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Is agriculture destroying Biodiversity? A Case Study on the Costa Rican Coffee Plantations

Updated: Jun 9

In today's era of social media communication, where polarization often dominates discourse, it's crucial to recognize that life isn't just black or white. Rarely do we find ourselves wholly enamored or entirely repulsed by something. Our human experience is a nuanced blend of circumstances and emotions, defying simplistic categorization.


Ivette astutely likens the study of agriculture to critically analyzing a book. Implicit in this exercise is the understanding that the meaning of the text is shaped by the context and perspective of the reader. Similarly, when we delve into the intricacies of agricultural production systems, we embark on a journey of interpretation.


Driving through the vast fields of canola or wheat here in Edmonton, we might view these examples of production as symbols of food security and a testament to the creation of highly efficient systems driven by human ingenuity. Alternatively, we may see them as harbingers of ecological devastation, starkly contrasting the lush ecosystems that once thrived in their place.


In Costa Rica, the transition from forest ecosystems to productive agricultural landscapes, characterized by vast pineapple, palm, or coffee plantations, presents a stark contrast. From this perspective, agriculture emerges as a formidable adversary of biodiversity.


We've all heard the narrative—the widespread rejection of agriculture by environmentalists and conservationists. Yet, we must acknowledge that individuals like myself, my family, and countless others rely on agriculture for economic sustenance. Moreover, the cultivation of coffee addresses a fundamental need for consumers. This forces us to confront the uncomfortable truth: the paradoxical nature of existence.


Pineapple Production Costa Rica
Pineapple Production Costa Rica

The grim portrayal of industrial agriculture holds merit. However, it's essential to recognize that the large-scale operations of companies like Dole, Del Monte, or Chiquita (formerly United Fruit Company) represent a fraction of agricultural practices. In the global South, the majority of producers are small-scale farmers who steward the land differently.


In the case of coffee plantations, many farms serve as biodiverse havens, often cultivating multiple crops alongside bananas or other fruit trees. These small-scale models provide habitats for various species, challenging the notion that agriculture inherently harms the environment. Instead, it's the specific practices employed that dictate their impact on biodiversity.

Avocado and Coffee on our farm
Avocado and Coffee on our farm

On our farm, (and many others in the region) we boast a diverse array of produce. In addition to cultivating coffee, we grow avocados for sale in the local market. Our banana plants serve a dual purpose: providing shade within the coffee plantation and serving as fodder for our cows. To enhance biodiversity, we maintain various species of shade trees alongside fruit trees like guava, which also serve as natural living fences. In our new coffee plantations, we strategically intersperse rows with beans, maize, and various squash varieties, fostering a thriving ecosystem from the ground up.


In conclusion, while acknowledging the complexities and challenges of agricultural practices, we must strive for a nuanced understanding. By embracing diverse perspectives and seeking sustainable solutions, we can navigate the intricate web of agriculture while preserving the delicate balance of our planet.

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