Agriculture remains an important sector of the total. In the 1990s, it represented about 16 percent of the Bolivian economy. Estimates showed a 3.5 percent decline in 1998 because of adverse weather conditions, but a 2.6 percent growth was predicted for 1999. Bad weather in 2000 and 2001, especially the worst rains in many decades, will have a serious impact. Agro-industrial products have the fastest growth of Bolivia's exports. The eastern Amazon plains are rich in nutrients that yield above average harvests, such as 2.5 to 3 metric tons per hectare for soybeans, compared to the usual 1.5 metric tons elsewhere. At the same time, the climate allows 2 harvests per year. Much of the soybean crop is processed into oil, flour, and animal feed. The annually increasing soybean and soy products output and their export represent a most promising element in the Bolivian economy.
Modern agro-industrial activity in the east stands in contrast to traditional small-scale and subsistence farming in the mountainous west, especially on the cold and windy high plateau ( altiplano ). There farming has been in crisis for decades. One positive element is the great increase of quinoa production. This traditional, nutritious grain is grown only at high altitudes and has been used for thousands of years by the local inhabitants. Production has grown an average 20 percent per annum in recent years, as quinoa has become popular as a health food in the United States, Canada, and Europe. In 1992, over 2 million kilograms were exported. There also has been a much greater demand, stimulated by exports of sweaters and textiles, for alpaca wool. (The alpaca is a type of llama indigenous to the altiplano .) In 1994, exports of alpaca wool came to US$4 million, and they have been rising. Bolivia, Peru, and Ecuador are the countries in which the potato originated and from which it was taken by the Spanish to Europe. With over 100 varieties, potatoes represent the most traditional crop of the subsistence farming in the western high mountains and the altiplano. Other agricultural products of Bolivia are coffee, cocoa, corn, sugarcane, rice, tropical fruits, temperate climate fruits from the transitional central valleys, especially Cochabamba, and a variety of timber. Legal coca must also be included. Coca leaves are used in coca tea (legal) which is used for medical purposes mainly against effects of the altitude and against diarrhea.