|S P E C I A L F E A T U R E S |
Sustainable Renewable Energy Resources in the Caribbean region - Continued from May 2007
Costa Rica and Honduras
by Reg Block
My previous article explored sustainability in the Commonwealth of Dominica and presented an overview of the environment in Central America. This article will continue, more specifically, by exploring agriculture, ecotourism, renewable energy, and sustainability in Costa Rica and Honduras
Picking up where I left off last month, the following excerpt is the final paragraph from my May article titled, Clean Caribbean: pollution-free and organic?
"Environmental protection and natural resource management in Central America are of utmost importance, as land degradation, loss of biodiversity and deforestation continue to threaten sustainability in the region. Fortunately, there is substantial monetary assistance available through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), the World Bank, the US government and non-governmental organizations. Also, various international agreements and accords have been signed to protect the region's environment. However, Central American governments are a long way from being able to implement practical environmental regulatory structures. Thus the onus, to some degree, falls on individuals, businesses and corporations to promote awareness and, in fact, self-regulate, something many farms, eco-conscious resorts and other businesses are already doing. (resource material from www.eia.doe.gov)"
On the international market, Central America's smaller farmers are unable to go toe to toe with large foreign commercial operations. Furthermore, US mega-producers are looking to export products to the region –an activity that could completely upset the local farming industry.
This situation is further exacerbated by the fact that many Central American farmers are already subsidized, often selling their export products below the cost of production, leaving little room to negotiate on prices.
Because of this, specialized agriculture, such as organic farming, whose products appeal to high-end niche markets, is gradually becoming more popular throughout the region. And currently, there are many organic farms and local and international support organizations promoting alternative agriculture, sustainability and the development of unique value-added product industries for sale directly to local consumers and for export.
Costa Rica, for example, is an ideal country if you are looking for fertile land and ample rainfall: these are two of this country's principal resources -at present one quarter of its land is set aside as national forest.
For this reason, many expatriates find Costa Rica particularly appealing compared to other regions of the Caribbean where the environment may be more compromised. Additionally, most of Costa Rica is accessible by roads, although many are in disrepair.
And, with the Pacific Ocean on one shore and the Caribbean on the other, Costa Rica is ideally located for shipping to North and South America, Europe and Asia.
Costa Rica's principle crops are commercially produced bananas, pineapple and coffee: however, there are niche market opportunities for many organic products that can be grown and then sold worldwide for a premium price.
In response to health concerns, the high cost of agrochemicals and low yields -blamed on soil exhaustion and pollution, many small producers, since the late 80s, have adopted sustainable, natural and organic techniques.
This desire to keep the environment clean and recover biodiversity has resulted in a substantial network of organic farmers forming the Costa Rican Organic Agriculture Movement (MAOCO) -an organization to establish common objectives and goals. www.undp.org
For anyone planning to relocate and purchase a farm in Costa Rica, MAOCO can help convert a farm from non-organic to organic and further develop organic farming techniques. Also, if you are considering purchasing property in Central America, interior land is far less expensive than ocean front property and in some cases may be fairly straightforward to have certified organic.
There is an opportunity to become part of the solution to environmental and agriculture decline by growing your own food and providing jobs. However, before taking the plunge, I recommend you visit one of the many organic farms in the regions.
I suggest starting your research at www.satglobal.com/agricultural_tourism.htm -the site, among its many other resources, outlines agricultural tourism projects like, pick-your-own, rent-a-tree, hospitality provision and short term visit accommodations.
Also, www.volunteerlatinamerica.com offers volunteer opportunities where, for a nominal fee, you can live on a farm, and learn various aspects of organic farming and sustainability. A google search using "farm volunteer" will render many applicable web sites.
Also, caribpro.com features farms and raw land for sale throughout Central America and other parts of the Caribbean. Click on the Costa Rica link and it will take you to some wonderful properties. For example, 43 fertile acres, two streams, electricity to the property and it's ideal for growing coffee -only $139,000.
However, before purchasing do some research, and definitely read the following report found at www.crbuilders.com/Real_Estate_Report.pdf.
It explains a wide range of legal and procedural problems that may be typical of Costa Rica, but are also generally applicable to other developing countries. The report discusses important topics like; terms and customs, buying property the wrong way, your attorney, agents, utilities, architects, beach property, national reserves, insurance and national parks.
"Purposeful travel to natural areas to understand the culture and natural history of the environment; taking care not to alter the integrity of the ecosystem; producing economic opportunities that make the conservation of natural resources beneficial to local people." (Garen, 2000, 221).
