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Country tops farm chemical use list
Tomás Andréu
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Rampant agrochemical use contradicts country’s “green” goals.

Costa Rica may be fashioning itself the global leader in environmental policy, but its widespread use of toxic farming chemicals is tarnishing its image.

According to the World Resources Institute, a Washington-based environmental research group, Costa Rica uses more agrochemicals per hectare than any other country in the world, with 51.2 kilograms (112.6 pounds) per hectare. In Latin America, Colombia is a distant second with 16.7 kilograms (33.4 pounds) per hectare, followed by Ecuador with 6 kilograms (12 pounds) per hectare.

The 16th State of the Nation Report on Sustainable Human Development 2010, which tracks social, economic and environmental indicators, said that Costa Rica imported more than 300 metric tons of products containing methyl bromide, an ozone-depleting chemical used often in farming.

For its part, the Regional Institute for Toxic Substance Studies, part of the National University of Costa Rica, said in early 2011 that the amount of pesticides imported between 1977 and 2006 increased nearly three-and-a-half times. Costa Rica has imported close to 185,000 metric tons of pesticides in those three decades, mostly for its lucrative melon, tomato, potato, pineapple and sugar plantations.

“These figures show the contradiction in a country that sells an image of a leader in conservation [but] is not capable of fulfilling the international environmental conventions it has signed,” said biologist and columnist at newspaper Diario Extra Ignacio Arroyo.

Water contamination
The same State of the Nation Report said these chemicals caused notable contamination to water resources.

“Starting in 2001, there have been incidents of chemical contamination because of the excessive use of pesticides in monoculture, like pineapples,” said the report. “This is the result of expanded farming and urbanization, which has neither considered nor respected protected buffer zones designed to protect reservoirs for water for human consumption.”

Damage to aquifers could get worse. The Agriculture Ministry says there are 450 farming chemicals awaiting approval for entry into the country.

Environmental activists warn that these chemicals pose a major health threat to the population.

According to Fabián Pacheco, of the National Organic Farming Center, Costa Rica uses so much of these chemicals because its farmers are wealthier compared with other major farming countries, and its agricultural industry has grown reliant on them.

Pacheco said that farmers in countries like Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador still employ ancestral techniques that do not rely on such chemicals.

A professor, Pacheco is also an environmental activist and leader of the “Stop Fumigating” campaign, which started this year, a push of mostly young people who are against mining, oil drilling and in favor of organic farming.

Widespread contamination
Pacheco said that farmers over-apply the chemicals, and have little guidance from the Agriculture Ministry.

In June 2010, newspaper La Nación reported that 28 women were poisoned on the Caballo Blanco cotton farm in the village Falconiana de Bagaces in the northwestern Guanacaste province.

Four months later, the same occurred to 65 workers in a genetically-modified cotton plantation called Las Loras in the coastal Puntarenas province.

The Costa Rican Social Security Agency, the public health service known as “La Caja,” said it attended to 146 people last year who had been exposed to pesticides. Twelve of them died.

There were 15 cases in the capital, San José, followed by the provinces of Alajuela with 51, Limón with 26 and Puntarenas with 23 and Limón with 26, among others.

“In 34 years, Costa Rica tripled its imports of the active ingredient in [pesticides] without expanding its farmland,” said Arroyo. “Behind this is the dismantling of traditional agriculture and the genetic erosion of crops in favor of the corporate monopoly in the food industry.”
—Latinamerica Press.


Campaign warns about the risks tied to farming chemicals. (Photo:
Latinamerica Press / Noticias Aliadas
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