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Bolivia Food imports grew by 93% in five years

In the last five years (2010-2014), food imports grew by 93% and last year they amounted to 688 million dollars. Three experts attributed this increase to the increase in population, the country’s economic stability and the fragmentation of production.

Grocery shopping has grown because demand has exceeded the level of domestic production. This, in turn, continues to be precarious because production remains, in most cases, fragmented and there aren’t significant investments for its industrialization, which resulted in legal and illegal imports of food that the country does not produce, said economist Jimmy Osorio.

La Razón published a report on Monday about the illegal internment of at least 30 different food products via seven routes. Most of these products are introduced to the country by family clans.

According to the Bolivian Institute of foreign commerce (IBCE), based on data from the National Institute of statistics (INE), the country spent $357 million dollars in food imports in 2010 and $688 million in 2014, i.e. imports have increased by 93%.

According to the IBCE report, the main products imported to Bolivia in the past five years were: cereals, dairy products, vegetables, fruits, fats, oils, meat, cocoa and derivatives, fish, coffee, tea, mate and spices, among others. Argentina and United States are the main suppliers of food to the country.

In 2014, the country bought wheat grain (US $9 million), wheat ($72 million), white rice ($41 million) and doughs for bakery ($35 million). The import of apples, cookies and chocolates was also important.

The report indicates that 36% of purchases, i.e. 306,000 tons worth US $250 million, mainly of cereals, entered the country via the department of La Paz. Santa Cruz concentrates 28% of imports, i.e. 148,000 tons worth 190 million dollars of prepared foods and cereals.

According to Osorio, this increase is also related with the increase in population and the concentration of inhabitants in the urban centers of the country.

"Our food processing industry is just starting. There are many importers of cereals, canned goods, and other products that we can’t process in the country and that, thanks to the modernization, Peru, Chile and Argentina do process."

He said there had been an increase in importers because the costs of production overseas were cheaper, "so they can bring a large amount of food into the country with a small amount of dollars."

Thus, Osorio said Bolivia needed to generate a productive reform in the agricultural sector so that it was sustainable and they could have more efficient productive sectors.
The director of the center of studies for the Development of Labour and Agriculture (CEDLA), Javier Gómez, considered this phenomenon was due to the lack of incentives for domestic production, which is why people are starting to eat products that aren’t produced in the national territory, such as processed products and sea food.

"Bolivia is using its best lands in a few crops because of the growing demand. It is traditional to see a lot of Peruvian and Chilean products in the domestic markets", he said.

Unlike Bolivia, which has small plots for production, the neighbouring countries cultivate their crops in plots that end with the horizon. “There must be a massive and industrialized production to supply the domestic market with food”, suggested the director of CEDLA. 

"Bolivia is a net importer of food products", said economist Alberto Bonadona, who stressed that the increase of legal and illegal imports of food was due to the growing domestic demand of these products. The precarious domestic production fails to meet the demands, added the professional.

Bolivia’s agricultural production, Bonadona said, has grown in the last three years by an average of 3.98%, after it had decreased by 1.18% in 2010. This apparently contradictory situation only demonstrates that the demand for products has grown higher than the offer, he said.

Bonadona said the neighbouring countries, which produced food products at lower prices and higher quantities (as they had a greater yield per hectare), had coped the national markets with their products because of Bolivia’s increase in demand.


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