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Santa Teresa Deep Dive: Cultures divide over herbicide – The Tico Times | Costa Rica News | Travel

Santa Teresa Deep Dive: Cultures divide over herbicide – The Tico Times | Costa Rica News | Travel

Stephanie Smith rallied the troops.

They have been assembling on the Cóbano municipal workplaces to tackle a standard enemy: glyphosate, the lively ingredient in fashionable herbicides like Roundup. Their aim was that day was to ban pesticide and herbicide use in public areas.

Smith was the primary to reach and she or he practiced her speech outdoors the constructing. Her Spanish was a bit tough, she’d solely moved to Costa Rica 10 months earlier than, however she knew her enemy properly. Smith, a British-American documentarian, is engaged on a documentary, “Just Another Brick in the Wall,” about environmentally poisonous faculties in america.

“It’s about everything children are subjected to in schools,” Smith stated. “From how building materials to food are all contaminated with glyphosate.”

Smith moved to Costa Rica together with her household as a result of she needed to stay in a extra environmentally pleasant nation. That’s why she was stunned when in the future she discovered herself flanked by males spraying pesticides on a public street.

“I was driving to pick up my son at school and then, to the right and to the left, there were two men manually spraying pesticides with no protection,” Smith stated. “I had my windows down and the smell was so intense and horrific.”

Smith stated one of many academics at her son’s faculty felt lightheaded that day and her son obtained sick the next week.

“I came here thinking this was a green paradise,” Smith stated. “I had no idea that pesticide use was so rampant.”

Costa Rica is among the main shoppers, per capita, of pesticides on the earth. In 2015, Semanario Universidad reported that the Regional Institute of Poisonous Substance Research (IRET) discovered that Costa Rica used a mean of 18.2 kgs of pesticides per hectare of farmland.

China got here in second place with 17 kgs per hectare.

Smith highlighted this level in her speech. By the point she began, the tiny municipal constructing was full of authorities representatives and native residents, most have been expats and foreigners who relocated to Costa Rica.

Stephanie Smith gave a speech concerning the risks of pesticides and herbicides on the assembly with the native authorities. (Alexander Villegas / The Tico Times)

She famous that she’d seen 2,Four-D, which was utilized in Agent Orange, a chemical defoliant utilized by america in the course of the Vietnam struggle that led to deformities and cancers in Vietnam and U.S. veterans. Smith talked about a current ruling in a lawsuit towards Monsanto, the corporate that produces Roundup.

A faculty groundskeeper with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma was awarded $289 million in damages towards Monsanto as a result of he alleged glyphosate triggered his most cancers.

Regardless of that, glyphosate use has exploded in Costa Rica. A College of Costa Rica research discovered that glyphosate use in Costa Rica has risen almost 50 occasions because it was first imported 1982. That yr, Costa Rica imported 36 tonnes of the herbicide. A complete of 1,761 tonnes have been imported in 2013.

Different municipalities in Costa Rica, corresponding to Pérez Zeledón, banned using herbicides, Smith stated. Why not Cóbano?

However the authorities responded with a query of their very own. What concerning the farmers?

Except for wealthy tropical forests, idyllic seashores and mountains, Cóbano is house giant swaths of farmlands. A few third of Costa Rica’s rural inhabitants is employed within the agricultural, cattle and fishing business and Puntarenas, the province Cóbano belongs to, is house to just about 13,000 of Costa Rica’s 78,000 registered farms.


Onias Alvarado remembers when individuals laughed at the concept electrical energy would come to Cóbano. That was solely about 20 years, and he’s been farming even longer. His calloused palms and tanned leather-based face can attest to that. The 61-year previous from Cóbano works the identical farm his father did earlier than him.

He is aware of cattle, too. It’s what has stored meals on the desk for generations. Land was low cost within the space again within the day too, earlier than the vacationer growth. He remembers one household bought their land piece by piece to gasoline their consuming behavior.

Onias Alvarado, 61, has been farming within the space his entire life. (Alexander Villegas / The Tico Times)

The rush again then was to chop down timber and make means for pastures to feed cattle.

