Shade = Cash

Trillions - - Table Of Contents - By Diego Ar­guedas Or­tiz

Costa-ri­cans grow new crops with a bit of shade to pro­tect plants

Be­fore they got in­volved in farm­ing, Luis Diego Murillo and Xinia Solano paid their bills and put food on their ta­ble with Luis’s salary as a fore­man on con­struc­tion sites, an un­sta­ble job that kept him on the move.

Now the 33-year-old Costa Ri­can walks along the rows where he and his wife grow bright green co­rian­der and let­tuce, and where stalks in­di­cate a hand­ful of radishes un­der the soil. They share the land with an­other fam­ily, but they are their own boss.

Over Murillo’s head is an enor­mous roof of black shade cloth which is cru­cial to his new life be­cause it pro­tects his crops in the com­mu­nity of Los Reyes, in the ru­ral mu­nic­i­pal­ity of Coto Brus, Puntare­nas prov­ince, in the foothills of Costa Rica’s Tala­manca moun­tain range.

“We’re to­gether now, I’m no longer away from my fam­ily,” he told IPS, ex­plain­ing why they de­cided to ded­i­cate them­selves to farm­ing full-time. “You don’t want to be work­ing away from home, far away from your chil­dren and wife. You want to be with your fam­ily, no?”

Murillo and his wife, the 34-yearold Solano, are among the 74 fam­i­lies who have ben­e­fited from the Shade House pro­gramme that the United Na­tions Food and Agri­cul­ture Or­gan­i­sa­tion (FAO) is car­ry­ing out in south­east Costa Rica.

In the pro­tected shaded ar­eas, 700 square me­tres in size, the farm­ers can man­age the quan­tity and qual­ity of sun­light, the per­cent­age of shade and the im­pact on the crops of rain­fall, which can be heavy in this area.

The fam­i­lies are thus able to grow fresh veg­eta­bles year-round, have boosted the qual­ity and pro­duc­tiv­ity of their crops and have even man­aged to grow veg­eta­bles that were un­think­able be­fore, given the nor­mal con­di­tions in this area, such as broc­coli and cab­bage.

With this sys­tem, which be­gan to be im­ple­mented in late 2013 on just six farms, the fam­i­lies pro­duce food for their own con­sump­tion and earn an in­come sell­ing the sur­plus.

“We’re very happy be­cause thanks to the shade houses we don’t have to go out and buy food any­more. If you want co­rian­der or a head of let­tuce, you just come out and pick it,” said Solano, whose house is in a vil­lage next to Los Reyes, which is a six-hour drive from San José, al­though it is only 280 km away.

An­other of the ad­van­tages of the pro­gramme is that it im­proves and helps di­ver­sify the diet of ru­ral fam­i­lies in the so­cioe­co­nomic re­gion of Brunca, the area with the high­est poverty level in this Cen­tral Amer­i­can na­tion of 4.8 mil­lion peo­ple.

Poverty af­fects 34.6% of house­holds in this re­gion of 300,000 peo­ple, com­pared to a na­tional aver­age of 20.6 per­cent, and only 51 per­cent of the eco­nom­i­cally pop­u­la­tion is em­ployed, ac­cord­ing to sta­tis­tics that FAO pro­vided to IPS.

This re­gion only pro­duces 15 to 20% of the fresh fruit and veg­eta­bles con­sumed here, and the rest is brought in from other parts of the coun­try.

