The Agroecology Movement in Costa Rica. Aims, Actors, Structures and Relation to Organic Agriculture

Research Paper (undergraduate), 2018

34 Pages, Grade: 2,3


Table of content

1. Introduction [along with Tainná Viana]

2. Methodology

3. General information about Costa Rica

4. Agroecology
4.1. Farmer-to-farmer movement
4.2. Agroecology in Costa Rica
4.2.1. The farmers’ point of view
4.2.2. The governmental organisations’ point of view
4.2.3. The non-governmental organisations’ point of view
4.2.4. Examples

5. Organic Agriculture in Costa Rica
5.1. History
5.2. Organic Agriculture in Costa Rica

6. Discussion

7. Conclusion & outlook

8. References

9. Annex

List of tables

Table 1: Different conceptions between the three different types of main actors of the Agroecology movement in Costa Rica (peasants, MAG as a public body and MAOCO and COPROALDE, as NGOs) (Sáenz-Segura et al. 2017)

Table 2: Further information on the APPTA association and their working methods (APPTA 2017)

List of figures

Figure 1: Share of the Agriculture sector of the country’s GDP (in %) (World Bank and OECD 2016)

Figure 2: Organigram of MAELA (2008a, created with Word SmartArt)

Figure 3: Agroforestry system designed by the APPTA association, perfectly suited for their associative peasants (APPTA 2017)

Figure 4: Logo and seal of the APPTA association (APPTA 2014) and a workshop, held on Organic Agriculture methodology (APPTA 2017)

Figure 5: All seals, the products of the APPTA association are certified with (from left to right: Organic Certification of USA; Organic Certification of Costa Rica; Fair Trade Certification of Europe; Organic Certification of Switzerland; Fair Trade Certification of USA)

Figure 6: Latest version of the Costa Rican organic label (left) and the seal (middle) by the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock (right) (MAG 2014; APPTA 2017)

Figure 7: Total (left) and organic (right) area of agricultural production in Costa Rica (in %) (MAG 2016b, MAG 2010)

Figure 8: Area of organic production and share of organic production of Costa Rica’s total agricultural production (OECD 2017, PEN 2016)

Figure 9: Organic land of Costa Rica and other CELAC countries in the Central American region (FAOSTAT 2016)

Figure 10: Human Development Index of Costa Rica (blue) and other CELAC countries in the Central American region (United Nations Development Programme 2016)

List of abbreviations

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten


Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten


Agroecology, just like Organic Agriculture in Europe, belongs to the huge amount of approaches, that aim to perform agriculture in a more sustainable way. The Agroecology movement, as it is named by the famous agronomist and agroecological expert Altieri, has its origins in Latin America. The approach of Agroecology is integrating ecological measures and traditional (indigenous) knowledge into the farming system, aiming to perform agriculture in a more sustainable and also to attain food sovereignty and food security. Regarding to the sheer size of Latin America, several regions are subdivided by having their own sub-movement (Brazil, Andean Region, Central America, Cuba, Mexico). By focussing on Costa Rica as part of Central America, this case study aims to give a proper understanding how the Central American movement works. The sub-movement in Central America is called the farmer-to-farmer (CAC) movement. Here, knowledge and technology are passed on between several farmers within one region, seeing themselves as peer. Trainers, so called (Agroecological) promotors are installed, are doing the preparatory work, as they are the link between knowledge and the soon-to-be Agroecological farmers. Workshops are held, and a pre-structuring is given, to enable and simplify the application of Agroecology (Altieri and Toledo 2011). CAC can be rather seen as a key methodology, having its origins in Central America. For the Agroecological farmers, the CAC approach is not to be categorised nowhere near Agroecology. CAC is just a method, whereas the farmers are practicing Agroecology as a philosophy. Their philosophy is including culture, traditional practices and community living, together with exchange (CAC) and political advocacy. Public instruments and structures are not given solely for Agroecology, but for several sustainable agriculture approaches together. A law on Organic Agriculture (including Agroecological methods) was implemented in 2007. Organic Agriculture should not be equated to Agroecology. NGOs and public bodies, that are working on the field of sustainable agricultural approaches, are aiming to unite all different systems, e.g. Agroecology and Organic Agriculture. NGOs are aiming mostly for political power, coming with one big movement, while the government is rather interested in the economic aspects of a huge sustainable production. To the farmers, Organic Agriculture was introduced to be a way to gain price premiums, by just adding seals to their product. For small-scale farmers, the main markets for Organic products (USA & EU) are not accessible. For them, certification and conversion costs are much too expensive and price premiums cannot be attained at domestic (local) markets. Many farmers are therefore looking for more sustainable and secure alternative agricultural practices, as it is Agroecology.

