Nicaraguan coffee farmers seek creative solutions to drought, climate change

by ZACH DYER, November 26, 2014

This story was originally published in The Tico Times. It is reproduced here by kind permission of The Tico Times. http://www.ticotimes.net/2014/11/26/nicaraguan-coffee-farmers-seek-creative-solutions-to-drought-climate-change

Key words: Coffee cultivation; coffee rust (roya); climate change; waste water management; river pollution

MATAGALPA, Nicaragua – Coffee drinkers in the United States reach for a warm cup of joe when the crisp autumn wind blows in November, but meanwhile, farmers in Nicaragua are looking at their coffee trees with trepidation.

The coffee harvest in Central America started in November but many farmers here have little to do. Drought ravaged much of Central America — especially Nicaragua, Guatemala and Honduras — earlier this year, and farmers are feeling its impact now. Fields that should be full of coffee pickers are empty. Mills that should be guzzling red coffee cherries by the basketful sit with their tanks nearly empty. Many farmers say the harvest could be four weeks late, at least.

A view of the upgraded wet mill at La Hermandad Cooperative in San Ramón, Matagalpa, Nicaragua, on Wednesday, Nov. 19, 2014. (Zach Dyer/The Tico Times)

A late harvest doesn’t necessarily augur a small harvest, but it does mean farmers who rely on coffee as their main income will have to stretch their budgets for another month after several years of slim earnings. This year’s drought, attributed to the El Niño weather phenomenon, is the latest hurdle for Central American coffee farmers who have seen their crop yield dwindle because of the devastating leaf rust fungus known as roya.

Francisco Blandon, a coffee farmer in the steep green hills outside Yali, Jinotega, said that two years ago he noticed the rains were no longer reliable. “It was dry when it should’ve been wet, and wet when it was supposed to be dry,” he said. Blandon said that a lack of rainfall and lingering damage from roya cut his harvest by 70 percent, to 53 60-kilogram bags of green coffee during the 2013/2014 season, compared to 184 bags in a normal year.

Francisco Blandon balances the pH of coffee wastewater on his farm in Jinotega, Nicaragua, on Nov. 20, 2014. (Zach Dyer/The Tico Times)

Blandon isn’t alone in his assessment. Drought and increasingly unpredictable rain cycles are among the symptoms of climate change that scientists say are making coffee a risky investment for farmers on the isthmus. Amid these conditions, farmers and other stakeholders in the coffee business have begun to look for ways to reduce the caffeinated crop’s environmental impact with a special eye on water management. A series of pilot projects in Nicaragua funded by the Dutch government and the sustainable certification label UTZ Certified have seen positive results in reducing water consumption, treating wastewater and providing farmers with a clean burning fuel as a by-product. Coffee is Nicaragua’s most valuable agricultural export and employs thousands in the poor Central American country. Changing the way farmers process their coffee for market could have a significant impact on the quality of life and environment in many coffee-growing communities here.

Effluent from El Carmen wet mill before treatment in Diriamba, Nicaragua. The wastewater has an average pH of 4, the same as acid rain. (Zach Dyer/The Tico Times)

Regardless if the coffee is organic or not, wastewater from coffee processing plants has been cited as a major source of river pollution in Latin America. The red fruit must be cleaned off the coffee in a process called de-pulping before the beans ferment, dry and are milled for export. Traditional de-pulping wet mills use large amounts of freshwater to transport the fruit though various stages of the milling and fermentation process. After de-pulping, the water is a brown frothy sludge. Coffee wastewater has a typical pH of 4 — the same as acid rain— compared to a neutral pH of 7 for pure water, as defined by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Farmers and processing plants would traditionally dump their coffee wastewater straight into streams without any treatment. The organic matter in the effluent encourages bacterial growth that pulls oxygen out of streams and lakes, suffocating fish and other marine life. A report from the Guatemalan Instituto Centroamericano de Investigación y Tecnología Industrial estimated that the processing of 547,000 tons of coffee during a six-month period in 1988 created the water pollution equivalent of the raw sewage from a city of four million people.