ECOTOURISM IS THE FASTEST GROWING SEGMENT OF THE GLOBAL TOURISM INDUSTRY, AND COSTA RICA IS AT ITS FOREFRONT.
This is because people the world over are more environmentally conscious than ever before, and though still wanting exotic travel experiences, most want to be socially and environmentally responsible.
Between 1998 and 2000, Costa Rica's tourism industry grew from $884,000,000 to 1,138,000,000, with the number of visitors increasing from 943,000 to 1,100,000 -about 50 percent from the USA and 5.3 percent from Canada.
Today, tourism is Costa Rica's largest industry next to silicon chip production. Because of this, there are many opportunities, not only for travelers to visit the country and learn about the environment, but also for investors and expatriates to get involved in a growth industry.
Costa Rica has been called the Switzerland of Central America: compared to other developing nations, it has a high standard of living, low crime rates, economic stability, GDP of $6,700 (compared, for example, to neighbouring El Salvador's GDP of $3,000), 95 percent literacy and life expectancy in the high 70s.
This makes Costa Rica particularly appealing to travelers that largely want to avoid the reality of poverty when visiting third world countries.
Despite the positive environmental and economic aspects of ecotourism, it is important to weigh the pros and cons before investing money or moving to a foreign country.
Some environmentalists insist that ecotourism means; increased air traffic pollution, visitor overcapacity, "green washing," a profits first attitude, lack of regulation enforcement and dependence upon international financial aid.
Although these are real problems, many environmentalists believe they are lesser evils and can be solved over time, while the direct destruction of the environment is something we can no longer afford to entertain.
Tourism in Costa Rica is steadily increasing by about six percent per year, much to the satisfaction of those involved in ecotourism. However, there is concern about the impact that an unlimited, unregulated flow of tourists is taking on plant and animal life.
For example, Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica's most popular park, has 1,000 visitors each day during high season: they are most often attracted to the rarest and most vulnerable plant and animal life.
Also, in many areas monkeys are fed by tourists and have become little more than garbage processors. Visitor overcapacity is directly related to profit, as park managers are reluctant to turn away paying customers. Profit, though short lived in this case, is obviously the upside of an overabundance of customers, while the downside, if unregulated, is environmental degradation and eventually a decline in tourist flow to the region.
Furthermore, mixed in with a dash of corruption, inadequate policies and lack of enforcement, "green labels" may not always be an indicator of legitimate environmental responsibility. For example, a "greenwashed" 450 room luxury resort could have the same rating as a funky little jungle lodge, simply because it avoids pesticides, is careful with waste management and uses biodegradable cleaning products.
THE PRACTICE OF GREENWASHING LUXURY RESORTS HAS THE POTENTIAL TO DAMAGE COSTA RICA'S REPUTATION AS A TRUE ECOTOURISM DESTINATION.
For investors and those planning a move to Costa Rica, seriously evaluating the short and longterm impact of a day-to-day living and business enterprises is important.
Failing to fully understand the concerns and needs of the region may contribute to environmental degradation that will eventually render this Eden-like paradise unappealing and unprofitable. The signs of this are, to some degree, already apparent, and many blame it, partially, on dependence upon foreign donors to fund Costa Rica's protected areas.
Environmentalists say that foreign bodies, though well-intentioned, do not understand the unique sensitivities of the region and therefore are unable to recommend or initiate adequate regulations and protective measures to stop unscrupulous profit-driven individuals from exploiting the environment.
Thus, for now, it falls upon individuals and businesses to self-regulate -something that not everyone will do. However, failing education or an environmental conscience, self-preservation may prove to be a serious motivator for those otherwise driven purely by economics.
For an further look at the environmental pros and cons of ecotourism in Costa Rica, I suggest www.american.edu/TED/costa-rica-tourism.htm.
Over 99 percent of Costa Rica's energy is produced through renewable resources, according to an article by Gustavo Gonzalez, published on www.tierramerica.net.
Close behind, at around 80 percent, are Paraguay, Honduras, Haiti and El Salvador. On the lower end, in the 10 to 20 percent range, are Mexico, Ecuador, Venezuela and Chile, with Argentina at the bottom of the pile, producing under 10 percent of its energy using renewable sources.
For the environmentally conscious, choosing a new home country will depend upon the energy policies of that country, the value of land, cost of building and availability of energy technologies and support services. Two excellent resources for purchasing, building and incorporating renewable energy into your home are;
businesses/byGeo/byC/CostaRica/CostaRica.shtml and www.crbuilder.com.
