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Costa Rica's Fight Against GMO's

Apr 17, 2013

Costa Rica

Regardless of whether you’ve been to Costa Rica or not, just the country’s name conjures up images of ripe, juicy fruit such as mangos, pineapples and papaya. You can certainly consider yourself lucky if you’ve had the opportunity to taste these fruit fresh-picked, but many of them also make their way up to North American grocery stores where those not able to travel to Costa Rica, can enjoy the sweet flavors.

But fruit isn’t the only popular crop grown in Costa Rica, either for export or to be consumed within the country. Cotton, soybeans and corn are other large crops that Costa Rica depends on for both export and consumption. And herein lies the problem… Costa Rica’s government has ultimately decided to allow GMO corn be grown, specifically for export. However, in the same breath, they are trying to educate the native population about the importance of protecting natural heirloom seeds. This is creating a lot of hostility by local farmers, indigenous tribes and everyone else paying attention… so much so that 46 out of 81 cantons (municipalities) have already banned the growth of GMO corn.

What Are GMO’s? 

A Genetically Modified Organism (GMO) refers to natural plant seeds being genetically engineered by merging DNA from various species. What is the purpose for this, you may ask? Although the main players in the GMO game (Monsanto being number one) claim the genetically modified plant has genes added to help improve on the flavor or nutritional value, the majority of added genes are designed to improve resistance to insects and herbicides.

It’s a vicious circle… farmers are told that they can produce higher yields, meaning more money to be made. So they buy the package deal that Monsanto offers – genetically modified seeds that are altered to resist the herbicide Roundup (which has been created and is owned by Monsanto, incidentally), along with the Roundup to spray on the plants as they grow to kill the weeds. All of a sudden, they no longer have their own organic, heirloom seeds, meaning that they have to continue succumbing to Monsanto’s genetically modified plants.

Protecting Costa Rica’s Agricultural Heritage

Heirloom seeds have been passed down for generations within Costa Rican farming families. Particularly corn, a staple in the native diet. And when we say corn, this isn’t just one or two varieties… the majority of Costa Rican meals start with corn – tortillas, chorriadas, empanadas and tamales are just a few common ways this vegetable is used. The strain of corn is what typically gives these dishes their unique flavors. GMO cross-pollination with heirloom varieties of corn is a huge threat to the traditional food Costa Ricans eat every day, in addition to the nutrition they provide.

Costa Rica is littered with local farms that feed their communities, and owning unpatented seeds ensure these farmers are able to grow food wherever and however they wish. As a matter of fact, selling produce is an extremely popular way for Costa Rican’s to make their living - whether it be on the roadside, door-to-door or right in front of their homes. In addition to selling produce, trading fruit and vegetables is also very popular, as is trading seeds. This practice of seed exchanges is not possible with the introduction of patented GMO seeds.

Farmers in Costa Rica are concerned, and rightfully so. With the introduction of GMO corn seed, natural corn varieties are susceptible to contamination from the patented plants, therefore taking away the natural agricultural freedom and handing over control of the food supply to large corporations. As it stands, the debate is still only focused on GMO corn seed, but there are many who imagine this is only a foot in the door for Monsanto. After all, if corn is allowed, what’s keeping other GMO crops from being grown?

Costa Rica is a land lush in natural agriculture, flora, fauna and deep-rooted cultural tradition. The introduction of GMO’s is threatening all of these aspects of this beautiful country, in one way or another.

When you make the choice to live in another part of the world, especially one as spectacular as Costa Rica, it’s easy to get caught up in the vacation-type lifestyle, and this can be exacerbated if you don’t speak the language. Getting involved with your community, learning some of the language and making local friends are important (and rewarding!) aspects of living abroad.

To learn more about two of Costa Rica’s more bucolic areas, check out our Discovery Weekends HERE

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