Blandon said that people downstream of his coffee farm would complain of stomach pains and irritated skin after drinking or bathing with water from the stream during the harvest.

Rigoberto Mendoza, another farmer outside Yali, has been farming coffee for 30 years. “Before, I didn’t understand the impact I was having on other people. I was harming them and others were harming me,” Duartes said, wearing a cowboy hat as he looked downhill from his farm.

Both Blandon and Mendoza were selected among the first 19 UTZ pilot programmes here that started rolling out in Nicaragua in 2010. Water savings are achieved by recycling water up to three times through the mill before the discharge is sent to a septic tank where the large solids are filtered out and the remaining fluid passes on to a bio-digester. There, the effluent mixes with manure and bacteria breaks down the organic matter from the coffee, producing methane gas that is captured and stored for use later. Filters in the digester isolate the physical waste from the water, which can be sent to a retention pond after lyme and other bases are added to it to reduce its acidity. At this point, the wastewater’s pH and organic concentration levels are safe enough to release back into the environment.

Before and after: Coffee wastewater prior to treatment, left, and once it’s safe to release back into the environment, right, at El Carmen laboratory in Diriamba, Nicaragua. (Zach Dyer/The Tico Times)

Small farmers benefit from these programmes, but they also have application for large commercial wet mills. In the Pacific town of Diriamba, CISA Exportadora — the largest exporter of coffee in Nicaragua, accounting for 30 percent of the country’s annual crop — has reduced its water consumption by 70 percent at the El Carmen wet mill, according to Tito Sequiera, vice general manager in Nicaragua for Mercon, the mill’s owner. CISA has the largest wet mill in Nicaragua and processes some 2,300 metric tons of green coffee, consuming up to 3,000 litres of water daily, depending on the volume of coffee processed. Before, CISA used 1,500 litres of water to process 256 kg of coffee fruit; now, the wet mill has reduced its water usage to 400 litres to process the same amount of coffee. Besides using less water, El Carmen’s water management system reduced contamination in the effluent by 80 percent.

“I’m from this area. For me, this project lifted a weight off my conscience because before I knew we were polluting,” said Gilberto Monterrey, chief of operations for the CISA wet mill. Monterrey said that CISA used to receive complaints from the community about the effluent’s vinegar-like smell. “You’d smell it in the homes and when it rained, the [retention] ponds would overflow. With this project, all that stopped,” he said.

 

(I am also grateful to Zach Dyer for his permission to use his article in The Violence of Development website, as well as to The Tico Times. Amongst all the negative news of violence from the region of Central America, it is pleasing to be able to report on developments that have a beneficial effect on both people and the environment.)

 

http://www.ticotimes.net/2014/11/26/nicaraguan-coffee-farmers-seek-creative-solutions-to-drought-climate-change

Agrotoxics and Monocultivation: their impact on the health of the Salvadoran population

By UNES, the Salvadoran Ecological Unit

www.unes.org.sv/  (Reproduced here by kind permission of UNES)

7th September 2017

The monocultivation of sugar cane has been developed in El Salvador over several centuries. It is presumed that it was introduced to the territory at the time of colonisation, but it was in the 1960s that production increased by 43% and between 2001 and 2011 that it increased by yet another 30%.[1] According to data from the Salvadoran Ecological Unit (UNES), national cultivation of sugar cane is currently around 108,427 manzanas[2] (2014-2015 sugar harvest) and in the coastal zone cultivation reaches 52,000 manzanas.[3]

El Salvador is one of the countries which has increased its use of pesticides and intensified its use of fertilisers; which, according to CEPAL (United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean), is far above the Latin American average and makes it one of the four nations of the region in which it occurs in consumption. However, this does not translate into a significant increase in productivity of crops like basic grains. According to Voices on the Border, the intensive use of agrotoxics is seen largely in the cultivation of sugar cane.