If Costa Rica is your choice, I recommend looking into Rancho Mastatal www.ranchomastatal.com, a retreat in Puriscal County rainforest, where they teach participants building techniques using bamboo and cob, and how to incorporate renewable energy systems.
These hands-on courses, taught in Spanish and English, include design and installation of a solar-electric system, building solar ovens and methane biodigestors, micro-hydro development and social and cultural issues of working in a developing country.
With a population of 7.4 million (2005), Honduras is the second largest country in Central America. Its most important cities are; highly industrialized San Pedro Sula, in the north and, in the south, Choluteca, an agricultural center.
According to web.worldbank.org,
HONDURAS IS THE MOST OPEN ECONOMY IN CENTRAL AMERICA, WITH EXPORTS PLUS IMPORTS REACHING 106% OF GDP IN 2005.
Despite this, among countries in the western hemisphere it has one of the highest incidences of poverty and inequality. Furthermore, 65 percent of its population reside in rural areas and about 7,000 small, scattered communities are off the electrical grid.
The majority of Honduras' poor live off small-scale farms.
Like Costa Rica, Honduras is eager to develop its organic agriculture industry -not only for the preservation of the environment, but also to improve the quality of life for its people and stimulate commercial activity in the agricultural sector.
Thus, in 2002 the government established the Organic Production Act to; ensure standardization, location, production practices and meet the requirements of international organic certification.
BioLatina www.biolatina.com, the Honduran certification agency with central offices in Siguatepeque, also conducts workshops to train organic inspectors and assist farmers with the process of certification.
However, according to Silvio Zepeda, Regional Representative for BioLatina, there there are some obstacles: he says,
“Many individuals and or organizations which are interested in certifying their plots don’t have the financing to pay for the certification process. Although in many cases International NGOs finance the work, many are still left behind. Secondly, farmers are sometimes reticent in exploring alternative farming techniques and particularly in taking the leap into organic production. As a certification agency we encounter situations where the product is certified but when it comes to securing their product on the market, there is a failure in commercialization and marketing of the product.” www.marrder.com/htw/2002jun/business.htm
For those planning to relocate in Honduras, there may be opportunities, not only to engage in organic farming, but to assist farmers in marketing, branding and distributing their products to other parts of the world.
This is particularly true for export to Canada, USA and Europe, where organic products are sold at at a premium price and supply cannot meet the demand.
Compared to Costa Rica, ecotourism in Honduras is not as developed, however, its abundance of natural resources is starting to attract increasing numbers of travelers from around the world.
Also, various organizations, like The Volunteer Honduras Ecotourism Projects, are working on developing conservation activities to preserve flora and fauna, and help residents create jobs without exploiting or damaging the environment.
Those planning to purchase property in Honduras for farming or ecotourism would benefit greatly by first volunteering with such an organization. Volunteers assist communities to develop ecotourism models through building trails, guiding tourists, cleaning parks, planting trees, making signs and participating in kayaking, hiking and rafting.
It's a great way to learn about the country and at the same time get a feel for where you would like to live, and integrate with the environment. Check out The Volunteer Honduras Ecotourism Projects website at; http://www.globalcrossroad.com/honduras/ecotourism.
Most ecotourism resorts participate in sustainability by growing food, avoiding chemicals and pesticides, and subsidizing their power consumption using solar, wind and minihydro technologies.
An article titled, You Can Profit From Ecotourism Facilitation, found at www.satglobal.com/ecotourism.htm explains, in depth, the economic benefits of ecotourism and the down side to ignoring environmental stewardship.
Although the article is not specifically about Honduras, the principals are generally applicable. For example, it tells you why ecotourism is profitable and what you need to know to be successful; things like knowing the environment, getting government support, pricing your products, target marketing, getting technical support and how to use banks, insurance agencies, airlines, travel agencies, tour operators, bus lines, hotels and other services.
...to be continued next month, when I will discuss renewable energy in Honduras and sustainability in Nicaragua, Belize, El Salvador, Panama and Guatemala.
Author: Reg Block lives in Vancouver, Canada with his eleven year-old daughter, Rachel. He is a freelance journalist with Canada's largest publisher, Canwest Global, where he writes for the Lowermainland Division and the Wellness section of the Surrey Now Newspaper. Prior, Reg was Special Projects Manager with Common Ground Magazine, Canada's oldest natural health and environment magazine. Reg plans to settle in the Caribbean when Rachel has finished school and accomplished her figure skating goals. Reg Block
#306 - 5455 Balsam Street
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