I was planning on a trip to Sumatra this past August to see the palm oil devastation for myself (and see my beloved orangutans), but things didn’t quite work out that way. For one, it’s about a two-day flight each way and that’s just too much time to take off from work (well, at least for my buddy).
So a friend suggested a trip to closer — and eco-friendly — Costa Rica. I jumped at the chance — zip-lining, sun, surf, snorkeling, diving, canopy walks, volcano hikes…the list of eco-tourism benefits are endless in his Central American oasis. And we had a great time too.
But there’s a blight on our trip — and on Costa Rica, in general. Look at these photos I took from a puddle jumper plane that was taking us from San Jose to the Quepos area.
Photo credits to this blog author. All rights reserved.
Look familiar!? Those twisted appendages that stretch out like octopus tentacles are the tops of palm oil trees — and this is an enormous palm oil plantation! Call me naïve, but even here!? They’re freaking everywhere.
A bit of backstory. Apparently, the evil empire that was/is the United Fruit Company (and the uncrowned king of Costa Rica, Minor Keith) looked for transportation to get their newfound commodity — bananas — to the U.S. in the 19th and 20th centuries from these literal “banana republics.” Unfortunately, a banana blight disease hit Costa Rica in the 20th century and the UFC had to scramble to diversify — so they put up palm oil plantations.
Although initially experimental, palm oil production took hold and the United Fruit Company continued to plant additional hectare of oil palms, specifically in the Quepos area. United Fruit eventually sold its palm and banana holdings in Costa Rica to Chaquita Banana, who sold off the Palma Tica subsidiary in 1995. Palma Tica is now owned by the Numar group and specializes in the cultivar, production and processing of palm oil…
Focus on the corporate plantation, deforestation, land acquisition and both child and international migrant labor issues continue to provide sporadic bad press to Palm Tica. MINEA has cited the company a number of times for environmental degradation. Anyone who has seen the rendering plant in full production will be shocked at the acrid black smoke spewing from the operation.
Oh sure, there’s now some “research” coming from the Malaysian Palm Oil Council that holds:
that a targeted oil palm gene called “Shell” could boost oil production yields, thereby easing pressure on tropical rainforests by not needing to expand plantations.
However, this little bit of “good news” refuses to acknowledge the sheer greed and selfishness of the human race. What’s to keep evil palm oil plantation owners from putting up even MORE plantations — especially if it means “boosting oil production yields”?! More yields + more plantations = more profits and less biodiversity. We all suffer.
Sure, sure, sure, there’s no orangutans, Sumatran elephants or Sumatran tigers sacrificed for palm oil in Costa Rica, right? But how about the capuchin monkeys, the howler monkeys, the lizards, the snakes, the iguanas, the birds, the flowers — all of which I saw in such abundance in Costa Rica? Look at the frightening image of the stark, soul-destroying monoculture above that replaced all that biodiversity. Sick.
On the bright side, I promise to publish some gorgeous shots of flora and fauna in the coming days.