1. Introduction [along with Tainná Viana]

In the past 40 years, the Agroecology movement was formed in Latin America (Altieri and Toledo 2011). As defined by Gliessman (1998), Agroecology “is the application of ecological concepts and principles to the design and management of sustainable agroecosystems”. From the European point of view, Agroecology seems to be somewhat between a movement, an agricultural approach and a methodology. The sheer size of Latin America and the vast number of sub-movements, as well as the lack of specific standardisation by certification bodies make Agroecology appear to be impossible to see through (Sylvander et al. 2006).

On the other hand, there is Organic Agriculture (OA), one of the first social movements in agriculture, food and nutrition. It follows the norms of the International Federation of Organic Agricultural Movement (IFOAM) from 1972 and its purpose is to design biological processes and to develop ecological systems for agriculture. As well as Agroecology, Organic Agriculture emerged as a response for the agricultural transformations during the Green Revolution. Moreover, both of them share similar goals, such as contribution to the food security and the environment conservation (Abreu et al. 2012).

The project is aiming to contribute to a better understanding of the Latin American Agroecology movement. Therefore, two countries, Brazil and Costa Rica, were chosen in order to give different perspectives about the topic.

The movement in Brazil emerged in opposition to the agriculture modernisation and as a consequence of an excluding agrarian policy, which did not provide access to government subsidies in order to contribute for the small family farms’ development (Brandenburg 2002). The movement was promoted by politically engaged and NGOs and later, by farmer’s organisations and the Landless Workers’ Movement (MST) which was important to disseminate the ideology and practices within the country (Altieri and Toledo 2011, Brandenburg 2002). Brazil had a significant expansion of the agroecology movement since its beginning, compared to other countries and it is a pioneer in public policies, however, it still has several obstacles to overcome in order to promote equity in rural development (Caporal and Petersen 2012).

In the following report part, the Costa Rican Agroecology movement will be analysed in its structure and aims. Costa Rica, as part of Central America, belongs to the farmer-to-farmer (CAC) movement. The Agroecology pioneers and contemporary actors will be introduced and evaluated. The relation of Costa Rica to Agroecology and to the CAC movement and the differences between the two movements will be rolled out. Furthermore, a short introduction to the Costa Rican Organic Agricultural sector will be made. Both approaches, Agroecology and Organic Agriculture, will then be compared to one another. At last, the introductory hypothesis will be discussed and reviewed.

Hypothesis: “Agroecology in its current shape is not only a revolutionary movement, but also a valuable approach and method to manage sustainable agroecosystems. Its reputation and application are going to increase in the future.” (Moritz Stüber, 08.01.2018)

2. Methodology

The case study “The Agroecology Movement in Latin America” is a literature review, based on two sources. One part is based on an internet research, involving databases, such as “ScienceDirect” or “ResearchGate”, but also informative material of local organisations and newspaper articles. The research was performed in English and Spanish. The keywords are “Agroecology”, “Organic Agriculture”, “Sustainable Agriculture” and “Costa Rica” combined with different spelling and translated versions. The websites and publications of important associations, communities and organisations also played an important role.

The second source has been an expert interview, providing a huge knowledge about the local relationships. The chosen expert was Mr. Alexander Vargas Garro, former student of the UCR (University of Costa Rica) and employee of the CUDECA - ECOS (“Culturas y Desarrollo en Centroamérica”), a non-profit organisation, specialised on culture and rural development. During his work at the CUDECA – ECOS, Mr. Alexander Vargas Garro did not only receive expert knowledge about the respective country - Costa Rica -, but also about the whole Central American landscape, which allows him to not only speak about one country but also to compare and relate Costa Rica to its neighbouring states. As a consulting expert, Mr. Alexander Vargas Garro already worked with important developing actors from Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Panama, Peru and Cuba. Therefore, Mr- Alexander Vargas Garro is the perfect expert to talk about rural development and to evaluate the Agroecological movement and its structures.

