Even in Costa Rica – Palm Oil Plantations. The Scourge Never Ends

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.


Palm Oil 2

Palm Oil 3

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.

Available at: http://www.osapeninsula.biz/articles/palm-oil-production-in-costa-rica

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.

Available at http://enchanting-costarica.com/hot-news/african-oil-palm-research-may-ease-destruction-of-rainforests/

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.

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9 Responses to Even in Costa Rica – Palm Oil Plantations. The Scourge Never Ends

  1. Pingback: Esterillos > Paso Canoas > Pavones :: Day IV | Alicia Ventures Abroad

  2. PuraVida says:

    I am an environmental advocate and I have to say your posting here is a little if not a lot overblown. Its unfortunate you HAD TO take the most un-eco-friendly option of travel with a small plane over the Palm Plantations, but if you really looked into it you would see that it’s a small portion of Costa Rica that stretches from Jaco to Quepos. Not only that, but as you mentioned, it was banana plantations previous to the Panama blight. Palm trees may not be the most biodiverse plant when being used for mass consumption but unfortunately we need Palm Oil for many reasons. It is a healthier alternative to most other oils and is actually very sustainable.
    Look further into Costa Rican environmental laws and regulations and you will see that jungles are being reforested not deforested. If Palm tree owners are buying up land for more plantations its only going to be old pasture land from when the US promised big returns on cattle.. then soon after subsidized US beef industry killing off the Costa Rican beef industry.

    If you want to fight a real battle you might want to look at the deforestation of the Canadian Boreal Forest. It doesn’t have cute monkeys but it’s a way bigger issue.

    • Well, thank you for expressing your viewpoint. Personally you sound more like a palm oil advocate than an environmental one. And I have written some posts on the Boreal forest and the horrible effects the Keystone Pipeline and tar sands mining has and will cause to it in the future. Look further in this blog, please, before you pop off. However this is a mostly palm oil issue site. What’s happening to the Boreal is criminal and driven by Canada’s new greedy status as a new, shameless, right-wing petro-state run by fossil fuel corporations like TransCanada. I certainly do not need a lecture from you on this.

    • And they are not “monkeys”; orangutans are one of three critically endangered Great Apes and share 97% of our human DNA

  3. Alan says:

    I just came back from a year and a half trip in central America and will advocate the viewpoint of the author of this blog.Not only palm oil plantations are growing in Costa Rica but they are now spreading to its closed neighbours Nicaragua and Panama.The big issue is not only that palm oil is bad for your health (being especially used for fried food and processed food ) but it is also a disaster for the farmer themselves.Farmers are promised much greater revenue by the big local and international food companies by planting palm trees, as they guarantee to buy all their production.Unfortunately, what farmers don’t know is that palm trees plantation sucks all natural resources of the soil .After a period of 10 to 20 years, plantations have to be moved to another place as the terrain became infertile (such a phenomenon is very similar to the soy plantations-check what is happening in Argentina ) leaving farmers with nothing else but debts, as they have contracted loans to banks (that most of the time are subsidised by the Food groups that incite palm trees plantations) to buy the necessary material to cultivate palm trees.

  4. Edward B Brandt says:

    Different subject. But does anyone get upset by the tons of large boulders that they took from local streams, in order to build a huge marina and reef, on the edge of Quepos. To my knowledge, the developer did not have to pay for taking all those boulders from neighborhood streams. I’m not sure that govt. approval was required, altho it certainly should have been. On the other hand folks, if I want to go deep sea fishing off the coast of C.R., it certainly is nice to have a well protected marina. Some things just have to get sacrificed for the benefit of the few (and wealthy).
    My sister, a long time resident of Naranjito (just outside of Quepos), used to rant and rave about the environmental destruction being done to the neighborhood streams. But I’m not sure anything was every done about. Some folks were just too interested in developing a luxury marina, too bad for the little communities where the creeks and streams were ripped off. And how much damage can be done by wrecking a few local creeks?

  5. Your Reality says:

    What a hipocrite. You are flying around on a plane, partaking in activities that exploit the environment and burn tons of fossil fuels. Why don’t you do us all a favor and move off the grid somewhere and F off! Loser…

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