Around 120 leaders and producers from the organic and the rural tourism sectors got together at the Seventh Annual Rural Tourism Fair in La Aduana cultural center in San José last weekend to share their practices, goals and stories.
Merlyn Oviedo, 32, was one of those participants. From southwestern Costa Rica’s OsaPeninsula, an area where almost 25 percent of the population lives in poverty, Oviedo wanted to find a way to help his community.
With no high schools in his area, he left the area at age 15 for a higher education. Merlyn came back in 2001 to create a business where he could use his artistic carpentry skills.
He came across ASEDER, a local nonprofit organization that teaches young community leaders how to start their own business while being socially and environmentally responsible.
Trained by the group, Oviedo opened a small lodge near La Palma in 2004. He said ASEDER, in two years, has helped launch 12 locally owned micro businesses.
At the three-day event, environmental and indigenous groups, organic farmers and craftspeople talked about the ins and outs of rural tourism and new agricultural practices.
Oviedo makes all of the furniture in his Danta Corcovado Lodge with deforested wood, or wood left behind by loggers. In addition, all the lodge’s staff members are local residents, something Oviedo says is key to supporting the local economy.
Another group present at the fair was Asovida, an ecological association in the Caribbean-slope town of Guápiles that makes organic products – such as cough syrup, shampoos, massage oils, repellents, coconut candles and organic chocolate – to support the families of those involved in the project.
All seven group members have day jobs and work on this project after hours. Their goal is to one day be able to live from the sales of these organic products alone, said Rosario Gutiérrez, a maid.
They distribute their products nationwide and plan to start exporting their products soon. Asovida nets a profit of about ¢400,000 ($727) in a good month.
Opportunities like the tourism fair are key to raising their profile and profits. “It is very hard for small national companies, like us, to do marketing,” Oviedo said. “This is one very important issue where companies should be strong, but having a small company does not necessarily facilitate this essential part of business.”
“An event like this helps us open doors so our products can become more accessible for Costa Ricans around the country,” said Oviedo.
“To just go to the beach and not really see the people, how they live, what they do in their daily lives is a shame,” Oviedo said. “However, there are a lot of tourists that do come with the intention of getting to know our culture, and that is why we are here.”n