Recently, Bolivia’s livestock farmers received news that the country will soon be exporting cattle meat to China. However, the news also raised environmental concerns that the new market will worsen the current state of deforestation in Bolivia, unless livestock farmers migrate to more sustainable methods of production.
In 2014, the Friends of Nature Foundation (FAN) published a report stating that the previous perception of agricultural expansion, particularly for soybean as being the main cause of deforestation, had changed. According to FAN Director, Natalia Calderón, from the years 2000 to 2013, their analyses showed that more than 60% of Bolivia’s deforestation was caused by livestock.
Ms. Calderon, who is an expert on conservation and climate change said that currently they are wary of the planned expansion of agricultural spaces intended for cattle raising, as they have recently detected a broadening of deforested areas as such those in the Charagua and Chiquitania regions in Santa Cruz. That is without considering that talks about incentives for cattle production, adequate monitoring and control, as well as technical assistance and technology, have yet to take place.
Bolivian Cattle Ranchers’ Projections to Meet the Forthcoming Meat Boom
Actually, in April 26, of this year, Bolivian Foreign Minister Diego Pary, and the Chinese Minister of Customs, Ni Yuefeng, had already agreed in writing to a protocol of opening China’s doors to Bolivia for its beef exports. Beef consumption among the 1.4 billion Chinese people has risen sharply, from which Bolivian cattle ranchers are hoping to gain huge benefits.
Gary Rodríguez, President of the Instituto Boliviano de Comercio Exterior (IBCE) expressed support for the beef exporters. He projects that the forthcoming beef trade with China will more than double, since they expect that in as short as half a year, cattle ranchers will be selling the equivalent of what they have been selling in the past 10 years. Rodriguez estimates that
“By the year 2020, we would be selling US$150 million to the world only for the export of cattle meat. However, the projection is to move from a cattle herd of 10 million to 17 million within a span of 10 years.”
In connection with this projection, cattle ranchers presented their goals to President Evo Morales in January, via the Livestock Development Plan 2020-2030, which includes planned expansions from the current 13 million hectares for livestock to 20 million hectares.
Bolivia’s cattle ranchers aim to export 20,000 tons of beef to China in the second half of this year. The projection will make roughly about US$75 million, or five times more than the entire amount generated in 2018, based on the figures furnished by the Bolivian Foreign Trade Institute (IBCE). Come 2020, the goal is to increase to 40,000 tons.
Benian Meat, the “Bolivia Natural Beef” Seen as a Model for Sustainable Beef Production
In Beni, farmers contend that their livestock industry is not a main cause of the country’s deforestation. Beni has extensive plains covered by pampas and savannas for cattle pasture enhanced by humid tropical forests located on gentle piedmont slopes.
Compared to Santa Cruz or Brazil, the clearing in Beni is only for cattle paddocks and are located in high places. Cattle ranchers in Beni assert that they take care of the environment, as they still follow the same system used by their grandparents, which is that of making a cattle ranch in the pampas.
Director Calderon of FAN upholds the sustainable method, confirming that in Beni, there is livestock but raised in natural pastures, which gives doubts to implications of deforestation. Still, she says that they would have to take precautions in everything that concerns management of soil and water.