Occupations of land for agriculture over the last four decades in Bolivia, whether by individuals or in organised collective initiatives, have led to severe ecological damages and low levels of productivity because of the intensive use of machinery and the failure to take into account the limitations of the soil, said environmentalist Marco Ribera.
'To this aggressive approach towards ecosystems is added the irregularity of many processes of obtaining land, in murky periods in which the phenomenon flourished under dictatorships or in a context of political favours,' Ribera, research coordinator for the Environmental Defence League (LIDEMA), a local environmental group, told IPS.
Ribera is an interdisciplinary biologist who, after reviewing statistics, land occupation records, and studies on environmental damages, concluded that misguided state management and land occupations carried out without adequate planning continue to occur today in the process of colonisation of the Amazon jungle in the northern province of Pando.
Of Bolivia's total area of nearly 1.1 million square kilometres, 25 percent is Andean highlands, 15 percent is made up of valleys, and the rest is lowland plains and rainforest. Since the second half of the 1980s, the Bolivian economy has been driven by intensive agribusiness in the lowlands, where soy has become the star crop.
Soy exports brought the country 554 million dollars in export earnings in 2010, making the crop the third-biggest foreign exchange earner after natural gas and minerals. Bolivia's total exports in 2010 amounted to 6.96 billion dollars, just over one-third of GDP.
'There are a growing number of eco-regions and ecosystems in critical condition in this country, due to pressure from the advance of the agricultural frontier, extensive use of the slash-and-burn technique, large-scale pollution and megaprojects (hydroelectric dams and roads),' said Ribera.
He warned about the risk faced by the Alto Madidi region in the northwestern province of La Paz, an area consisting of valleys and ridges ranging from 300 to 2,000 metres above sea level, which are rich in flora and fauna and have abundant water resources.
The areas at risk of the worst environmental damages include the Amboró National Park in the eastern province of Santa Cruz, an area of subtropical rainforest with a great diversity of ecosystems, and the neighbouring Carrasco National Park, in the central province of Cochabamba.
The Isidoro Sécure National Park and Indigenous Territory in Cochabamba and the extensive semi-tropical area of Los Yungas, in La Paz province, are included in the regions facing the greatest threats.
Both areas, according to newspaper reports, have been invaded by coca growers, and coca production is displacing other crops, like fruit. In the Isidoro Sécure National Park, indigenous people are fighting a battle with settlers from outside the park who have encroached on their land.
© Inter Press Service (2011) — All Rights ReservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service
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