Reclaiming peasant knowledge and fighting monoculture plantations: Agroecology as resistance in Costa Rica
In the past years, in Costa Rica, there has been an expansion of export-oriented agriculture, with a significant development of pineapple, African palm, banana and coffee monoculture plantations. In the same period the surface area planted with food crops that are the sustenance of the country, such as rice, beans and corn has been “radically reduced”, according to Mariana Porras, member of Coecoceiba – Friends of the Earth Costa Rica in an interview with Real World Radio.
As a direct consequence of this process, Costa Rica now has to import its basic and traditional food crops. The figures indicate that the area planted with these crops has been reduced up to 70 per cent.
This implies that “a large peasant constituency that used to depend on these crops for their livelihood is now disappearing”. According to Mariana Porras, the number of peasant people was reduced by over 50 per cent.
“We have less and less farmers in the country, these people are becoming the workforce of industrial agriculture, of pineapple for instance, which causes serious impacts caused by the use of agrotoxics, land grabbing, water pollution and its own working conditions”.
Spaces for resistance
In this context, the resistance and the push for a diverse, agrotoxic-free agricultural model takes place in different spheres. The National Learning Institute has been working with peasants for years in the recovery of organic farming.
“Sadly, a large part of peasant knowledge has been lost due to the fact that they have lived through a major stage of the green revolution, according to which it is not possible to produce without herbicides or chemical fertilisers”.
Porras highlighted the spaces for the recovery and exchange of seeds as important for the resistance: “We have green markets here, where we only trade organic products”. In Costa Rica, participatory certification systems are also being implemented “which are opposed to the certification of organic products that is highly expensive for producers, and eventually for consumers as well”.
Together with the Costa Rican Environmental Front and the Network of Coordination in Biodiversity, Coecoceiba has participated in agroecology and soil recovery workshops with Bribri indigenous people of Salitre, who are going through a process to recover their ancestral lands.
“These are broad workshops which have been successful in making communities defend their territories and also their knowledge and food sovereignty, which is also fundamental for these land recovery processes”.
The organisation is also working with what they refer to as the “environmental restoration of forests”. In the Northern area of the country, it has been possible to restore a grazing and pineapple monoculture land with highly degraded soils. They have been able to reforest it with a large diversity of native tree species, medicinal plants, palm trees, liana, among others.
Through community forest management, also in the Northern area, people have been taking stock of flora, forest use and management protocols, surveillance protocols, among others. This has favoured the strengthening of the defence and appropriation of these areas by communities, and therefore it has strengthened their food sovereignty, said Porras.
As an important area of work in favor of agroecology, organisations and movements have been struggling in the country against GM seeds and food. As a result of this, they have managed to have “81 of 85 cantons (92%) declared free from GMOs”. They are also carrying out a campaign for the labelling of products containing genetically modified ingredients.
Listen to the 2016 interview below, or download the MP3 (3 Mb) here.