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Geography and society

© UNICEF Bolivia/2005

Situated in the centre of South America, with a territorial extension of 1,098,581 square kilometres, Bolivia is a country which enjoys great geographical, ethnic and cultural diversity. With a total of 8,274,325 inhabitants, the majority of the population is formed by indigenous peoples, the major groups being quechua and aymara.

Bolivia is a landlocked country situated in the heart of South America. It is bordered to the north and east by Brazil, to the southeast by Paraguay, to the south by Argentina, to the west by Chile and to the northwest by Peru. The country has no sea coast although previously national territory extended to the coast of the Pacific. This territorial area now belongs to Chile.

Much more than highlands

The country has a territorial extension of 1,098,581 square kilometres, with three very different geographical and climatic zones:

· The Andean highlands, situated in the western region of the country, covers 28% of national territory. It consists of a mountainous zone formed by the Western Cordillera and the Eastern or Royal Cordillera together with a flat highland area. The average altitude reaches 3,750 metres above sea level. It has a relatively dry and cold climate, with an average annual temperature of below 13ºC.
· The SubAndean zone corresponds to the south and southwest region of the Royal Cordillera. It covers 13% of national territory and is formed by valleys, or Yungas as they are called, of varying altitude, with a warm and moderate climate.
· The lowland zone extends to the foothills of the Western Cordillera covering the northern, northeast, southeast and southern zones of the country, occupying almost two thirds of national territory. This is the lowest region and has a hot climate.

From potatoes to tobacco

As the climatic characteristics of the three regions are very different, agricultural production is diverse:

· In the highlands, potatoes, quinua, oats, broad beans and barley are the main crops.

· In the valleys, the main crop is maize, with wheat, oats and other cereals as well as a variety of fruit and vegetables. Coca is an important crop in the subAndean lowlands, where coffee, citrus and semitropical fruits are also grown.

· In the lowlands typical crops are manioc, maize, peanuts, cotton, soya, safflower, sugar cane and tobacco.

Cultural diversity

Geographical diversity is also present in the form of cultural diversity. Traditionally, an important indigenous aymara and quechua population has occupied the highland and valley areas. The lowland area also has indigenous population groups, such as the guarani, although to a lesser extent.

Therefore a variety of peoples with their own languages and cultures converge in Bolivia. According to the 2001 Census, the total national population corresponds to 8,274,325 inhabitants. Over half of indigenous origin. While the greater part of this population is made up of the aymara, quechua and guarani peoples, there are over 32 culturally differentiated groups or peoples.

Evidently, such cultural diversity implies great linguistic richness. According to the 1992 Census, 58 per cent of the population speaks Spanish as its mother tongue, 23 per cent speak quechua, and 26 per cent aymara. The remaining 3 per cent speak a different mother tongue, either native or foreign. Aside from the languages spoken in the Andean are, there are 33 different native mother tongues (guarani, chiquitano, mojeño, etc).

While the Bolivian National Constitution has, since 1996, recognized the multiethnic and pluricultural character of the country, historically a general attitude of exclusion and discrimination of indigenous communities has prevailed.

 

 

 
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