Why doesn't Costa Rica go organic?

Demanding regulations, high costs, a small market, and unfair competition

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This week’s question was a response to last month’s story about Costa Rica’s high pesticide use: What needs to happen for organic faming to grow in Costa Rica?


Demanding regulations, high costs, a small market, and unfair competition are the primary reasons why Costa Rica hasn’t adopted organic produce at a large scale.

That’s the conclusion reached by Estado de la Nación, a Costa Rica-based center for research and innovation.

Their summary indicates Costa Rica grows about 10,000 hectares of organic crops. This represents 2% of the total national agricultural area.

And most of that isn’t sold in Costa Rica. In 2019, more than 90% of certified organic produce grown in Costa Rica was exported.

“[Costa Rica] is committed to agricultural activity with a heavy environmental impact,” the report reads, citing the country’s monoculture farming and high agrochemical use. This is “contradictory to the sustainability discourse” that Costa Rica otherwise promotes.

There is demand for organic produce in Costa Rica, and it has increased during the coronavirus pandemic.

However, farmers in Costa Rica say the organic certification process is difficult and lacks government incentives. “Bureaucracy and the lack of agreement between institutions” complicate payouts that are meant to support organic farmers, La Nación says.

Organic vendors are also hurt by the minimal oversight of produce at the point-of-sale. Only certified establishments can legally “cultivate, produce, process, package, market or store products with the label of ‘organic.’ ” But many Costa Rican vendors use the “organic” label on non-certified produce, and there’s low risk of that being punished.

“If the country wants to resume organic production integrally, it needs to make proactive, effective and coordinated promotion,” Estado de la Nación says.

The good news is Costa Rica has an Organic Agriculture Registry that can help you be better informed as a consumer. Click here to see the relevant legal documentation about the organic certification process in Costa Rica, and you can even download a list of all organic certified operators.

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