Costa Rica is internationally renowned as a “green country” for several reasons, including its extensive forest cover and “clean energy” generation. However, some of its agricultural and energy sector policies and laws, many of which are based on various Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) and over 15 bilateral agreements, contradict the environment and national sovereignty principles.
Comunidades Ecologistas La Ceiba – Friends of the Earth Costa Rica (COECOCeiba) has produced an assessment* documenting how successive administrations have prioritised transnational corporate interests over those of the Costa Rican people, promoting an agro-exporter model where profit prevails over life. Mariana Porras from COECOCeiba, explained to Real World Radio, “We import many of the food items that are part of the market basket: beans, rice and corn. These crops, which have always been part of the Costa Rican food system, are no longer produced in the country.”
According to the sixth National Agricultural Census conducted in 2014 in Costa Rica, 61% of basic grains consumed in the country come from foreign markets: 34% of rice, 69% of corn and 73% of beans are imported. This implies a loss of food sovereignty. Dependence on food imports can have serious consequences in a context of war, pandemics such as covid and climate crisis.
These neoliberal economic policies also have a direct consequences on farmers, peasants and indigenous peoples, such as low prices, debt and a shrinking agricultural sector.
One of the features of agro-exporting models is the promotion of monoculture plantations. Costa Rica prioritises pineapple, banana and coffee monoculture plantations for export. As COECOCeiba´s report highlights, “monoculture plantations are based on the intensive use of pesticides, land grabbing, loss of food sovereignty, they pollute lands and ecosystems and have devastating consequences on peoples´ health.”
Costa Rica is the world’s largest consumer of pesticides.“Costa Rica is one of the countries with most pesticide active ingredients used per hectare at global level,” highlighted Mariana. COECOCeiba´s report includes a study conducted by Costa Rica’s State Phytosanitary Service that reveals that one in four fresh vegetables consumed in the country contain pesticides above permitted levels.
In addition to the health and environmental risks of pesticides, the monoculture plantations result in territorial disputes, land grabbing, labour insecurity and the violation of workers’ rights.
Costa Rica is the main exporter of fresh pineapple globally. Exported products require certification, a process that is far from reliable. COECOCeiba´s report highlights the case – covered by the Guardian– of a 2020 Rainforest Alliance certification in which 800 undocumented workers were hidden during an audit of a pineapple monoculture plantation.
In Costa Rica hydropower is promoted as clean energy because no fossil fuels are burnt in its production, despite these projects impacting and damaging the environment and nearby communities. They directly affect rivers and the biodiversity of the areas where they are installed. According to COECOCeiba´s report, “99.4% of the national territory has electricity coverage.” Therefore, says Mariana, “Costa Rica has its energy needs covered, we don´t need more hydroelectric power plants.” But under the guise of “clean energy” hydroelectric power growth continues in order to export energy and sustain the growing industry.
Mariana continues, “biofuels are considered an alternative, not only to generate hydropower, but also for vehicles, one of the main sources of carbon dioxide emissions.” Biofuels, referred to as agrofuels by Friends of the Earth Latin America and the Caribbean groups (ATALC) and Friends of the Earth International, require monoculture plantations, since a high number of crops are needed to produce them (for instance, pineapple to produce ethanol). “As environmentalists, we believe there are other solutions,” stressed Mariana.
Marianna told Real World Radio that Cost Rica is currently discussing green hydrogen. “There is still a lot unknown about green hydrogen. What we do know is that in order to produce it, a lot of electricity is needed, and if a lot of electricity is needed then we are obviously talking about creating new hydroelectric power plants. The type of technologies and programmes they want to implement have always failed to consult national socio environmental organisations, these are always policies imposed from the top, by the State.”
The Costa Rican model not only exacerbates land grabbing and land concentration, imposes agribusiness, weakens public institutions, favours transnational companies and large corporations, it is also completely unequal towards women. In Costa Rica, only 8% of agricultural lands are held by women, who also suffer greater labour insecurity and juggle multiple jobs, including domestic and care work.
The gender perspective does not seem to permeate Costa Rican society. According to Mariana, one possible reason for this is that current president Rodrigo Chaves, who took office in May this year, was driven out of his previous role at the World Bank following a sexual harassment scandal.
The current government is new so there is a lot of uncertainty about future public policies. Meanwhile, COECOCeiba is working on action and advocacy strategies to face the growing power and impunity of transnational corporations: strengthening community organisation, raising awareness around agroindustrial chains, strengthening peasant food and production networks and denouncing and demanding concrete actions by the State.
* In late 2021, Friends of the Earth Latin America and the Caribbean (ATALC) issued a report which brings together assessments from eight countries of the growing power of transnational corporations in agriculture and energy sectors. It also delves in to the policy and legislative changes that have allowed this concentration of power.
The report, Resisting the Growing Power of Transnational Corporations in Latin America and the Caribbean, gathers assessments from Mexico, Honduras, Colombia, Argentina, Brazil, Ecuador, El Salvador and Costa Rica, carried out by Friends of the Earth member groups in each country.
It compiles current and historical trends which have enabled the advance of transnational corporations in the region. Among them: antidemocratic contexts, militarisation and criminalisation of social movements, lobbying and political pressure by corporations, liberalisation of trade and investment, implications for women, land grabbing, and forced displacements.
Real World Radio will share an overview of the assessments of each country through interviews with activists from each of the Friends of the Earth groups involved.