3. General information about Costa Rica

Costa Rica is one of the highest developed countries in Latin America. Its HDI, provided by the United Nations Development Programme (2016), is much higher than the in the neighbouring countries. Together with Panama, Costa Rica is located in the southern area of the Central American bridge, that connects North and South America. At the same time, the two countries count as the wealthiest in Central America. The Costa Rican HDI estimates nearly 0.8 (Fig. 10; Annex), while other relatable countries like Nicaragua or Guatemala, are staying below 0.65 (United Nations Development Programme 2016). Especially concerning ecological measures and sustainability, Costa Rica is setting trends. Costa Rica was able to set its energy household to nearly 100% eco-power self-sufficient throughout the past years (MINAE 2015). Other, less developed parts of infrastructure, like the waste system are aimed to be improved. Costa Rica wants to be the first country worldwide to prohibit disposable plastic (Soto 2016).

Costa Rica is also one of the pioneers in Organic Agriculture across the Central American region. Organic food export and people’s ecologic awareness have been rising in the past years (Barquero 2013). One of the principal promoters of Organic Agriculture is the CEDECO (Educative Corporation of Development in Costa Rica). Organic Agriculture is taking a market niche in Costa Rica since the 1980’s. Even though, Costa Rica was one of the pioneers of Organic Agriculture in Central America, Organic production is estimated to be only 1.6% of the total agricultural production. More than two third of the Organic production are meant for the export (OECD 2017). The organically managed area estimates around 8,000 ha, whereas the comparable surrounding countries, like Panama or Guatemala, have around twice the Organic area of Costa Rica. The neighbouring country Nicaragua had even accounted four times the Organic area of Costa Rica in 2015 (FAOSTAT 2016). This development is not limited to the Organic sector, as Costa Rica’s agricultural sector is declining in general. Figure 1shows, that the share of agriculture in the GDP was nearly reduced to a third throughout the past 20 years in Costa Rica. In 1995, the agricultural sector accounted for 14%, whereas in 2016, agriculture was estimated to value only 5.5%. The decline is not exclusive to Costa Rica, since in neighbouring countries like Nicaragua or Guatemala, the agricultural GDP share has also been reduced throughout the past 20 years (World Bank and OECD 2016). However, the economic importance of the agricultural sector has been reduced much more in Costa Rica. This is on the one hand caused by uprising new sectors like tourism (Banco Central de Costa Rica 2016) and on the other hand the result of a functioning agricultural transformation. SAPs (Structural Adjustment Programmes) and the introduction of agricultural institutions in Costa Rica in the 1980’s and 1990’s were changing the sector completely (Vargas Garro 2018).

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

Figure 1 : Share of the Agriculture sector of the country’s GDP (in %) (World Bank and OECD 2016)

By means of the agricultural institutionalisation, a demographic move from rural to urban life has happened in Costa Rica, which was slowed down by civil wars in other Central American countries (UCDP 2018). The industrial level as well as the development of the service sector in Costa Rica is much higher than in the adjacent countries (Vargas Garro 2018). Even though, Costa Rica’s economy was severely hit in the early 1980’s (Molina Jiménez 2012), no civil war broke out like happened in Nicaragua or Guatemala (UCDP 2018). The conflicts had their origin in agricultural disputes, which were going on until the early 90’s, strongly affecting rural areas. In Costa Rica the agricultural sector was restructured, and the rural area completely changed, while at the same time in Nicaragua and Guatemala, the rural area remained unchanged or even suffered setbacks (Vargas Garro 2018). The described development is therefore also reflected in the country’s HDI (Tab. 1; Annex).

Concerning nature, Costa Rica has much to protect, since its nature accounts for having the highest density of biodiversity worldwide (Obando-Acuña 2007). Therefore, taking ecological measures like promoting sustainable agricultural approaches is very important to protect the country’s natural treasures. Besides the in Europe commonly known Organic Agriculture, there are also other approaches in Latin America, e.g. the Agroecology movement. The Central American followers of Agroecology movement are named to be the “farmer-to-farmer” (“Campesino-a-Campesino” = CAC) movement, which also includes Costa Rica. Farmers in the CAC movement identify themselves as a social movement of sharing knowledge from farmer to farmer. The renowned Agroecological expert Miguel Altieri stated the CAC movement to be the “most efficient, cheap and stable way of producing food per unit of land, input and labor” across the region (Altieri and Toledo 2011). The movement had its origins in the late 1980’s, when Guatemalan peasants visited farmers in the centre of Mexico. Each side was not persistent in their way of farming but proposed to experiment on a small-scale. The key was to stay open minded to suggestions and full of respect for the knowledge of each farmer about their own land and climate (Altieri and Toledo 2011, Holt-Gíménez 2006). The effects were astounding. Farmers in Central America were able to recover their degraded soil and at the same time increase their yield (Holt-Gíménez 2006). At some sites, the yield had even tripled. Besides the agricultural improvements, also social structures and solidarity between the farmers were rising (Altieri and Toledo 2011).

