Costa Rican Pineapples

pineapple

Odds are that if you buy a pineapple at a supermarket it comes from Costa Rica—a tiny country in Central America. Most people would agree with me in that pineapples are delicious! But how many know the real environmental and human impacts of the pineapple industry? Well, this is just one more thing to think about when shopping. As with everything (or at least almost everything) else in the store, pineapples come with a heavy environmental footprint. Since Del Monte put forth the ‘Gold’ pineapple, which is a sweeter variety, in 1992, pineapple has become a “luxury fruit” with an increasing demand. Costa Rica happens to be the largest provider of fresh pineapple to EU and US, providing more than 80% of the yearly imported fresh pineapples in the US, and more than 70% in the EU.

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Pie chart showing where Costa Rica exports pineapples: 53% North America, 44% European Union, 2% rest of Europe, 1% others.

Costa Rica’s economy largely depends on ecotourism and agriculture.   Extensive monoculture, incentivized by agricultural export models and free trade agreements, have caused negative impacts—from which the pineapple case is the most severe. Some of the concerns “include soil erosion, pesticide contamination of natural areas and water supplies, lowering of water tables, worker exposure to agrochemicals, and impacts of organic wastes, among others.” But pineapples are the second most exported good from Costa Rica, after bananas and recently surpassing coffee exports. Just last year, in 2015, Costa Rica exported 1,858,899 tons of fresh pineapple. Being such an important product for the country’s economy, it is not beneficial to fight against the production of pineapple. As Walter Mora explains in a news interview, the people living in communities near pineapple production are asking for a moratorium on intensive pineapple monoculture plantations, which he explains does not mean they are against the production of pineapple, they are against the way in which pineapple is being produced in Costa Rica.

Pineapple production generate many environmental and health problems, mostly induced by the high use of pesticides. Fernando Ramirez, an agrochemical expert at the University of Costa Rica explains that when the pineapple is ripe, they proceed to apply a high quantity of pesticide—pineapples use about 10 to 15 times more pesticide than other crops. Costa Rica has banned many pesticides because they have been found to cause cancer, disrupt hormone systems, and are acutely toxic. But the ban of these pesticides does not mean that they are not used. It has been documented that pineapple industries are using illegal pesticides.

People living in areas close to pineapple industry asked the government to analyze the water that is consumed by the community. The analysis found the water to be unacceptable for human consumption: considering the analysis found 22 agrochemicals in the water. This should not be all that surprising since Costa Rica is the world’s heaviest agrochemical user . In fact, Costa Rica uses more than seven times the amount of pesticides used in the US. While the US manages to only use 2.5 Kilograms of Pesticide per cultivated hectare, since 2013, Costa Rica uses 18.2 Kilograms—which is actually an improvement from 2010, when an average of 23 Kilograms of Pesticide were being used per cultivated hectare. Although not surprising, it is alarming that a country so centered around environmental awareness still uses the most amount of pesticides.  e pineapple industry in Costa Rica does bring many job opportunities to the country-most of which are filled by Nicaraguan migrant workers that in many cases do not have legal standing in Costa Rica. This means that they are not able to seek legal help, nor join a worker’s union. Pineapple industries, especially the big multi national ones, play dirty with unions anyways—in some cases they have fired all workers with promises of rehiring everyone, but anyone that was in a union never gets rehired. The price of pineapple abroad affects how much the pineapple workers get payed in Costa Rica. So when prices drop in Europe or in the US, people in Costa Rica get lower wages: “The less people pay in Europe, the higher the price they have to pay in CR.”

pineapple

Division of pineapple profits per pound: 41 Retailers, 38 Multinational traders, 17 plantation owners, 4 workers.

In conclusion, before buying a pineapple and enjoying its sweet juicy content think of all the impacts that producing each one has on people and the environment. The heavy use of pesticides is both deteriorating the health of people who live near or work in plantations, and the environment.

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4 Comments

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4 responses to “Costa Rican Pineapples

  1. joemitchem

    It is interesting that Costa Rica uses over 7 times the amount of pesticides per cultivated hectare as the US. What causes such high use?

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  2. I really enjoyed your article for a multitude of reasons. First of all, it was very well written and extremely informative. I feel like in a lot of our class, and most other research I have seen on the environmental and sustainability aspects of food systems, it is almost always related to the meat industry, and rarely to produce. Because of this, I found your research about the impacts of a produce food system extremely interesting! I know that Costa Rica is generally a very ‘green’ and sustainable country, and with that, I was wondering if you know if their food systems are relatively sustainable, or if food systems producing similar products are similar in terms of sustainability and process in many other similar countries to Costa Rica?

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    • Thank you for your comment! I am not 100% sure what the answer to your question is, but in general, yes Costa Rica is known for being “green” but I think that in the agriculture part we stay a bit behind, mostly with that scary fact that CR uses more than 7 times the amount of pesticides as the US per hectare of cultivated land, that’s not very sustainable, and although I didn’t really go into it, there’s a lot of deforestation caused by monoculure crops such as pineapple. So I don’t think that in general CR is being a leader in sustainability when it comes to food production, but there are some farms that are organic, sustainable, and what-not but I do not think it’s a national thing right now.

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