Today we had a presentation by an unlikely speaker, Marvin, a Quaker from southern Alabama. Marvin travelled down to Costa Rica in 1949-50and ended up buying a farm in Monte Verde, along with his family and 10 others, totaling 44 people. He ended up marrying a local here, and they have a happy family with two adopted kids and two kids of their own. He transformed the farm into a dairy farm and bought 50 dairy cows and they now sell cheese all throughout Central America. His story is an example of how foreigners can come into Costa Rica and start successful businesses and weave themselves into the local communities.
Agriculturally, foreigners have primarily influenced the types of farms that are created. Large Coffee companies were formed by the demand for coffee internationally, and foreigners were more than willing to buy high quality coffee from Costa Rica. Also, during the harvesting season, around 80% of the coffee pickers are from outside of Costa Rica, providing the labor that Costa Ricans would prefer not to do. Another foreign agricultural influence is the Chinese. They provide nearly 70% of the rice and beans that Costa Rica currently eats, a 50% increase over the past 40 years. This has resulted in farmers shifting away from sustenance farming and providing food for their own country and instead, moving to cities or converting their farms into coffee plantations or ranches.
Additionally, before sustainability and ecotourism became popular in Costa Rica, huge swaths of forest were cleared and leveled in order to place cattle ranches on them. These cattle ranches helped to satisfy the United States cravings for meat, however by creating these farms, they destroyed thousands of acres of forested area. The Quakers have shown the effectiveness of dairy farms, and, on the drive up to Monte Verde, many small ranches can be seen trying to copy the Quaker system. I think that it is a good thing for Costa Rican agriculture to be flexible to the demands of the international economy as well as outside cultural influences. However, their transition away from providing their own food has left them at risk economically because the majority of their farms are selling things that are luxury goods and will be forgotten if there is an economic squeeze.
With respect to ecotourism, foreigners could be argued to be the only reason that it exists in Costa Rica. Without tourists or foreign travelers, Costa Ricans would be the sole people using the tourist attractions, and that is not something that would end up being successful. An increase of travelers to Costa Rica as well as their pride in their unique ecosystems has led to the unique evolution of tourism into ecotourism. With 25% of Costa Rica’s landmass being protected territory, and over 90,000 protected acres of forest around Monte Verde, there is a huge area to advertise as sustainable and ecofriendly. And as more tourists come to Costa Rica for the ecotourism, it pumps in more money into the ecotourism economy, creating a positive cycle, growing and growing even larger all the time. I think it is a good thing that Costa Rica’s tourism sector has started transforming into ecotourism because of the increase in sustainability. This sets a positive example for the rest of the worlds tourism sectors and hopefully will inspire other, larger countries to begin making the change to ecotourism as well.