Risks of Commercial Plantain Production in the Bribri Territories

While volunteering in the Bribri village of Yorkin, I was told the story about why the women in the village decided to start their ecotourism project, Estibrawpa. I was told that before they started their ecotourism project, most of the men were working in banana and plantain plantations. The women say that not only was it an issue for the men to be gone for long periods of time (in those days it took an entire day to travel to and from the village), but the men were also suffering from respiratory and skin ailments. The women explained that they started the ecotourism project to keep the men in the village and eliminate or minimize the health risks associated with working with agrochemicals in the plantations. Knowing nothing about plantation agriculture, I set out to find some information in the literature.

In the article “Pesticide application practices, pest knowledge, and cost-benefits of plantain production in the Bribri-Cabecar Indigenous Territories, Costa Rica” by Polidoro et al. (2008), the authors state that there has been numerous reports of environmental and human poisonings in commercial plantain and banana plantations in Costa Rica. This is especially the case in the Talamanca region where the Bribri reside. This region accounts for 52% of the plantain, 6% of the commercial banana production, and 90% of the organic banana production and Costa Rica. Plantain has historically been an important subsistence crop among the Bribri and has been grown as a commercial export crop since the 1980s. In many Bribri communities, traditional cultivation of basic grains, organic cacao production, and traditional fallows have been replaced by monoculture plantain production. Legislation regulating the use of pesticides and fertilizers are absent in the indigenous Bribri Territories.

Polidoro et al. (2008) conducted a rapid rural assessment to evaluate plantain production in the Bribri indigenous territories. They found that 60% of their respondents grew plantain commercially in monoculture systems using pesticides and fertilizers. They found that the majority of indigenous farmers did not use any type of protective clothing while applying chemicals to their crops. They found that nematicides and insecticides were being applied in manners which allowed for exposure which has been shown to cause both acute and chronic health problems. They also found that over 97% of the farmers used chlorpyrifos treated bags which protect the fruits. The farmers apply these bags by hand which also exposes them to organophosphates. As a result, their respondents reported problems with nausea, headaches, and rashes.

By this initial review of the literature, it appears that the women in Yorkin were right. Commercial plantain production exposes farmers to dangerous agrochemicals and this practice is widespread in the indigenous Bribri Territories. In my opinion, the women have created a more sustainable method of bringing money into their community while preserving their traditions and improving health.

Pesticide application practices, pest knowledge, and cost-benefits of plantain production in the Bribri-Cabecar Indigenous Territories, Costa Rica

Beth A. Polidoro, Ruth M. Dahlquist, Luisa E. Castillo, Matthew J. Morra, Eduardo Somarriba , Nilsa A. Bosque-Perez (2008)

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