Monday, May 11, 2009

Costa Rica – Part 4 - Fair Trade Organic Coffee

I have written previously about our visit to the cloud forest and our river cruise, both experiences reawakening a sense of awe and respect for nature. Perhaps the most inspiring experience for me came during our tour of a fair trade organic coffee co-operative in Hojancha which, in my mind, epitomized the concept of sustainable development. Our guide on the Duria coffee tour, a lively lady who works on the co-op, explained to us some of the requirements to have coffee designated fair-trade and organic. These rules range from ensuring that the children of the farmers who belong to the co-op are going to school and are not working during school time to limits on the hours per day they may work during non-school time. As well, environmental standards are set extremely high. For example, at one time they used plastic bags to encase the coffee seedlings; that had to end because of their environmental impact. Of course, pesticides are out, making the growing process more labour-intensive but ultimately more profitable for the growers, one of the reasons we pay more for organic products. The processing plant itself is a wonder to behold, a kind of closed system that wastes nothing and produces debris that is ultimately used both to fuel the roasters and to produce rich compost that is given to the members freely. Even the lagoon water of the tailings, once the sediment sets, is reused for irrigation.

The visit was a real education for me; even though we have long bought fair trade coffee, up to that point I really had only a foggy notion of what it meant beyond the fact that the growers are paid a decent price for their products, as opposed to the fraction that conventional practices yield to the farmers. More importantly, however, it got me thinking even more than usual about our wasteful ways in the so-called developed world that has left us with endless bloated, non-recyclable packaging, disposable goods, and rapidly filling dumps. It really made me wonder about why more industries are not compelled to be stewards of the environment rather than simply shepherds of profit. Besides, the two are not incompatible principles -- as our tour guide gleefully explained, the incentive for these ‘green’ practices is the extra profit they bring to the producers. What a concept!

Summing up our first trip to Costa Rica, and how it affected me upon returning home, will be the subject of my next post. After that, sometime in the near future, I plan to write about our second trip in March, to Jaco Beach, which yielded experiences entirely different from those of our Guanacaste sojourn.

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