Strategies for International Development (SID) works on the Altiplano, a semi-arid plain which ranges from 11,000 to 14,000 feet in altitude. It is a huge natural grassland, with few trees. It was first inhabited by alpaca and llama, and the earliest civilizations in South America settled on the Altiplano because of the meat, wool, and hides that the animals provided. The Altiplano was always the center for Bolivia's population and economic growth. However, the rapid growth of population from the mid-20th century onward put extreme pressure on the land, dramatically increased erosion, and reduced productivity. This, in turn, accelerated migration from the rural areas of the Altiplano to the cities, the Inter-Andean Valleys, and the Tropical Plains. Nonetheless, more than 1.25 million, approximately 46% of Bolivia's rural population, still farm on the Altiplano (CNPV, 2001).

In the Northern Altiplano there is more rainfall, the rural areas are more densely populated, and farm holdings are smaller (1 to 3 hectares per family). There is less rainfall in the Central and Southern Altiplano, the rural area is less densely populated, and farm holdings are larger (10 to 15 hectares per family).

Farmers in the Northern Altiplano raise cattle for milk and beef, llama for meat, and alpaca and llama for wool. The twin cities of La Paz and El Alto are located in the Northern Altiplano, and farmers in this region produce fresh milk, cheese, yogurt, and beef for these cities. Farmers in the Central and Southern Altiplano raise llama for both meat and jerky (charqui), as well as alpaca and llamas for wool.

Farmers throughout the Altiplano traditionally grazed their animals on natural pastures. In the past few decades, farmers in the Northern Altiplano have been growing rye as a fodder crop for their dairy cows and, more recently, alfalfa.

Farmers grow potatoes for their own consumption and for the market. They also freeze-dry their potatoes as a means of storing them, and there is a good market in the cities for the freeze-dried potatoes (chunyo and tunta) to add to soups and stews. Farmers in the Northern Altiplano also grow fava beans for home consumption and the market.

Altiplano farmers began growing quinoa 3,000 years ago, and they continued to grow it for home consumption during the colonial period. In the last three decades, quinoa has attracted an international following and demand because of its high protein content, and farmers in the Southern Altiplano began growing it for export in the 1980's and 90's. In the last few years, farmers in the Northern Altiplano have also begun growing quinoa for the international market.