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Banana Harvesting is Actually Fun – Costa Rica day 10

Just before 5:00 AM, the rooster began to crow incessantly. Everyone awoke and met downstairs for breakfast. We grabbed shovels, pickaxes, and our water bottles and headed out. The first half of the day was spent re-grading the trail system that ran between the individual houses in the jungle community. The trails had become overgrown and there were many places with significant evidence of erosion. Because of the weather in Costa Rica, this task must be done every few months during the dry season and every week or two during the rainy season. Although we did not get the whole network of trails fixed, we were able to do a substantial amount of work on the trails near the house. By the time we finished, it the trail was wide enough for quads to drive through, as was our goal.

After lunch, we went to the banana crop on the plantation. It was fascinating. I had always thought bananas grew and were picked like normal fruits, but that isn’t the case at all. Each banana tree only yields bananas once before it is cut down—from the base a new stalk will grow and yield the next crop.

(This video is not mine, it is a related video from youtube that shows the same things we did)

Since the tree-like stalks that grow bananas are useless once they yield fruit, they are chopped down with a machete for harvest. While we toured the plantation, our guides chopped down a few trees and had us haul the large clusters of bananas back to the house – a skilled harvester, such as our guides, can chop the tree so it  gracefully folds over and braces itself against the ground, leaving the bananas at about waist-height. Our guides informed us that this plantation grew its bananas organically and that it took a full year for their bananas to grow. Other plantations can produce banana crops every 6-months, but they use chemicals to grow their bananas at faster-than-normal rates. The bananas from this plantation tasted much better than bananas grown with chemical additives.

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Costa Rica – Stop the Savegre River Dam

There is currently a political struggle in Costa Rica over the Savegre River region. The Government plans to build a dam in the river in order to produce electricity. Right now, la Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad or ICE (Costa Rica’s electric company) is the only electric company in Costa Rica. They are a monopoly and are technically not owned by the government, but locals explained that ICE and the Costa Rican government are essentially one-in-the-same. The locals stated that ICE is not officially part of the government but that they work so closely together with making work for one another and getting each other paid that it might as well be a government owned company. Being privately owned, however, someone gets to be at the top making a lot of money.

The media suggested that this dam would ensure adequate power to Costa Rican families and avoid massive blackouts. The locals are not convinced. They state that the country already has plenty of electricity and this dam will only produce a surplus in electricity that can then be sold to surrounding countries (making a great profit for the “non-government-officials at the top of the ICE company).

Some people see the Costa Rican government and ICE working together on this as a sign that some powerful people are using their authority to destroy the countries greatest resources in order to increase their personal wealth. I was informed that a committee showed that by investing in renewable uses of the same land, the country could make up to ten times as much money as the dam would bring in. Why would the government still opt for building the dam and destroying this great natural resource? The only explanation I can come up with is that the better option would get different people [with less pull in the government] paid. Oh politics.

So, what would be destroyed by building this dam? Well, above the dam thousands of people would be put out of their homes due to the back-flooding necessary to make a dam work. Even more people would lose their livelihood, as the river is a major hotspot for ecotourism. Below the dam, many people would only see a small stream where a large river had previously created fertile farmlands and gave them access to clean drinking water.

In addition to the damage caused to humans, the largest impact of the dam would be in the ecosystem. The Savegre River area holds 6% of the world’s biodiversity. It is one of the most biodiverse places on the planet. This river is also the cleanest river in Central America and is one of the cleanest in the world. A dam would flood a large portion of this region above its placement and dry out a large region below as much of the water would be redirected. The ecosystem would be forever changed. Many plants and animals would drown above the dam undoubtedly causing massive extinctions of the many species that only live on the banks of the Savegre River.

Locals are up in arms (at times quite literally) over this issue. The Costa Ricans want peace, but when a powerful government ignores her people, bad things can happen. Other dam projects have been halted or completely stopped on other rivers in Costa Rica due to local protesting and in at least one case torching the governments construction vehicles. The people of Costa Rica are requesting support as they fight to protect the Savegre River, one of their greatest natural resources. They have protected the river for decades, even cranking their own grinding stones and living without electricity in their rural homes when a small water-wheel could automate everything for them. These people care about the river and live by a simple motto: “Pura Vida” meaning “Pure Life.” A pure life is truly what they have and it is well worth protecting. Please join them and fight the Savegre River dam project.

A Facebook group dedicated to the river:

http://www.facebook.com/pages/Savegre-River-Costa-RIca/265106427147

 

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