Sunday, March 1, 2015

Pesticides en los Plátanos

On the afternoon of January 30, 2015 our group of thirteen college women (a.k.a. Las Gringas) had the privilege of visiting a large scale banana plantation. Jaime, a guest lecturer taught us about the banana's growth cycle, environmental problems concerning bananas, and health problems in banana plantation workers. I found it ironic how little any of us knew about banana farming despite bananas being the most widely eaten fruit in the world. I have eaten bananas my entire life yet I knew absolutely nothing about them prior to this field trip other than the simple facts that they were delicious, yellow, and knew no seasons (they are always in supermarkets). Jaime taught us that bananas are the largest herb in the world. Much deforestation has happened in order to make room for banana plantations. Jaime said that the 'Coryoyo' bananas most commonly grown in Central American originated from the Philipines and that there are millions of strains of bananas since they are so easy to cross with both animal pollinaters and the wind. What interested me most on this field trip was learning about the health risks of the plantation workers and the enviromental implications of using extravagant amounts of pesticides on the crops.

The worker population consists of roughly half Nicaraguans. Costa Rica is the 2nd country in the world with the most immigrants (mostly Nicaraguans). The workers in these plantations have little protection from the harsh chemicals they administer the plants. In most cases the only thing between them and the chemicals is their long sleeve shirts and pants. These chemicals can cause the plantation workers to become infertile and their babies to have complications.
Illegal chemicals are still frequently sold under the table. The genetically modified banana plants cannot survive without the use of chemicals to protect them from insects, fungus, etc. It is common for the plantations to hide the actual chemicals they are using from the inspectors and show them legal chemicals instead. Aside from pesticides, a substantial amount of fertilizer is used. When it rains, the fertilizer is washed into the river which causes an increased amount of algae. The increased amount of algae kills the fish and in turn disrupts ecosystems and habitats alike. During the hour visit we saw many planes fly overhead and drop clouds of chemicals over the plantation.
Upon departing from the plantation I had a sick feeling in my stomach. Is this the future of agriculture: a system that harms both the workers and the environment? If not, where does change begin? How long will it take to secure an agriculture system that is safe? These are difficult questions that don't have answers.

Hailey Alexander

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