A big issue of the CAC movement is its way of communication. Since a substantial part of this movement is between the farmers themselves, research centres, universities and institutes are less integrated. Field trials were implemented recently, for example by the research centre CATIE (Tropical Agricultural Research and Higher Education Center). As a social movement, Agroecology is more popular in the northern countries, such as Nicaragua and Guatemala. Agroecology in Costa Rica is rather small-sized. It seems, that in Costa Rica, the difference between Agroecological principles and Agroecology as a movement has still not been figured out (Pou 2017). But thanks to the country’s ecological awareness and many well-suited agricultural products, its potential is huge (Cortés Granados 2011; Suchini Ramírez 2012).

4. Agroecology

The Latin American Agroecology movement MAELA (“Movimiento Agroecológico Latinoamericano y del Caribe”) is including several Central American countries, among them Costa Rica. It is clearly declared to be a political movement, opposing Neoliberalism and Economic Globalisation. In the 1980’s, first initiatives and experiences have been made in several places of Latin America, that were later formed into rural development projects, including the work of NGOs and agricultural training centres. The MAELA further states to contribute to sustainable human development by encouraging the Agroecological approach of agriculture and local knowledge (MAELA 2008a).

The formulated objective is to “contribute to the process of social and political changes, that enable the construction of a new model of development, that is sustainable, with social justice, recovery and conservation of our ecosystem for our people (contribuir al proceso de cambios sociales y politicos que poissibiliten la construcción de un nuevo modelo de desarrollo, que sea sostenible, con justiciar social y recuperación y conservación de nuestros ecosistemas para nuestros pueblos)” (MAELA 2008a).

MAELA can be seen as the umbrella organisation, which is coordinating and supporting many movements and communities in Latin America. In 2008, more than 150 institutions and organisations were following the movement. Many small-, mid-sized and family farmer organisations, indigenous communities and consumer associations are included. The movement supports the women’s and adolescents’ rights in rural areas and landless communities (FAO 2015, MAELA 2008a).

The structure of the MAELA movement is indicated in figure 2. The organigram indicates, that the MAELA is a structured organisation of international format down to its national coordinators and their respective regional farmer organisations, communities etc. For the Central American region, the respective coordinator is the “Red COPROALDE” (Costa Rican Network of Rural Organisations, Peasants, Natives and Non-Governmentals for an Alternative Development), with their current chairman Mr. Juan Arguedas (MAELA 2008b). The COPROALDE was founded in 1988 and is currently residing in Costa Rica. The COPROALDE network devoted itself to sustainable agriculture, food sovereignty, food safety and the CAC methodology. Furthermore, agro-ecotourism, biodiversity management and artisanal crafts are encouraged (Gloobal 2009).

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

Figure 2: Organigram of MAELA (2008a, own editing with Word SmartArt)

Regarding agricultural practices, the network controls and gives access to resources, such as seeds, local fairs, soil, etc. Another important aspect is the development of a participatory certification, that enables market access for many small-sized and indigenous farmers. The COPROALDE is also taking part in creating awareness for women’s rights, especially concerning rural development and agriculture (Red COPROALDE 2009), which exactly matches the conviction of its umbrella organisation MAELA.

For every region, the MAELA also receives support in terms of strategic advisory and administration. For the Central American region, Luis Samandú from the non-profit organisation CUDECA is taking the administrative position as a strategic advisor (Vargas Garro 2018). The role of Samandú can be described as a consultant. Usually, such structures and connections are staying unclear to the general public. The complex structures are not to be seen as secretive employments but are rather the cause of a lack of official structures and organisation.

Like already mentioned before, the COPROALDE network is also strictly linked to the implementation of the farmer-to-farmer methodology. Their wording is clearly indicating Agroecology as a movement and CAC as a methodology. To understand, why the COPROALDE is referring to Agroecology as a movement and to CAC as a method not a sub-movement, it is necessary to have a closer look at the CAC.