This problem has been reviewed by the UN Special Envoy for the Human Right to Water and Sanitation who has shown his concern over the quality of waters in El Salvador. The problem largely stems from the uncontrolled use of agrochemicals in farming activities. In his final mission report of 11th-18th May 2016, he noted precisely:

“There is an important point of concern regarding the potential dangers which can affect water quality for human consumption. Information was gathered from various sources during the visit about the uncontrolled use of agrochemicals in agriculture, chemicals which are usually hardly removed from the water treatment plants. This even includes the use of some that are prohibited in other countries.”[4]

Also in 2016, the Human Rights Defence Attorney (PDDH), David Ernesto Morales, produced a report on the use of agrotoxics and their impact on human rights.[5] This report provided follow-up to the open record since 2000 on the impacts on health in the Bajo Lempa region, on the database of denunciations of serious health effects, especially cases of chronic kidney disease associated with contact with herbicides and pesticides used in the cultivation of cotton in previous decades.[6]

The extensive and abusive use of agrotoxics is having an impact on the health of the Salvadoran population, according to the network of hospitals which reported in its ‘Report of Works 2011-2012’ for MINSAL [Ministry of Health] that terminal chronic kidney disease is the third cause of death in adults of both sexes, being the first cause for men and the fifth for women.

To date there are no actions being taken to prohibit the use of agrotoxics, despite the fact that many of them are prohibited in other countries and yet are sold without restriction here.

Concerned about the lack of action on the part of the state, UNES is referring to the Inter-American Court for Human Rights to demand that:

  1. The Commission requests from the Salvadoran government reports on the public policies and regulations relating to the environment and health and management of agrotoxics, the means of sustainable life[7], which guarantee the right to a clean environment and to health and which present specific indicators on each of these rights and on the inhabitants of the zones where monocultivation is practised. That the Commission carries out analyses and produces recommendations to the state of El Salvador relating to its compliance with its duty to protect life.
  2. The Commission distributes a report on the compliance by the Salvadoran state with the Inter-American standards relating to food sovereignty, the right to water, health and a clean environment.
  3. Upon the distribution of its report, the Commission requests of the state of El Salvador that it presents periodic reports with the aim of evaluating the advances in the achievement of the recommendations.
  4. Upon the distribution of its report, the Commission requests of the state of El Salvador that it promotes an end to the expansion of the agroindustry of monocultivation which assaults human rights and the means of life of indigenous peoples through clear public agrarian, economic and fiscal policies.
  5. Upon the distribution of its report, the Commission requests of the state of El Salvador that it investigates the denunciations made by community leaders against the assassinations, threats, industrial contamination, environmental contamination, deforestation, land grabs, contamination and diversions of rivers, and labour conflicts resulting from agroindustrial activities.
  6. Finally, we ask the Commission, through its Special Envoy on Economic, Social, Cultural and Environmental Rights, to visit the country to verify the situation so described and to generate a report relating to agrotoxics and monocultivation and their impacts on human rights.

Footnotes

[1]  Voices on the Border, ‘Large scale production of sugar cane’, 2016, p.2.

[2]  1 manzana is equivalent to 1.75 acres.

[3] UNES, own calculations based on information from Data Collection from Sugar Cane Harvests in El Salvador, 2012-13 and 2014-15.

[4] United Nations, A/HRC/33/49/Ad. Report of the Special Envoy for the Right to Water and Sanitation on mission to El Salvador, paragraph 61, https://documents-dds-ny.un.org/doc/UNDOC/GEN/G16/170/69/PDF/G1617089.pdf?OpenElement

[5] Attorney for the Defence of Human Rights, Report of the Attorney General’s Office for the Defence of Human Rights on the Use of Agrotoxics in El Salvador and their Impact on Human Rights. PDDH, San Salvador, 21 July 2016, 82 pp.

