Costa Rica or ‘rich coast’ was named in the sixteenth century for the gold its indigenous people wore around their necks. Today the name remains fitting, though now it applies instead to the country’s abundance in natural riches. Wedged between the world’s two largest oceans and the two subcontinents that make up the Americas, this relatively small country is home to more animal species per hectare than any other place on Earth.
Yet Costa Rica has remained until relatively recently, one of the countries with the highest intensities of pesticide use in the world. Besides, many of the pesticides in use have been highly hazardous in terms of acute toxicity, chronic health risk and/or environmental contamination.
Serious contamination has been documented in water sources, groundwater, wells and coastal areas. In addition, pesticide run-off has triggered mass deaths of fish and other aquatic life. Recent years have seen some improvement in this situation. The SAICM-funded QSP project on ‘Highly Hazardous Pesticides phase out and alternatives in Costa Rica’ has been an important player in enabling this improvement.
Coordinated by the Regional Institute for Research on Toxic Substances (IRET) at the National University (UNA) and PAN UK, the project succeeded in identifying the most important highly hazardous pesticides in the country; developing a national ‘HHP risk and reduction plan’; training smallholder farmer organizations in short-term actions to reduce risks; and identifying potential alternative pest management options for prioritized HHPs.
The 2015-2017 project focused primarily on pineapple and coffee crops. A project extension was requested at the end of the initial project to increase the scope of crops (mango, citrus and melon) and geographical areas included.
The project extension was launched in 2018. The objectives of this project included identifying highly hazardous pesticides and how they are used in the production of rice, melon, beans, roots, palm trees and pastures. Government agencies were engaged in the development of a joint ‘National HHP Action Plan’ in order to reduce the use as well as risks associated with the use of pesticides.
Farmers have been an important focus of the project. The project enabled a call to recognize that the use of HHP is a threat to the livelihood of farmers and their access to export markets that are more demanding, in addition to the hazards posed to human health and the environment.
The raising of awareness was an important priority and meetings were held with relevant sectors and organizations including trade unions; producers, exporters chambers, smallholder organizations. Training sessions were conducted for coffee smallholders and pineapple producers on pesticide hazards and how to reduce risks while working with HHPs. Farmer groups were also informed about safer methods under Integrated Pest Management (IPM).
The use of mini-bio beds for safer disposal by smallholders of left-over pesticide solution, via microbial degradation in compost contained in old oil drums was promoted. In addition, informative pamphlets about HHP and materials on IPM methods including pineapple, vegetables, coffee, international regulations, policies and risk assessment progress were developed and distributed.
Influencing national policy was another important focus. The team had regular engagement with the National Committee on Toxic Chemicals Management and its pesticides subgroup. Presentations on HHPs were made and officials in the three Ministries jointly responsible for pesticide regulation - Environment, Health and Agriculture were frequently engaged with.
Looking ahead, Costa Rica can build on the work done by the project by following the HHP action plans and facilitating the implementation of alternative pest management options. By reducing the use of highly hazardous pesticides and try to phase out them, we can protect both the Costa Rican people and their environment and demonstrate that agriculture can be both healthy and profitable.
The strengths of each of the executors of the project were critical to the accomplishment of objectives and the success of the project. The work of IRET at the national level, PAN-UK at international level as well as the participation of producers in field trials, and their contribution by sharing their experiences during workshops. In addition, state organizations that looked for mechanisms to regulate HHP use and to promote alternatives were a huge contributing factor.
The project assessment was carried out by Denys Montero and mentions that: “The project allowed to identify those HHP that are a priority to be included in the National Plan for the Management of Chemical Substances. Also, the Project allowed to make visible these substances and to socialize critical information related to HHP risks (to health and environment) via meetings, interviews, workshops with diverse sectors; productive, scientific, academic, traders, and others. Alternatives to HHP can now be validated and disseminated to farmers.”
More information on the project can be found via https://www.pan-uk.org/phasing-out-hhps-costa-rica/