African Palm and Environmental Sustainability


African Palm and Environmental Sustainability

 Ifigenia Garita

Ifigenia Garita Canet es bióloga  tropical de profesión y en la actualidad realiza una maestría en Manejo en Recursos Naturales con énfasis en Desarrollo Sostenible en la Universidad para la Paz. Tiene 15  años de vivir en nuestra comunidad, desde su llegada se ha dedicado a crear una organización no gubernamental llamada ASCONA. Hace cinco años empezó su propia empresa de turismo responsable, OSA WILD TRAVEL, la cual promueve el turismo local  autentico costarricense. Para mas información comuníquese con Ifigenia al correo electronico



Plantación de Palma


Costa Rica is undergoing increased conversion of pasture and agricultural lands to African palm plantations for the production of palm oil. This expansive monoculture is threatening the unique biodiversity that provides critical habitat for many species of flora and fauna in one of the most intense biological places in the world.   “Due to a history of crop failures and market vulnerability experienced with previous agricultural commodities in the region (cacao, banana, rice, cattle) African palm is viewed as a driver of economic activity that may or may not be sustainable in the long term: socially, economically or environmentally (Beggs & Moore, 2013).”


Plantation en Costa-Rica

Three factors explain why independent producers feel attracted to this activity:  1) the reputation of being a very profitable crop;  2) the external assistance with defined initial costs; and 3) the possibility to cover the labor demands in a family unit.  “Researchers note that many other agricultural products, including livestock and rice production have been ‘stuck’ in the region for over 20 years, in part due to the policies of government free trade and neoliberal reforms (Horton, 2009).”  This contributes significantly to enlarge the interest of farmers in the cultivation of African Palm oil in Costa Rica.

“African palm (Elaeis guineensis) has emerged as a major commercial crop in Costa Rica’s Southern Pacific, Central Pacific, and Atlantic zones, with 60,000 hectares under cultivation in 2011,  17% more from 2006” (CANAPALMA 2012). Farmers are conscious, due to the history of problems associated with vast monoculture, of the threat of disease, market vulnerability, and economic dependence upon extractive companies.  At the same time, conservationists are concerned that the increasing conversion of land to palm oil plantations are causing severe threats to the environment: deforestation, biodiversity decline, sedimentation, erosion of land, water pollution, loss of connectivity of biological corridors and habitat loss are affecting the proliferation of native crops and plants.  Imperceptibly, oil palm is replacng the agricultural traditions that most rural people practiced in the past.  “According to the Cámara Nacional de Productores de Palma  64% of the land dedicated to the crop is currently located in the South Pacific region.”


Fruta de Palma

“Palm oil expansion in the Osa-Golfito region has occurred largely via contract agriculture established by Palma Tica, a member corporation of the agro-industrial conglomerate Grupo Numar, which introduced the current forms of plantation management to growers nationwide  (Beggs & Moore,2011).”


Terreno después de la Plantacion

I recognize that African palm cultivation has shown economic promise and resulted in social prosperity, human development and reduced poverty in rural areas of our country. In a sustainable scope, climate conditions are favorable, as is the annual precipitation and amount of solar radiation.  Also there is merit in the fact that palm plantation occurs in lands that are already degraded.  However, the desertification of grasslands that are essential for the recovery of certain ecosystems foresees a questionable position.  African Palm oil expansion is predicted by Iniciativa Osa & Golfito (INOGO:  to become a significant threat by the year 2030 to the last remaining lowland humid tropical rain forest in the Pacific coast of the Americas, bringing into focus how unsustainable this crop may potentially be.

Beggs, Emily & Ellen Moore. El Paisaje Social de la Producción de Aceite de Palma Africana

en la Región de Osa y Golfito, Costa Rica. San José, Costa Rica. INOGO, Stanford Woods

Institute for the Environment, junio, 2013.

Cámara Nacional de Productores de Palma, CANAPALMA, 2012

Horton, L.R. 2009. Buying Up Nature: Economic and Social Impacts of CostaRica’s Ecotourism Boom. Latin American Perspectives, 36 (3), 93–107.

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