[6]  Ramón García Trabanino, Terminal Kidney Disease in the Rosales National Hospital. Probable association based on contact with herbicides and pesticides (June 2000), cited in Attorney for the Defence of Human Rights (2016), op.cit, p.4.

[7]  According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation, “a means of life is sustainable when it can withstand and recover from ruptures and sharp shocks and maintain its capabilities and its activities in the present as well as in the future without undermining its natural resource base. Thus, the means of life are seen to be affected by external factors which allow it to increase its resilience and consequently decrease its vulnerability.” 4 May 2017 in http://www.fao.org/in-action/herramienta-administracion-tierras/glosario/m/es/

 

Caso Agrotoxicos y Monocultivo, Su Impacto en la Salud de la Poblacion Salvdorena

7 de septiembre del 2017 | Reproducido aquí con la autorización de UNES

Durante varios siglos, en El Salvador se ha desarrollado el monocultivo de la caña de azúcar. (Se presume que ésta fue introducida en algún momento de la colonización al territorio, pero es en los años 60 cuando aumenta su producción en un 43% y, es entre 2001 y 2011 que aumenta en un 30% más.1 De acuerdo con datos de la Unidad Ecológica Salvadoreña (UNES), el cultivo nacional de caña de azúcar actualmente ronda las 108,427 manzanas molidas (zafra 2014-2015) y en la zona Marino Costera el cultivo asciende a 52,000 Manzanas.2

Además, El Salvador es uno de los países que ha ido aumentando la utilización de plaguicidas, destacando por la intensidad en el uso de fertilizantes; lo que lo ubica, de acuerdo a la CEPAL, muy por encima del promedio latinoamericano y entre las cuatro naciones de la región que mostraron mayor recurrencia en su consumo. Sin embargo, ello no se traduce en un aporte significativo en el aumento de la productividad de cultivos como los granos básicos. De acuerdo a Voices on the border, el uso intensivo, de agrotóxicos se da en el cultivo de la caña de azúcar.

Este problema ha sido retomado por el Relator Especial del Derecho Humano al Agua y Saneamiento de la ONU, quien ha señaló su preocupación por la calidad de las aguas en El Salvador. Ello, principalmente, derivado del uso no controlado de agroquímicos en actividades agrícolas. En su informe final de misión realizada del 11 al 18 de mayo de 2016, con mucha precisión al respecto acotó:

“Hay un conjunto importante de preocupaciones en cuanto a potenciales peligros que pueden afectar la calidad del agua para consumo humano. Informaciones fueron transmitidas por diversas personas durante la visita sobre la utilización no controlada de agroquímicos en las actividades agrícolas, incluso algunos prohibidos en otros países, que usualmente son pobremente removidos en las plantas de tratamiento del agua”.3

Ese mismo año (2016) el Procurador para la Defensa de los Derechos Humanos (PDDH), David Ernesto Morales, emitió un informe sobre el uso de agrotóxicos y el impacto en los derechos humanos.4 Este informe da seguimiento a expedientes abiertos desde el año 2000 por los impactos en la salud en el Bajo Lempa, sobre la base de denuncias de graves afectaciones a la salud; principalmente casos de enfermedad renal crónica asociada con el contacto con herbicidas y plaguicidas utilizados en el cultivo de algodón décadas atrás.5

El uso extensivo y abusivo de agrotóxicos está impactando en la salud de la población Salvadoreña, según la red de hospitales, la cual reportó en su Informe de Labores 2011-2012 del MINSAL que la insuficiencia renal crónica terminal constituyó la tercera causa de muerte en personas adultas de ambos sexos, siendo la primera causa en hombres y la quinta en mujeres, con 12.6 % de letalidad hospitalaria.

