Banana Split: The Costa Rican Banana Controversy
September 21, 2009
OTS took us to a Dole banana plantation. We saw three planes flying low overhead before we arrived at the field for our tour. (These planes apply fungicide and other chemicals). A very charismatic guide explained the history of the banana, farming practices, processing steps, customer preference, and chopped a plant in half all in about 7 minutes.
Banana trees aren’t really trees, they are palms and are quite easy to slice with a machete. For this reason they are also quick to fall as well. Dole uses some support wires to keep their plants erect. With 1,500plants per plot (plot=200 hectares) and 3 plots (plus many more locations like this one) they could stand to lose a lot of plants.
Bananas are a big source of controversy in Costa Rica, both for social and conservation reasons. One the one hand, the banana industry is crucial to Costa Rica’s economy, accounting for 7% of revenues generated by exports. On the other, most of the money made by the companies leaves the country and never looks back.
Although worker conditions seem to be improving now, it used to be that the companies would fire and hire workers to balance the swing of the market. They were even known to fire workers before the 3 month cut off when they would have to pay social security, only to hire them again one week later. Now here is where the conservationists get in a huff. When people are constantly getting laid off, they have no where to turn for food security except to the land for subsistence agriculture. It is extremely difficult to get access to land so this often results in deforestation….not to mention the massive deforestation that occurred when the banana plantations were established.
These days the situation is even more complicated, as the agri-corporations are some of the few groups with enough money to buy big stretches of land for conservation. In fact, OTS is working with Chiquita now to create a corridor that will join national park fragments.
In my opinion, even if the companies are setting aside a lot of forest, a landscape of chemically-induced industrial agriculture dotted with reservations is no good for biodiversity, stability, or conservation. If these farms were smaller and polycultured, the whole landscape would gain diversity. I also have an unwavering opinion that businesses should be locally owned and socially conscious. However, today Costa Rica is dependent upon bananas and there are compromises to be made.
If you are interested in how multinationals play a role in conservation, especially the banana industry check out Breakfast of Biodiversity by Vandermeer and Perfecto.
If you have questions about the visit to the plantation or any of the processing please drop a comment.