San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Bean Production Down 70% Over Last Decade

BEANS are one of the pillars of Costa Rican meals and one-half of the national dish, gallo pinto. However, bean production in Costa Rica has fallen 70% during the past ten years, and most beans consumed here are now imported. According to José Joaquín Salazar, the director of the National Bean Program, the causes of the drop are rooted in the free market. In 1994, he explained, Costa Rica joined the World Trade Organization (WTO) and opened its market to international competition. Since 1995, Costa Rica has bought more and more beans from other countries and local production has dropped.“In 1995, Costa Rica planted 56,000 hectares and produced 34,000 tons of beans,” Salazar told The Tico Times. “In 2004, Costa Rica planted 16,400 hectares and produced 10,500 tons.”Production has consistently dropped 12-13% every year, as has participation in the industry, he said. In 1995, 20,500 people worked on the bean sector. That number is now at 8,000, according to Agriculture Ministry statistics. Imports now account for 70% of national bean consumption.Weather patterns such as El Niño have also had an impact on bean farming, Salazar explained, since bean crops are very sensitive to climate change.Salazar added that the areas of the country that produce beans are some of the poorest and most marginalized, often lacking basic services such as health care, electricity and education – not to mention credit. Because of this, he explained, the drop in production has had a social effect as there are few alternatives in these areas and so many former farmers leave the areas and come to San José in search of work.To confront the problem – and hopefully avert a crisis, as Salazar says if the trend continues bean production could disappear in Costa Rica – members representing the many parts of the bean production chain, as well as representatives of the government, met Sept. 8 to discuss alternatives and strategies.“The big discussion,” Salazar said, “will be whether the government is going to support this sector.”

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