“It was a shame actually,” Alvarado stated. “It was really beautiful, all those mountains”

Alvarado remembers a authorities initiative that inspired reforestation and led to a whole lot of hundreds of acres being reforested. Alvarado isn’t against conservation or defending the surroundings, however he nonetheless makes use of glyphosate all through his 10-hectare farm.

He says he has no different selection. He can’t afford to farm another method.

There are two foremost causes Alvarado makes use of glyphosate. One, to kill weeds on his farm and infrequently make approach for “pasto mejorado,” or Bracharia, a kind of drought-resistant grass that may develop in most soils and is immune to prosapia, a bug that destroyed grass all through Cóbano years in the past.

A blade of Bracharia rising after the land was cleared with glyphosate. (Alexander Villegas / The Tico Times)

The different purpose he makes use of it’s to maintain the street clear. Alvarado says farmers should maintain the world the place their farm meets the street away from any brush or progress.

Recognized regionally as “rondas,” Alvarado says he used to make use of a machete to maintain it clear. It was robust work within the tropical solar and it might take as much as 10 hours to clear 100 meters of ronda.

Apart from the danger of wielding a blade for that point, Alvarado says you can get dangerous cuts in case you strike a glass bottle, which occurred sufficient for him to need to discover different strategies. At this age, Alvarado says he’d rent somebody to clear his ronda, one thing that may value 1,200 colones per hour, or 12,000 colones for each 100 meters.

Or he might use glyphosate. He presently will get a gallon for about 6,000 to 7,000 colones and he can clear 500 meters of ronda with it. After he masses it up in his hand pump, he says it takes about 15 minutes to spray 100 meters of ronda.

Alvarado displaying his ronda, the world the place his farm meets the general public street. (Alexander Villegas / The Tico Times)

The glyphosate additionally retains the street clear longer, Alvarado says. Clearing it manually with a machete retains it clear for round two months whereas glyphosate retains it clear for as much as twice as lengthy.

Alvarado tries to economize any method he can.

“The price of everything has gone up,” Alvarado stated. “And then when the dollar goes up, everything goes up.”

Whereas the price of dwelling in Costa Rica has risen steadily, the worth of cattle has dropped. Alvarado says that 5 years in the past you would get 1,800 to 2,000 colones per kilo for a superb calf. These days you will get 1,100 or 1,200.

He says low cost cattle imported from Nicaragua has hit native farmers arduous.

Alvarado has tried to diversify his choices. He produces honey and imports it to Europe. Their venture is small although they usually have been capable of produce 6 kgs of honey this yr, netting them about 300,000 colones, or about $500.

Alvarado began producing natural honey at his farm, however it solely nets them a small sum of money. (Alexander Villegas / The Tico Times)

The concept of banning glyphosate is irritating for Alvarado as a result of he doesn’t know what he’d do with out it.

He says he’s by no means gotten sick from it and doesn’t know anybody who has. He is aware of individuals in rice plantations who’ve gotten sick, however he thinks it was due to the tall crops and airborne pesticides they used.  Alvarado all the time makes use of the right safety and a hand pump that doesn’t spray glyphosate into the world.


“There’s been no increment in cancers in the area,” stated Dr. Juan Ledezma, an epidemiologist and head of the Peninsular Regional Well being Authority, which oversees Cóbano well being.  “There’s no relation between the use of pesticides in public spots and cancer.”

(Alexander Villegas / The Tico Times)

Whereas on-line data solely go to 2014, Dr. Ledezma stated he’s keen on analyzing newer most cancers statistics to see what the danger is in his group. Regardless of not having analyzed glyphosate use within the area, Dr. Ledezma agrees with different research which were accomplished on the herbicide.

“[Glyphosate] has been proven to be carcinogenic in studies in other countries,” Dr. Ledezma stated. “So how are we going to use it to kill weeds at schools or public areas?”

Dr. Ledezma says his principal concern is with a number of exposures, particularly the individual making use of glyphosate, like municipal staff. He says we should always restrict the hours and locations it’s used, however he’s additionally not against banning the substance.

“I agree with the people who want to ban it,” Dr. Ledezma stated. “Loads of municipalities have already agreed to not use it.