The fam­i­lies with shade houses are now eat­ing bet­ter. “We eat salad ev­ery day. We used to buy stuff for salad if we had the money, but now we don’t have to buy it,” said Solano. The shade houses are also look­ing at larger-scale pro­duc­tion and mar­ket­ing of their crops, to boost fam­ily in­comes. The fam­i­lies par­tic­i­pat­ing in the pro­gramme al­ready grow more than 25 dif­fer­ent kinds of fresh veg­eta­bles. “Some of the farm­ers have cars and lend them to others so they can sell their pro­duce in nearby towns,” said Solano. “But we’re do­ing the pa­per­work to cre­ate a co­op­er­a­tive, to get a truck.” Each shade house costs around 3,200 dol­lars, and the funds are pro­vided by the Costa Ri­can gov­ern­ment in­sti­tu­tions work­ing with FAO on the pro­ject, such as the Mixed In­sti­tute for So­cial Aid (IMAS) or the Ru­ral Devel­op­ment In­sti­tute (IN­DER). The pro­gramme, which also has the sup­port of the Min­istry of Agri­cul­ture and Live­stock, is fo­cused on the en­tire fam­ily, and con­sid­ers women’s con­tri­bu­tion as key. “The women here are very brave, most of them even pick up the shovel and plant. It was my wife who planted all of those plants (that pro­vide shade for the cof­fee bushes),” Florentino Amador, a 54-year-old farmer, told IPS with pride in his voice. Li­gia Ruiz, 53, one of the most en­thu­si­as­tic farm­ers in the four shade houses in Los Reyes, co­or­di­nates sales with her neigh­bours. “On Wed­nes­days and Satur­days we har­vest what we’re go­ing to sell, just here in the com­mu­nity for now. I get the or­ders and we de­liver the pro­duce,” she told IPS. Al­though each shade house was orig­i­nally de­signed for one fam­ily, in Los Reyes the four shaded ar­eas are worked by 10 fam­i­lies, who farm to­gether in a very hor­i­zon­tal process; for ex­am­ple, the in­come from the sales goes into a joint fund, where they hope to save up for the co­op­er­a­tive. “If there’s a lot to clean on one lot, one fam­ily helps the other, and then they in turn re­ceive sup­port,” said Ruíz with re­gard to the re­vival of the ru­ral tra­di­tion of com­mu­nal work. The FAO’S aim is for the ben­e­fi­cia­ries to be or­gan­ised groups of farm­ers with ac­cess to a col­lec­tive stor­age and trad­ing cen­tre, al­though the fam­i­lies are se­lected by the Costa Ri­can in­sti­tu­tions in­volved in the pro­ject. In Brazil and Mex­ico there are small-scale ini­tia­tives sim­i­lar to the shade house pro­ject, said Guillermo Murillo, a FAO con­sul­tant who has worked in those coun- tries and sug­gested the shade house model for Costa Rica. “One of the big ad­van­tages is that they can pro­duce year round,” Murillo told IPS. “Be­fore, in the dry sea­son (Novem­ber to May), the crops would be burnt by the sun. Be­sides, the pop­u­lar idea that only a few things can be grown here has been laid to rest, and a greater di­ver­sity of crops is now pro­duced.” Be­sides the sup­port for set­ting up shade houses, the team of rep­re­sen­ta­tives of the FAO and the public in­sti­tu­tions in­volved in the ini­tia­tive give ad­vice on farm­ing tech­niques, tools, and mar­ket­ing. “The seeds that used to come here were the ones used in colder parts of Costa Rica, even though there were ‘trop­i­calised’ ones in the mar­ket,” said Murillo. “We looked for them, and the fam­i­lies started to use them.” The pro­gramme is now be­ing ex­panded to the north­west prov­ince of Gua­nacaste, where the in­stal­la­tion of the first shade houses out­side of the Brunca re­gion has been ap­proved.

Edited by Estrella Gu­tiér­rez/trans­lated by Stephanie Wildes © 2016 IPS News

Xinia Solano and Luis Diego Murillo are one of the fam­i­lies work­ing with the shade house pro­gramme in Los Reyes, in the south­east­ern Costa Ri­can mu­nic­i­pal­ity of Coto Brus. This model of agri­cul­ture is be­ing pro­moted by the FAO, in con­junc­tion with var­i­ous gov­ern­ment in­sti­tu­tions. Credit: Diego Ar­guedas Or­tiz/ips

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.