
Tiffen, Mary; Michael Mortimore, and Francis Gichuki. More People, Less Erosion: Environmental Recovery in Kenya. February 1994. John Wiley & Son Ltd.
Keeping the Land Alive: Soil erosion, Its Causes and Cures. Soils Bulletin, No. 50. February 1984 Food & Agriculture Org;
Soil Erosion in the Tropics Macgraw Hill text. July 1990
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This page was created on April 28, 2000