Que a la fecha no se vislumbran acciones encaminadas a prohibir el uso de agrotóxicos, a pesar de que muchos de los que se utilizan están prohibidos en otros países, acá se veden sin ninguna restricción.
La UNES, preocupada por la anomia del Estado, recurre a la Corte Interamericana de Derechos Humanos para solicitar:
PETICIONES

1. Que la Comisión solicite informes al gobierno de El Salvador, sobre sus políticas públicas y regulaciones en materia ambiental, de salud, manejo de agrotóxicos, medios de vida sostenibles,6 que garanticen, el derecho a un medio ambiente sano y a la salud, y que presenten indicadores específicos sobre cada uno de estos derechos y sobre los habitantes de las zonas en donde se desarrollan monocultivos. Que la Comisión realice análisis y emita recomendaciones al Estado de El Salvador para que cumplan con su deber de protección de la vida.

2. Que la Comisión emita un informe sobre el cumplimiento de los estándares Inter americanos por parte de los Estado Salvador en materia de soberanía alimentaria, derecho al agua, a la salud y a un ambiente sano.

3. Que la Comisión, al emitir su informe, solicite al Estado de El Salvador presentar informes periódicos a fin de evaluar el avance en las recomendaciones.

4. Que la Comisión, al emitir su informe, solicite a los Estado de El Salvador promuevan el cese a la expansión de la agroindustria de los monocultivos que atenta contra derechos humanos y la forma de vida de pueblos indígenas, mediante políticas públicas claras agrarias, económicas y fiscales.

5. Que la Comisión, al emitir su informe, solicite al Estado de El Salvador investigar las denuncias presentadas por líderes y lideresas comunitarias por asesinatos, amenazas, contaminación industrial, contaminación del medio ambiente, deforestación, despojo de tierras, contaminación y desvíos de ríos, conflictos laborales en el marco de las actividades de la agroindustriales.

6. Finalmente, solicitamos a la Comisión, a través de la Relatoría Especial sobre Derechos Económicos, Sociales, Culturales y Ambientales, así como los relatores de país, visite el Estado aquí mencionados para constatar la situación descrita y genere un informe en materia de agrotóxicos, monocultivos y sus impactos en los derechos humanos.


1 VOICES on the border, Producción a Gran Escala de Caña de Azúcar, 2016 pág.2
2 UNES, Cálculos propios con base a la información del Informe de Recopilación de Información de la Caña de Azúcar en El Salvador, Zafra 2012 – 2013 y 2014 – 2015
3 Naciones Unidas, A/HRC/33/49/Ad. Informe del Relator Especial del Derecho al Agua y el Saneamiento acerca de su misión a El Salvador. Párrafo 61. https://documents-dds-ny.un.org/doc/UNDOC/GEN/G16/170/69/PDF/G1617069.pdf?OpenElement
4 Procurador para la Defensa de los Derechos Humanos. Informe de la Procuraduría para la Defensa de los Derechos Humanos sobre el uso de agrotóxicos en El Salvador y el impacto en los derechos humanos. PDDH, San Salvador, 21 de julio de 2016, 82 pp.
5 García Trabanino, Ramón. Enfermedad Renal Terminal en el Hospital Nacional Rosales. Probable asociación del antecedente de contacto con herbicidas y plaguicidas (Junio 2000), citado en Procurador para la Defensa de los Derechos Humanos (2016), Op. Cit., p.4

6 Según la FAO, “un medio de vida es sostenible cuando puede afrontar y recuperarse de rupturas y shocks bruscos y mantener sus capacidades y activos tanto en el presente como en el futuro sin socavar las bases de sus recursos naturales. Así, los medios de vida se ven afectados por los efectos externos que permite aumentar su resiliencia y disminuyen por consiguiente su vulnerabilidad.” Visto el 4 de mayo de 2017 en http://www.fao.org/in-action/herramienta-administracion-tierras/glosario/m/es/

New Costa Rican Law allows workers to be reinstated quickly

The following article features Didier Leitón Valverde, from the Costa Rican SITRAP union. An interview with Didier is featured in the Costa Rican interviews section of this website. The article is taken from Banana Trade News Bulletin No. 57 (November 2017) and is reproduced here by kind permission of Banana Link.

