Sunday, March 16, 2014

Costa Rica Agriculture

Costa Rica has small farms as well as large-scale plantations of bananas and pineapples, the main exports, still under the control of big agriculture from the US. We saw only a few exotic fruits growing in small gardens, while learning a bit about Costa Rica's efforts to obtain their independence from outside business interests.

Above, at top, is one of the most interesting of tropical fruits: the cacao pod in which chocolate berries are found. This pod grows right on the branch, unlike more familiar fruits in northern orchards. It's of course native to Central America, unlike many of the other cultivated food plants.

Middle left is a cashew plant. The nut grows above the fruit -- a relative of poison ivy, which some people react to. Cashews are native to Brazil, but now grow worldwide in tropical climates.

We saw a few banana trees (middle right) and of course the papayas being eaten by a woodpecker as I posted yesterday. Coconuts dropping from trees are actually a hazard if you are walking under them. Barely recognizable at bottom right above: a ginger rhizome. We did not see coffee plants, which grow at higher altitudes than we visited, but it's a major crop -- Costa Rican coffee has a great reputation among coffee lovers. Nor did we see Costa Rica's sugar cane fields.

A pineapple plant -- native to South America
The naturalists on our cruise were passionate about the way that Costa Rican farmers are being educated to value sustainable practices and conservation of resources. At least two naturalists are actively involved in teaching and researching better farming. The palm plant used for hearts of palm, a vegetable that I quite enjoy, is an example of changing resource use. Removing the tender inside of a palm kills it, so the traditional harvesting of naturally growing trees is destructive. In Costa Rica, farmers cultivate fields of palm-hearts, and thus avoid damaging the forest. (We saw some of these palm trees, but they aren't very interesting to look at.)

The areas we visited were mainly national parks dedicated to preserving tropical forests in a natural state, which means we saw little of the actual working farm areas, and learned only a little about agriculture and farming issues. "The main staple food crops grown are white maize, rice, beans, tomatoes, potatoes, yuca, and onions," I read in a profile of Costa Rica here.

A beef cow, which we saw from the bus on the way to the airport --
Costa Rica produces beef, in the lowlands, and dairy cattle at higher locations.
Costa Rica's national bird: the clay-colored robin
A sign that Costa Rica has long been a nation of farmers is their choice of a national bird: the very plain clay-colored robin (also called the clay-colored thrush). Why did they choose it over the extremely flashy, dramatic birds like brightly-marked toucans, green parrots, or scarlet macaws? One of the naturalists explained that it was a bird beloved by the farmers in earlier times, because it sang just before the rainy season started. He remembered hearing from his grandfather, a farmer, how the robin's song provided this valuable prediction.


~~louise~~ said...

Oh Mae what amazing pictures and information you have shared today. I kinda like that the National bird is the Robin. I wish we would see a few more around here...soon!

Thanks for sharing, Mae...

Rosita Vargas said...

Mae me gusta la planta de cacao,la fauna y flora de tu pais y todos tus post maravillosos llenos de informaciòn que se agradece,felicitaciones te seguirè leyendo,abrazos grandes.