Bolivia is the poorest country in South America, and the third poorest in Latin America, after Haiti and Guatemala. Bolivia has a population of 11 million; 71% of the population is Native American; and the large Native American population and extreme poverty rates are no coincidence. Bolivia's Aymara and Quechua Indians worked for hundreds of years as indentured laborers on the large plantations of the Spaniards and their descendents. After the Revolution of 1952, the Aymara and Quechua were given title to the land they worked. But most of the land was eroded, and they needed, and still need, to reclaim their eroded farmland and increase their productivity to make a good living from their farming.
Bolivia has three distinct geographic regions: the Altiplano; the Inter-Andean Valleys; and the Tropical Plains. Two parallel mountain chains run up the west coast of South America, and in Bolivia, they are approximately 100 to 150 miles apart. They are filled in or bridged, nearly to their summits, by a high plain called the Altiplano. The Eastern slopes of the Altiplano descend gradually to the Amazon Basin, and they contain large semi-tropical valleys called the Inter-Andean Valleys. Bolivia's portion of the Amazon Basin is called the Tropical Plains.
In the Tropical Plains, large commercial farmers produce soybeans and wheat. The majority of the rural population lives on the Altiplano and in the Valleys, and most of them are Aymara and Quechua small farmers who are trying to make the transition from subsistence to commercial farming. Most of the Aymara and Quechua farmers are classified as poor, and many are classified as extremely poor.
Bolivia is also home to the most dramatic decentralization and citizen participation program in the developing world. In 1994, the Bolivia government divided the country into 211 counties and began giving them 20% of national tax revenue on a per capita basis. The government also required that citizens select and supervise the public works and services provided by their local governments. Since then, citizens have acted as the "legislature" for their local governments, choosing the projects for their annual budget. Debt relief funds and oil and gas royalties have also been shared with local governments, and they have become the major governmental force in rural economic development.