After years of work and much political and legislative wrangling the Labour Procedures Reform (RPL in Spanish) finally came into force in Costa Rica in July 2017. The independent trade unions that have struggled for years to defend workers they consider to have been sacked unfairly in the banana and pineapple industries, having to put up with tribunal procedures that could take up to 5 or 6 years, are seeing the first tangible results from the new legislation.

The law now means, amongst other advances, that hearings and decisions on reinstatement after unfair sacking can be expedited in just a few weeks from sacking to reinstatement. Since the RPL came into force two women and eight men working at different pineapple and banana plantations have all regained the jobs from which they were unfairly dismissed, thanks to their affiliation to the SITRAP trade union.

The workers took their cases to the Labour Ombudsman which is the new body established to present cases in the Labour Court. They used the special rapid procedure for cases of alleged discrimination that is one of the measures included in the Reform. In all ten cases in the last few weeks, the pineapple and banana workers, sacked because they were members of the union, got their jobs back in Grupo Acon, Del Monte and Dole plantations and packhouses.

Didier Leitón Valverde

The reinstatements were ordered by judges within less than one week of the cases being presented. In cases where the employer is reluctant to accept the court order, Labour Ministry staff are empowered to accompany the worker back to their former job.

The trade union’s General Secretary, Didier Leitón Valverde, comments that:

this shows us that the RPL is benefiting working people and shows that some people were wrong to say that it would be of no value to workers. It also demonstrates that there are good professionals in the Ombudsman’s office and Labour Courts who are interpreting the legislation properly. People who did not join the union before out of fear that the employer could sack them indiscriminately are now losing their fear.
Banana Link website: http://www.bananalink.org.uk/

SITRAP website: http://www.sitrap.net/quienesSomos.html

ANEXCO harasses and fires union members

The following is a report reproduced here by kind permission of Banana Link.
ANEXCO harasses and fires union members – update on our Urgent Action
November 2015

baThank you for supporting our recent urgent action appeal in support of union members at Costa Rican pineapple producer ANEXCO. More than 23​,000 emails have been sent to the company, calling on them to end harrassment of union members and to engage in constructive dialogue with the union SINTRAPEM (Sindicato Nacional de Trabajadores/as del Sector Privado Empresarial). This massive effort, plus several articles in the trade press and an intervention by the UK’s Ethical Trade Initiative combined to convince Fyffes of the need to try and resolve the issues we raised.

Initially, three union members were sacked shortly after the urgent action appeal was launched. However, the pressure against union members inside the plantation ​i​s reported to have diminished since then and a meeting at the Costa Rican Labour Ministry on 20th October generated an agreement to explore the potential for the reinstatement of these three most sacked workers.

Subsequently, a meeting in San José on 30th October – involving SINTRAPEM, COSIBA (the Costa Rican banana and pineapple union coordinating body), COLSIBA (the Latin American banana and agro industrial union coordinating body), Banana Link, ANEXCO and Fyffes – did not achieve the real breakthrough that was needed to put an end to the anti-union activities. But ANEXCO and Fyffes did, however, agree to another meeting to review the list of the union’s complaints, provisionally scheduled for 6th November.

Although there is not yet a satisfactory conclusion to our urgent action appeal, the progress made so far would not have been possible without your support. We will keep you updated.​

www.bananalink.org.uk
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The growth of pineapples in Costa Rica

* In 2009, it was estimated that 50,000 hectares of land were sown with pineapples and that 26,000 jobs were directly involved in pineapple production. Source: Ana Cristina Camacho Sandoval (5 July 2009) ‘Insensatez piñera’, El Financiero, No.724, p.4, citing data source as the National Chamber of Pineapple Producers and Exporters.

