"Everything Isn’t Pura Vida in Costa Rica"

"The country’s banana industry is heavily reliant on chemical pesticides that threaten the environment and public health".

"The drive down Costa Rica’s Highway 36, which traces the Caribbean coast toward the Panama border town of Sixaloa, is lined with seemingly endless banana plantations. From the air, the farms stretch on for miles—a sea of manicured green, the trees tidy and lined in rows. From the road, the lush green fronds hang over one another and onto the worn two-lane highway, forming an impregnable wall of thick vegetation.

The bananas themselves, however, are often hard to see. They are covered in blue plastic bags. This helps protect the precious fruit, and also keeps them constantly fumigated to destroy pests.

The blue bags are the most visible sign of the intense industrialization of banana production on Costa Rica’s farms. Costa Rica is the world’s third-largest exporter of bananas. In 2021, banana exports reached $1.23 billion, and some 28,000 people work on banana farms across the country today.

But banana plants are susceptible to a host of illnesses and blights. That’s because banana plants don’t reproduce by seed. They produce via rhizomes, which have several buds. In other words, banana trees are essentially clones, lacking genetic diversity, which makes them especially susceptible to pests and diseases. The most common variety is the Cavendish banana. This is the banana plant that stretches for miles across Costa Rica’s Caribbean lowlands and the fruit that most often you find in your supermarket aisles.

The intensive use of pesticides on Costa Rican banana farms here is staggering. Toxic chemicals—including many pesticides banned elsewhere in the world—have  poisoned people and ecosystems. They’ve caused birth defects, killed fish and wildlife, and they continue to be sprayed at massive levels, even if they are largely unnoticed by the 2.3 million foreign tourists that visit the country in 2022."

Michael Fox reports for Sierra magazine January 16, 2024.

Source: Sierra, 01/18/2024