4.1. Farmer-to-farmer movement

Agroecology in Costa Rica, as part of Central America, belongs to the countries in the CAC movement (Altieri and Toledo 2011). The movement has its beginnings in the highlands of Guatemala, where farmers from the indigenous “Kaqchikel” Maya (Maxwell 2006), decided to visit Central-Mexican farmers in Tlaxcala in the late 1990’s. The Mexican farmers founded a water and soil conservation institution. In a student-teacher-relationship, the farmers exchanged ideas, knowledge and technologies. Suggestions were implemented in small-scale test trials, respecting the traditional land and climate experiences of the hosting farmers. In the following years, especially farmers from poor, war-torn countries joined the CAC movement, spreading from the south of Mexico across all Central American countries. Only few years later, first structures were visible. In Nicaragua, the CAC method was introduced to the Nicaraguan public agricultural organisation UNAG (National Union of Farmers and Ranchers of Nicaragua) (Holt-Gíménez 2006). Even though, the movement was created in Guatemala with close relationship to Mexico, it was the UNAG, that took advantage of the CAC methodology and spread it across the country (Gonzálvez et al. 2015). Costa Rica was part of the movement since the end of 1990’s, only shortly after it became spread across Central America thanks to the UNAG and other following institutions.

The Nicaraguan farmer-to-farmer programme PCaC (“Programa Campesino a Campesino”), founded by the UNAG, was a pioneering effort in promoting the idea of a horizontal technology transfer between farmers and Agroecological measures for soil fertility and conservation, e.g. the use of compost (Gonzálvez et al. 2015). The UNAG refined the PCaC by means of starting to train Agroecological promotores (Spanish: promoters) who organise and give workshops. These promotores are now the fundamental base of the Agroecological CAC movement, since they are the ones, responsible for passing on knowledge and technology. Until the year 2000, already 1,500 promotores were installed, teaching to one third of all farmers in Nicaragua (Holt-Gíménez 2006). The promotores themselves were regional farmers, already using available but alternative technology. Another typical property of the promotor principle is the absence of scientific researchers and institutes since information is taught by farmers to farmers. Agroecology-practising farmers were able to decrease soil erosion, to recover degraded land (Bunch 1990) and lower the utilisation of chemical fertilisers, while at the same time, increasing their yields. Thanks to these astounding effects, the movement spread rapidly (Holt-Gíménez 2006). By 2011, approximately 10,000 farmers and their families were practising and committing to the CAC method (Altieri and Toledo 2011). The commitment of promotores to support small- and mid-sized farmers can be seen as an approach, perfectly suited for rural areas, in consequence of the lack of public support and technological knowledge.

Agroecology is clearly described to be a movement, with certain structures, organisations and public programmes. Even though, farmers also have faith into the capability of CAC approach, it should rather be considered a technology. It is a method of spreading and transferring knowledge throughout a region and but not exclusively used in Agroecology. It therefore does not rely on structures but on its application to stay a commonly utilised farmer practice. In literature, CAC is described differently, either as a movement (within Agroecology) or as a methodology. A movement implies much more than just the application of one method (Vargas Garro 2018). On the contrary, Agroecology is vitally important to the farmers committing to it. Agroecology can be understood as “a philosophy, involving culture, production, history, biodiversity, practices” (Vargas Garro 2018), which will be examined closer in 4.2. Therefore, throughout the second part of the report, CAC will not be addressed as a movement within the movement Agroecology, but as a commonly practiced method that belongs to the Agroecology movement.

4.2. Agroecology in Costa Rica

Regarding environment aspects, Costa Rica is a country of extreme opposites. It is considered to be a pioneer of Organic Agriculture in Latin America and a role model in ecological measures. On the other hand, Costa Rica is also the world’s largest conventional pineapple exporter. Conservation efforts and national parks are alternating with vast landscapes of pineapple or palm oil plantations (PROCOMER 2016). The SAPs and the regarding economic forces in the early 1990’s changed the scenario of agriculture and its structure in Costa Rica completely (Vargas Garro 2018). Similar to the Green Revolution in the 60’s and 70’s, big plantations and mono-cultural intensive cultivation dominated the landscape. The use of chemical fertilisers and pesticides characterised the Costa Rican agriculture in the late 1990’s. Costa Rican farmers were strongly affected by the industrialisation, either to set their aim to agricultural exports and to fulfil the high-yielding global agri-business dynamics, or to not be able to ensure their livelihood by farming anymore (Vargas Garro 2018). The need for counter movements like Agroecology was growing bigger during the 90’s, since many farmers were opposing the development to a more intensive agriculture. Agroecology, even though it entered Costa Rica nearly at the same time as in Nicaragua, developed in a minor scale. Agroecology in Costa Rica has not received the necessary public support in its early phase, like it did in Nicaragua, since the agricultural sector at the time was expected to go into a different direction (Vargas Garro 2018, Banco Central de Costa Rica 2016). However, the minor distribution of the movement is not automatically implying a qualitative difference between the Agroecology practicing farmers in Costa Rica and in the adjacent countries. The Agroecology movement in Costa Rica can therefore still be seen as representative to whole Central America.

