Sunday, April 10, 2016

Striking a Balance Between Trees and Money: Costa Rican Rice Farming by Jesus Barreto

During our stay at Palo Verde Biological Station, we took a trip that highlighted the agricultural systems of the region and illustrated their possible environmental impacts. We visited the area surrounding the station, which primarily is composed of rice and sugar cane fields. We were lucky to have a guide that actually owned one of the rice plots, and who was able to give us a firsthand account of the growing practices in this region.
            A common theme I have witnessed in Costa Rica, in regards to environmental protection and conservation, is contradiction. While Costa Rica boasts about being able to run on almost 100 percent renewable energy and is seen as a pillar in conserving biodiversity, there are many practices and factors that make the environmental quality of this nation quite terrifying. One shocking statistic is that Costa Rica utilizes more pesticides per hectare than any other country in the world. These pesticides then can create a slew of health issues for humans. So, is Costa Rica really that green? The agricultural sector makes me think it’s more an (agent) orange color.
            My point is not to mar Costa Rica’s environmentalist reputation. Rather, I aim to highlight the complexities that come with being environmentally conscious and living sustainably, and to praise those occurrences one finds that seem to strike a balance between the environment and economics.
            Earlier in the semester, we visited two different farms that employ different forms of agriculture: an organic pineapple farm and a conventional banana plantation. On one side of the spectrum one finds a relatively eco-friendly approach to pineapple farming that encompasses the smallest imaginable percentage of overall pineapple production in Costa Rica. On the other hand, we find a banana giant that produces just as many bananas as the quantity of pesticides they utilize in the production of this crop. With rice, we found something completely different.

            Pajarín, our guide, was open about his pesticide use. He uses pesticides to grow his crop. Do we need to chase him out of the village, torches in hand? Not at all. Pajarín has found a point that could maybe be called the equilibrium in the food matrix of producing enough rice to feed the world, while also not poisoning the life out of it. Our guide solely applies pesticides with the lowest toxicity levels, while employing several other biological and mechanical controls to eliminate pests. Along with him are many other small-scale rice farmers who, together, produce about twenty percent of the national rice production – no small change. This system is able to produce large quantities of rice while still being economically viable. Three new rice brands are emerging from this area.  Who knows what could come next?
Sunset at Palo Verde National Park, Costa Rica

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