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close this bookBiological Monitoring: Signals from the Environment (GTZ, 1991)
close this folderConcept for a biological monitoring study:
close this folder2. Study area: the central Andean plateau
View the document2.1 Location and extension
View the document2.2 Natural features
View the document2.3 Population
View the document2.4 Agriculture
View the document2.5 Mining and industry
View the document2.6 Special aspects of environmental contaminants, their effects on living organisms and ecosystems, and their detection by means of bioindicators on the Andean plateau

2.3 Population

The central Andean plateau covers parts of 4 countries: Peru, Bolivia, Chile and Argentina, of which Chile has the smallest part and is therefore not dealt with in the present study. Only in a few cases is it possible to correlate the statistics on the national demographic and economic structures of these countries with this natural geographical region. Since the Altiplano is most important for Bolivia in terms of population and economic activities, data on this country will be taken here as the basis for depicting the Andean plateau. Unless otherwise indicated, all of the data presented here on social and economic structures have been obtained from the STATISTISCHES BUNDESAMT (1984).

The population densities of the Andean countries are low compared with European countries (Table 1). There are considerable regional variations, however. While the coastal regions of Peru and Argentina have the highest population densities, the population of Bolivia is concentrated on the Altiplano.

On the Altiplano, local population densities are principally determined by the possibilities for growing food crops. These in turn depend on the distribution of precipitation and the frequency and intensity of nocturnal frosts (PRESTON 1973; RUTHSATZ 1983; the latter source also contains maps).

Even today, Indians still account for most of the population of the Andean plateau. The reasons for this are in part historical; the advanced civilizations of the Incas were based there. Another reason is the remarkable physical adaptation of the Indians of the Altiplano to life at high altitudes (BAKER, LITTLE 1976).

Table 1: Population densities in Bolivia, Peru and Argentina



Population in the Andean region

in mill.

per km

per km²

% of overall population



5.4 (1982)





13.3 (1981)





10.2 (1982)



Table 2: Employment structures in Bolivia, Peru and Argentina

Employment by economic sectors (%)

Economic sector

Bolivia (1976)

Peru (1981)

Argentina (1977)

Agriculture, forestry, fishery




Manuracture and production(mining)


14 (1.2)

41 (0.8)

commerce, banks, etc.




Administration, public services








Compared to the contribution of agriculture to Bolivia's gross domestic product, a relatively high proportion of this country's working population is employed in this sector of the economy, namely nearly 50%. In Argentina, where the chief exports are agricultural products, productivity in this sector is significantly higher than in Bolivia. The relatively high percentage of the gainfully employed population working in Bolivia in the mining and quarrying sectors reflects their great importance for the export-dependent Bolivian economy (Table 2).

On the Bolivian Altiplano, landownership is characterized by a high degree of fragmentation, especially near settlements, and communal pasturelands in areas that are unsuited for arable use. Prior to the Bolivian revolution of 1952, part of the land was owned by public institutions, with private individuals rarely holding title to land. In most cases, "comunidades indigenas" performmed the dual function of owning the land and organizing land use. The effect of the agrarian reform on the settlement structure was decentralization (establishment of scattered settlements), and where ownership structures were concemed it led to transfer of land titles to the rural population itself, especially in the central departments of La Paz, Potosi and Cochabamba. One factor which still interferes with definitive clarification of the landownership situation on the Altiplano is the continued existence of traditional grazing rights in certain areas, a fact which must be taken into account when applying for land to be used as study plots, especially for longterm projects.