Palm oil plantations
In many areas in Southern Costa Rica where banana used to be cultivated, african palm has taken over. Palma Tica (Grupo Numar) owns some 35,000 hectares, the farmers united in COOPEAGROPAL some 10,000 hectares. The total area planted with oil palm in the south-western zone is now approximately 60,000 hectares.
Palm oil plantations have the following environmental and other adverse impacts:
- For any palm oil plantation, forested lands and grass lands are first cleared of their vegetation, levelled and deep canals are dug for the draining of water. Most biodiversity present in the land is destroyed.
- Oil palms are often planted right up to river banks in violation of the 1996 Forestry Law which requires a 15 meters protection zone at either side of the river.
- Oil palms have an extensive root network and grow some 20 meters high which means that the trees will block the views on the surrounding landscape;
- An oil palm plantation is a monoculture in which the owner will not allow any other trees or vegetation. The plantation does not provide suitable habitat for fauna and in particular large plantations contribute to the disappearance or even extinction of threatened fauna.
- Local farmers of larger plantations may sell their land to corporations which may bring in contract workers, leading to loss of jobs in agriculture locally.
- The necessary use of pesticides can cause illnesses to workers and contaminates the soil and ground water and run off to rivers and lakes.
- Often workers can sustain injuries (e.g. loss of a finger) when cutting the bunches with their fruits and sharp spines weighing each some 25 to 30 kilos.
- After 20 years, oil palms become too high and must be replaced by new rows of young oil palms in between the former lines. Farmers often cannot bridge economically the 4 years growth of the new palms without income and many loose their land.
- After the second period of 20 years the soil is exhausted, biologically dead and unsuitable for other forms of agriculture.
- Most of the palm oil produced is being used for biofuels. Recent international literature questions whether biofuels produce less CO2 than traditional oil.