* In 2009, it was estimated that 50,000 hectares of land were sown with pineapples and that 26,000 jobs were directly involved in pineapple production.
Source:
Ana Cristina Camacho Sandoval (5 July 2009) ‘Insensatez piñera’, El Financiero, No.724, p.4, citing data source as the National Chamber of Pineapple Producers and Exporters.

Exploring alternatives to hazardous pesticides in Costa Rica

Dr Stephanie Williamson

Dr Stephanie Williamson reports on project work by the Regional Institute for Research on Toxic Substances (IRET) at the National University (UNA).

I am grateful to Stephanie for permission to include this article in The Violence of Development website. Clearly, this represents an attempt to stem the environmental violence of development.

Despite its ‘green paradise’ image, Costa Rica has one of the highest intensities of pesticide use in the world. Pesticide use is particularly high on export crops of banana, pineapple, melon and coffee. Much of this production is on large farms but medium and small-scale farmers are also involved. Pesticide use is often high on vegetables grown for local consumption too.

To raise national awareness of the level of use of hazardous pesticides in Costa Rica, agronomist Fernando Ramírez and his team at IRET surveyed pineapple and coffee farmers to find out which pesticides they are using. The team also analysed government data on pesticide imports.  Their findings revealed that in 2015 over 10,000 tons of highly hazardous pesticides (HHPs) were imported. Coffee farmers reported using 18 different HHPs, while pineapple farmers reported 8 HHPs in common use.

The team has shared these findings with government decision makers, farmer associations, university students and agricultural extension staff, along with training on understanding how pesticides can harm people and the environment. An important message for farmers was that not only the ‘red’ labelled pesticides under Costa Rica’s hazard colour coding qualify as HHPs, due to their acute toxicity to humans, but others are problematic too. These include known and probable carcinogens, pesticides causing foetal abnormalities or harming the reproductive system, plus numerous pesticides highly toxic to bees, aquatic life and those that persist for months or more in soil or water.

Part of the reason for continued reliance on harmful pesticides is that farmers and policymakers often feel there is no option but to use pesticides or they fear that alternatives will be less effective. IRET therefore carried out pilot field trials to explore safer alternatives. In pineapple, they looked at alternative methods to the HHP ethoprophos for controlling nematodes, microscopic worms which attack the roots of young pineapple plants. Ethoprophos is a priority for phase-out as it is acutely toxic to humans, putting farm workers at risk, and it is also extremely harmful to soil life. The team trialled two different biological pesticides, based on fungi which feed on nematodes, plus ‘wood vinegar’, distilled from burning woody material, and compared these with the standard ethoprophos treatment. Results indicate all three alternatives can be as effective as ethoprophos. Even better is that the alternatives are much cheaper than ethoprophos and can be applied without special equipment or extensive training. An interesting result was that pineapple plants were significantly lower in weight in plots treated with ethoprophos, suggesting harmful side-effects on soil organisms needed for growing a healthy crop.

Sampling pineapple plants in the trials on alternatives. (Photo credit: IRET)

The project held a regional workshop on experiences in growing coffee without the use of HHPs, with speakers from Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua. Presenters highlighted the importance of improving soil health (physical structure, chemical composition and microflora/fauna) to nurture coffee bushes more able to resist pest attack and diseases. Farmers from Cooperative Nahuala in Guatemala are reviving soil life by making solid fertilisers on-farm (worm compost, composted chicken manure). The co-op has a small ‘biofactory’ to make their own organic biofungicides, bioinsecticides and biofertilizers. They report good results in coffee rust control but explain that organic products take more time to work than synthetic fungicides so farmers need to understand that using organic methods is not a quick fix.

