Bolivia Profile

Forest Conversion for Commercial Agriculture and Associated Exports

Soy was the main driver of deforestation in Bolivia from the late 1990s to the early 2000s, along with industrial wheat, sorghum, and sunflower production (Matthews et al. 2010). More recently, cattle ranching has overtaken mechanized agriculture to become the primary deforestation driver (Müller et al 2014). Around 75 percent of all deforestation in Bolivia takes place in the department of Santa Cruz, and is driven by large-scale agro-conversion for soy and other crops (Plurinational State of Bolivia 2008) and more recently by cattle ranching (Müller et al 2014). Three-quarters of Bolivia’s soy production is exported. Beef production is mostly for domestic consumption, though small volumes are exported.

Illegalities in Conversion

Governance has been described as “virtually non-existent” in the Bolivian Amazon, where deforestation and agro-conversion are concentrated; corruption is also said to be rampant (Mongabay 2013a). This has led to widespread illegal conversion, even within National Parks (Bolivian Thoughts 2011). Bolivia’s environmental police lack the advanced tools for detecting illegal deforestation available in neighboring Brazil, and are also severely understaffed and underfunded (ibid.). One 2005 study concluded that four-fifths of all deforestation in Bolivia was illegal, based on data from the 1990s (Pacheco 2005), though more recent data sets suggest the proportion could be higher still. According to the Regulatory Agency for the Social Control of Forests and Lands, 3.3 Mha of forest were illegally deforested in Bolivia between 1996 and 2009 (Urioste 2013), or an average of 0.25 Mha/year. Satellite image analysis, on the other hand, shows that Bolivia’s total average annual forest loss between 2000 and 2012 was around the same figure. This suggests that almost all deforestation in Bolivia in the last 10 to 15 years has been illegal. Given that soy and cattle ranching are considered to have been responsible for the vast majority of deforestation in the country during this period, this also implies that almost all deforestation for these purposes during the last decade has been illegal. In light of this, the Bolivian government—under pressure from the agribusiness lobby –  passed a land use law in 2013 that enabled landowners who illegally deforested land prior to 2011 to pay nominal fines in order to legalize their farms (Mongabay 2013a).


Matthews, Robin, Brent Swallow, Meine van Noordwijk, Eleanor Milne, Peter Minang, Innocent Bakam, Mark Brewer, Shibu
Muhammed, Laura Poggio, Klaus Glenk, Stefan Fiorini, Sonia Dewi, Jian Chu Xu, Gillian Cerbu, and Madhu Subedi. 2010.
“Development and Application of Methodologies for Reduced Emissio ans from Deforestation and Forest Degradation
(REDD+)—Phase I.” Final Report for Project CEOSA 0803, Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC), London, The
Macaulay Land Use Research Institute, Aberden, and World Agroforestry Centre, Nairobi.

Müller, R., Pacheco, P. & Montero, J.C. 2014. The context of deforestation and forest degradation in Bolivia. CIFOR Occasional Paper 108

Plurinational State of Bolivia. 2008. Forest Carbon Partnership Facility Readiness Plan Idea Note (R-PIN), March. 2013a. “Bolivia Takes Step to Boost Agriculture and Curb Surging Deforestation.”, January 28. use-law.html

Bolivian Thoughts in an Emerging World. 2011. “Our Kaa-Iya National Park is in PERIL.” Bolivian Thoughts in an Emerging World, November 19.

Pacheco, P. 2005. Law Compliance: Bolivia Case Study. Report to FAO, Rome.

Urioste, Miguel. 2013. “The Great Soy Expansion: Brazilian Land Grabs in Eastern Bolivia.”Land and Sovereignty in the Americas Issue Brief 3, Food First/Institute for Food and Development Policy, Oakland, CA, and Transnational Institute (TNI), Amsterdam.

This summary was last updated in September 2016. For more recent information, please see individual news stories.