“The only thing that’s doing is protecting the country, if we keep doing that, that’s great.”

About 1.04 million hectares, or 20 % of Costa Rica’s land, is devoted to grazing. (Alexander Villegas / The Tico Times)

Whereas Alvarado’s farm is simply 6 kilometers from Cóbano because the hen flies, it’s almost an hour away because the automotive the struggles to make it up steep rocky roads and rivers. One river crossing has a small picket bridge constructed by locals. It’s small and may solely match one motorbike at a time.

“We made it last year, two winters ago,” Alvarado stated. “We got some teak trees and a Guanacaste tree and nailed them. I don’t think it’ll last another winter. It’s already rotting, one of the teak logs broke and you can fall in, motorcycle and everything.”

Alvarado says they’ve been asking the federal government to repair the unique bridge for over two years. However should you don’t maintain your ronda clear, the federal government will ship a warning letter after which an worker to wash it up for you. Then they’ll shortly ship you the invoice.

Flooding can also be widespread within the space. The Arío river runs proper behind Alvarado’s farm and this season, it flooded his farm and despatched uprooted treats hurtling by way of his land. He virtually misplaced a horse, however there have been no casualties this season. Particles from the flood nonetheless litters his farm and the wet season begins again up in Might.

Onias Alvarado displaying a tree that swept by way of his farm after heavy floods in 2018. (Alexander Villegas / The Tico Times)

Many households within the space are one dangerous step away from monetary spoil. There’s a goat farm that earned a Blue Flag certification for its environmental practices near Alvarado’s.

It belongs to Salvador Montero and his household. They’ve goats and make cheeses, yogurt and milk to promote in cities like Santa Teresa and Montezuma.

However in early November, their pickup truck broke down. Montero’s spouse was going by means of menopause and couldn’t are likely to the animals like she used to. Their output decreased and their prices solely went up.

They should get feed and provides from Cóbano and with the automotive down, it prices 10,000 colones to get provides, or because the Monteros consider it, an entire sack of feed for the goats.

The Monteros have been struggling financially after their automotive broke down. (Alexander Villegas / The Tico Times)

Dago, who runs the native co-op, hopes he should buy a truck and ship merchandise to farms at a reduced worth. He hopes the native co-op could make a comeback as a result of gross sales have gone down lately. He carries glyphosate however has been making an attempt to modify over to natural herbicides to attraction to each side.

They’re costlier although. He thinks there’s additionally an answer that may be made with vinegar, however he’s fearful farmers would simply purchase it from native supermarkets and harm the co-op. Dago has massive goals for the co-op. They’ve a small cafeteria on the aspect that sells empanadas and he hopes it may flip right into a group middle for locals.

He stated that whereas many newcomers are well-intentioned, they don’t understand how exhausting issues are for the native inhabitants.

The farms are as shut as they all the time have been, however pulling additional away as they keep caught making an attempt to outlive whereas funding and vacationer developments push cities like Santa Teresa and Montezuma additional forward.

The native farmer co-op supervisor Dago. (Alexander Villegas / The Tico Times)

“I’ve actually fumigated some people’s houses who were at the meeting [to ban pesticides and herbicides,]” Dago stated. “Sometimes I feel like we’ve gotten to the point where we’re bothering the tourists.”

Alvarado stated he by no means heard concerning the assembly regarding pesticides and herbicides on the municipality, which was attended by only a few native Costa Ricans. He stated he would’ve gone to speak about his aspect if he’d recognized about it. 

He says that regardless of well being considerations, he actually doesn’t see another choice to do the work that glyphosate does on his land.

Smith says she understands there’s frustration with foreigners who’ve come and developed land with out regard to the native inhabitants, however her motivation is what’s greatest for the surroundings, the individuals and future generations.

The group she belongs to, Costa Rica Libre De Tóxicos, is internet hosting natural agriculture workshops and THEY need to work with the federal government to teach farmers about options.

“I hope that the farmers don’t take this personally, it’s not about them,” Smith stated. “It’s about huge agrochemical corporations which might be benefiting from all of us.

“I see myself as a human being, not as an American, not as British, Peruvian or Tica. We are all in this together.”

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