The Ecological Coffee Cooperative La Labor (COCAFELOL) in Honduras is helping its members recover from major outbreaks of coffee rust disease but without relying on fungicides. It trains farmers on how to improve biological activity of the soil and to enhance nutrition of coffee bushes, making groves more resilient to pest and disease attack, especially under changing climatic conditions. COCAFELOL have gained good experiences using home-made mineral preparations and biofermented products, plus recycling pulp from coffee processing as fertiliser.

otor-strimming at Monsol farm. (Photo credit: Juan R. Montero Gamboa)

In Costa Rica, medium-sized farm Monsol described their success in eliminating herbicide use, controlling weeds instead with strimmers and manual slashing. Along with pruning of shade trees, this generates around 50 tons of green material cuttings per hectare each year, which the farm owners view as a valuable resource. They use some of this material to mulch the soil around coffee bushes and apply home-made biofermented microbial products to the remainder to speed up its breakdown into compost. Non-competitive plants are allowed to grow between coffee rows to protect the soil from erosion. By recycling horse manure, waste from livestock feeding stalls and making their own worm compost, Monsol farm has hugely reduced its use of synthetic fertiliser, while rebuilding soil fertility in an area where many conventional farms suffer from degraded soils.

These positive experiences show that reducing reliance on agrochemical inputs is feasible, technically and economically, for large and small farms.


For more information about the project Phasing out Highly Hazardous Pesticides in Costa Rica, visit the web pages hosted by PAN UK at http://www.pan-uk.org/phasing-out-hhps-costa-rica/

For more information about the work of IRET, go to: http://www.iret.una.ac.cr/

The Bitter Price of Tropical Fruits – new video

Banana Link gave notification of a new video about pineapple production in Costa Rica. I recommend that readers of this website give the video a viewing.  From Banana Link email newsletter, 14th May 2018.

Key words: pineapple production; plantation labour conditions; chemical pesticide use; supermarket power.

 The Bitter Price of Tropical Fruits

Pineapple production is wreaking havoc on human health, livelihoods and the environment in Costa Rica. This documentary (in English) from Deutsche Welle, Germany’s international broadcaster, takes a look at how low prices in European supermarkets encourage cheap labour and extensive use of toxic pesticides.

 

Definitions of food security and food sovereignty

The concept of ‘Food Security’ reigns supreme as the practical means of achieving access to food (Madeley, 2000)[i]. The term is largely a United Nations construct, originating from the institution’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) formed in 1945.

The organisation defines food security as when “all people, at all times, have physical and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food to meet their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life”.[ii]

Despite the problems associated with food aid (see text), the FAO decided food security would be best achieved with unilateral cooperation; hence the 1996 Rome Declaration on World Food Security where participating states reaffirmed “the right of everyone to have access to safe and nutritious food, consistent with the right to adequate food and the fundamental right of everyone to be free from hunger”.[iii]

This spawned the Millennium Development Goal Target 3, to ‘halve, between 1990 and 2015, the proportion of people who suffer from hunger’.

More recently, the concept of ‘Food Sovereignty’ has gained prominence. The term, which refers to the right to produce food on one’s own territory, was coined by the NGO La Vía Campesina in 2002. This includes the right of peoples to sustain themselves and define their own agricultural, labour, fishing, food and land policies which are ecologically, socially, economically and culturally appropriate to their circumstances.[iv]

It defines seven principles of food sovereignty which are: the right to food, agrarian reform, protecting natural resources, reorganising food trade, ending the globalisation of hunger, social peace, and democratic control. As Jefferson Boyer states, the notion of “food sovereignty was a direct attack on official food security, especially its eschewal of local production.”[v]


[i] John Madeley (2000) Hungry for Trade, London: Zed Books.
[ii] FAO (2005) Food and Agriculture Organisation [on-line] www.fao.org (accessed 25th June 2009).
[iii] Rome Declaration, [Ref required ???]
[iv] La Vía Campesina, www.viacampesina.org accessed 29 June 2009.
[v] Jefferson Boyer (April 2010) ‘Food security, food sovereignty, and local challenges for transnational agrarian movements: the Honduras case’, the Journal of Peasant Studies, vol. 37, no. 2, 319-351.