To understand the Agroecology movement, the complexity of its structures and the different involved stakeholders, with completely divergent perspectives, must be reviewed. From a farmer’s point-of-view, who is really convinced by the practices he is applying, Agroecology is more than just an agricultural approach. The follower and the movement itself “is eminent politic, the advocacy to generate laws, programmes and budget is without a doubt a politic action” (Vargas Garro 2018). Across the whole country, farmers founded their own producer organisations. Together with governmental (MAG, PNAO, SIMAS) and non-governmental organisations (ANAI, ANAO, CEDECO, MAOCO), these three parties can be described as the main actors of the Agroecology movement (Vargas Garro 2018).

In the following sections (4.2.1.-4.2.3.), the three actors, their vision and aims will be outlined. It is obvious, that even within these parties, individual opinions and aims are differing widely, as well as they overlap between the three actors. However, what is reflected in the following, can be considered as the general consensus of each main actor.

4.2.1. The farmers’ point of view

A farmer, who is part of the Agroecology movement, is not only applying sustainable agricultural and CAC methods. For agroecological farmers, it is a philosophy and a way of thinking, that are involving several aspects and exceeding the conventional way of practicing agriculture. The farmer’s main role still is the role of a producer, but he is also carrying out culture, traditional practices and community living, with exchange and political advocacy.

It should not be assumed automatically, that all peasants are agricultural producers, farmers and vice versa. Farmers that are producing part-time in Europe are generally degraded to just pursuing a hobby. For a peasant, who is practicing Agroecology, the agriculture is not his profession, but his passion. Selling the yield or gaining profit is not the fundamental aspect of the Agroecology movement. A peasant, who is part of the movement, does not simply follow a production strategy, nor is he demanding international structures, like Agroecology seals or standards. The way of practicing is often used just to feed the own family or the surrounding, in accordance with nature.

In Guatemala for instance, indigenous people play a major role in Agroecology. Most indigenous peasants are not interested in entering a specific market or pursuing big profits, but in food sovereignty and food safety. The Costa Rican population accounts only 2.5% indigenous people, the lowest population share of all Central American countries (Schliemann 2012). Still, many indigenous Costa Ricans are practicing Agroecology. They have no intention in accessing a bigger market, moreover they are practicing “trueque” (Spanish: barter) (Ortíz 2016). In the case of peasants starting to trade and exchange goods between one another, their Agroecological production and turnover is not measurable, neither is the quantity of followers and producers. Of course, the exchange of goods between farmers is not limited to the indigenous population but is a common practice in the Agroecology movement. Apart from goods, Costa Rican peasants often share and exchange their knowledge. This can be considered the CAC method. However, not all farmers, who are practicing CAC methods are automatically practicing Agroecology or convinced by the Agroecology movement (Vargas Garro 2018). The farmers are not only exchanging knowledge, but come together to form communities, similar to producer organisations. Uncountable producer organisations have already been founded in Costa Rica and across Central America, with no overview possible, since only a few of them does also exist in bureaucratic terms.

Since the Agroecology producers deeply believe in their way of farming, they also act together as a political community. Together as a community, the farmers openly confront big agricultural and pharmaceutical corporations like Monsanto, large-scale plantations and mono-cultivation. Within local communities, the term “Agroecology” is often replaced with “Sustainable Agriculture”, “Climate Smart Agriculture” or other names, which also contribute to their identity. Often, the different terms do not change the fundamental belief of uniting agriculture and ecology in the most sustainable way.

The insufficient data, regarding producer associations and the turnover, as well as the sub-division into different names, all brought together in one movement seems to be elusive. Nevertheless, this elusiveness is also reflected in the aim of the Agroecological peasants. They are part of an opposition movement, with no interests in profit and conventional structures, but political influence and an improved sustainability management.

4.2.2. The governmental organisations’ point of view

In recent years, the government has started to incorporate the Agroecological approach into their public policy. The government had been reacting to the Agroecology movement only after several success stories took place in Costa Rica and in the surrounding countries (Altieri and Toledo 2011). Only 2007, the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock (MAG) released official directives, which included Agroecology. The MAG’s “Department for Promotion of Organic Farming Production” (DFPAO) formed the Law No. 8591 on Organic Agriculture, subrogated by the “Department of Sustainable Production” (further information in 5.2). In the law, the MAG is also mentioning technologies, designed by the Agroecology movement. The RBA (Recognition of Environmental Benefits) and the RBAO (Recognition of Environmental Benefits for Organic Production) can also be considered as public incentives on practicing Agroecology. On the contrary to the Law on Organic Agriculture, the RBA and RBAO are no regulation neither a legislation, but as incentives to generate knowledge about the system of production and the financial aspects (Sáenz-Segura et al. 2017, IBS Soluciones Verdes 2013).

The SIMAS (Mesoamerican Information Service on Sustainable Agriculture) promoted Agroecology, by means of their Agroecological and Organic Producer movement (“Movimiento de Productoras y Productores Agroecológico y Orgánico “) and their Agroecological Alliance (“Alianza por la Agroecología “), a platform for sustainable rural development. SIMAS is a civil association, legalised by the Law No. 8408 on Sustainable Production by the MINAE (Ministry of Environment, Energy and Telecommunications) in 2003 (SIMAS 2018, Sáenz-Segura et al. 2017). Furthermore, the Nicaraguan governmental organisation UNAG backed up Agroecology with scientific researches, also related to Costa Rica (Vargas Garro 2018).

It is important to point out that the government’s interests clearly lie on the Agroecological approach, not on the Agroecology movement. All actions undertaken by the government are aiming to pick up the methods and convert them into a sustainable and profitable business, for instance amalgamated with Organic Agriculture. Even though, political advocacy is of interest to the peasants, the way of certification and export orientated production, as it is aimed by the MAG (OECD 2017), is opposing their philosophy.

4.2.3. The non-governmental organisations’ point of view

NGOs are mostly focussing on research and the scientific fundament of Agroecology, such as the CEDECO. If a method proves itself to be use- or successful, it is then multiplied in the surrounding area and spread throughout the institutional system (Vargas Garro 2018). For instance, researches by MAOCO (Organic Agricultural Movement) and ANAO (National Association of Organic Agriculture) have been contributing to the Law on Organic Agriculture, in terms of scientific evidences, years of incidence and the compensation of public absence (2000-2006), before the law finally had been approved in 2007 (Sáenz-Segura et al. 2017, IBS Soluciones Verdes 2013).

The ANAI association is playing a similar role. Already founded in 1983, the ANAI originally was dedicated to nature conservation in the Talamanca region in the southern region of Costa Rica. It later broadened its aim to also “helping people put into practice community and landscape-level initiatives that integrate nature conservation and the well-being of the people who conserve and sustainably use nature” (ANAI 2017a). Their aim also matches with the application of Agroecology which is performed in ANAI training programmes. Within their Agroecology Programme, the ANAI claims to have already trained thousands of eco-volunteers and interns in on-the-ground research and conservation work. This system is similar to the CAC method, since many of the trainees eventually spread their gained knowledge in future conservation and development programmes all across the world (ANAI 2017b). The ANAI is the partner organisation of the APPTA community (further information in 4.2.4.). The APPTA community is a small producer association, founded in 1987, that is practicing Organic Agriculture, together with Agroecological and sustainable methods (APPTA 2017).

Organisations like MAOCO, ANAO or corporations like the ANAI were advocating all different kinds of ecological approaches in their early stages of development in Costa Rica. Not only did they support the development of Agroecology, but also of Organic Agriculture. They count as the major organisations, which promote and do research on Agroecology. Apart from the opposing philosophies and interests of the different approaches, their goal is to create a combined (political) force to impose the way of sustainable agriculture (Sáenz-Segura et al. 2017).

Corporations that are working with big plantations generally oppose the Agroecological approach. “Naturally, these approaches (Agroecology) have many enemies such as big plantations companies like Monsanto, ADM, Carrefour etc., who based their production in huge pieces of land, even against the communities, laws etc” (Vargas Garro 2018). These big companies do political advocacy in Costa Rica in their interests, just as the Agroecological farmers do. Many small-scale farmers have realised the unsustainable approach of agriculture, which these companies are promoting. Many farmers feel the urge to not only stop participating but to politically oppose this unsustainable way. “In this sense, some kind of articulation will be always needed to oppose such invasive projects and to spread more sustainable ways to produce food” (Vargas Garro 2018).

4.2.4. Examples

The CEDECO is taking a major role in the Costa Rican Agroecology movement, by using their own approach “Cadena Agro-Alimentaria” (Spanish: Agri-food Chain), which integrates small farms and jointly forms an Agroecology perspective, including most components of the production chain. Starting from the elaboration phase of an Agroecological farm, passing through the processing stage of agro-industrialisation until reaching the market, the CEDECO wants to offer a business approach, that is available for everybody. Peasants and farmer communities are enforced to enter the bigger market, consulted in the elaboration of marketing strategies and provided with information about professional quality management. Their project is offered online to all peasants in Central America, that have already more than two years of Agroecological experience (CEDECO 2012b, Vargas Garro 2018). The CEDECO is also supporting the company CoopeAgri El General R.L. The company, which is mainly distributing Organic coffee and sugar, was already founded in 1962 to solve the problems, that came with the commercialisation and industrialisation of the coffee production. It currently has more than 10,000 associated producers and is a pioneer company, which has promoted economic growth in the extensive southern area of Costa Rica as well as sustainable production (CoopeAgri 2008). The certified Organic production is also including Agroecological methods. Their sugar production was certified Fairtrade in 1998 and coffee in 2004 (Fairtrade 2018). CoopeAgri enables small-scale farmers to enter a bigger market by simultaneously aiming to benefit the producers in social, environmental and cultural terms.

The last indicated example is the APPTA association, which was founded in 1987. APPTA is working with 932 small-scale producers in 56 different municipalities in Talamanca in the South-Caribbean region in Costa Rica (APPTA 2017). 80% of the members are indigenous producers, therefore APPTA is contributing to bringing back traditional indigenous methods of agriculture, like polycultures and agroforestry. Through efficient production, associates training and commercialisation, APPTA aims to undertake steps to improve the associate’s quality of life, protect the environment and conserve the natural, ethnic and cultural wealth of Talamanca and surrounding regions.

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

Figure 3 : Agroforestry system designed by the APPTA association, perfectly suited for their associative peasants (APPTA 2017)

The range of products differs between dried cacao to several fruits (banana, guava, star fruit) and is provided in one system of agroforestry (Fig. 3). All associative peasants are contributing together to the development of each agricultural system (APPTA 2017). Two descriptive videos as well as further pictures of the agroforestry systems are indicated in the Annex (Tab. 2).

The association is giving workshops on Organic Agriculture methodology and other environmental approaches, like Agroecology (Fig. 4). Treatments, that require external knowledge or technology is provided to the peasants by APPTA as well. For instance, grafting the cacao trees or the production of Organic compost are either trained or implemented by the association (APPTA 2017). APPTA is also abiding the strict guidelines of the Eco-LOGICA association to assure product quality and access to the Organic market (Eco-LOGICA 2012).

The huge amount of certification is helping the Agroecological farmers to access a global market (Switzerland, EU and USA) as it is indicated in figure 5, without carrying the costs of certification on their own.

For their products, APPTA has its own logo (Fig. 4).

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

Figure 4: Logo and seal of the APPTA association (APPTA 2014) and a workshop, held on Organic Agriculture methodology (APPTA 2017)

Besides their own logo, the products of APPTA are also labelled by a range of certification bodies (Fig. 5):

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

Figure 5 : All seals, the products of the APPTA association are certified with (from left to right: Organic Certification of USA; Organic Certification of Costa Rica; Fair Trade Certification of Europe; Organic Certification of Switzerland; Fair Trade Certification of USA)

The APPTA association and their associated peasants are definitely contributing to the Agroecology movement, even though, they are closely linked to Organic Agriculture as well. Their advantage is the combined production as part of the association and therefore lower costs and difficulties. To understand the peasants’ situation, who are stuck between a huge amount of certification bodies, a closer look on Organic Agriculture has to be made.


Excerpt out of 34 pages


The Agroecology Movement in Costa Rica. Aims, Actors, Structures and Relation to Organic Agriculture
University of Hohenheim  (Zentrum Ökologischer Landbau Universität Hohenheim)
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
Agroecology, Organic Agriculture, Costa Rica, movement
Quote paper
Moritz Stüber (Author), 2018, The Agroecology Movement in Costa Rica. Aims, Actors, Structures and Relation to Organic Agriculture, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


  • No comments yet.
Read the ebook
Title: The Agroecology Movement in Costa Rica. Aims, Actors, Structures and Relation to Organic Agriculture

Upload papers

Your term paper / thesis:

- Publication as eBook and book
- High royalties for the sales
- Completely free - with ISBN
- It only takes five minutes
- Every paper finds readers

Publish now - it's free