Costa Rica – Ecological Engineering in the Tropics

MSU / UCR – December 15-29, 2012

Day 4 – La Rita – CORBANA – Bananas – Engineering related to bananas

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Allison and Anh are excited to learn about bananas at Corbana!

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The beautiful scenery we admired as we drove to Corbana!

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La Rita – CORBANA – Bananas – Engineering related to bananas – Mariana Madrigal-Martinez

After having a great time exploring La Selva, our group got up early to make our way to Rita de Guapiles, where Corbana is located. We met Don Eduardo, who offered us some delicious fruit and showed us a presentation on the history of the banana crop and its importance to Costa Rica. This video summarized what  we were about to see and  provided interesting facts about the banana crop in general. For example, I learned that Costa Rica is the world’s second largest exporter of bananas and  there is no such thing as a banana seed anymore! Instead, bananas grow from offshoots of the plants roots called horns.

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The wild type banana has large seeds which made this fruit difficult to consume.

Those little black dots that appear on the banana’s interior are actually the remnants of their large seeds. Since the banana seeds on the wild type are so large and cumbersome, many generations of improvement and breeding has nearly eliminated this problem. These small black dots, or seeds, are also sterile. Which means that they do not have the capability to produce a new banana plant.

Today bananas must be propagated from large root-stocks that are carefully transplanted in a suitable climate where the average temperature is a humid 80 degrees Fahrenheit, and a minimum of 3 1/2 inches of rainfall a month. The soil must have excellent drainage or the root-stocks will rot.

The plants grow new shoots, often called suckers, pups, or ratoons, from the shallow root-stocks  and continue to produce new plants generation after generation for several decades. In about nine months the plants reach their mature height of about 15 to 30 feet.

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Paying attention to video and to the important information presented by Don Eduardo.

After the presentation and informative lecture, we made our way to a laboratory which is responsible for checking the chemical composition of the soil which is sent from various plantations to Corbana. On the way we saw a giant cockroach with long and hairy legs. Luke picked it up and put it close to peoples faces. I hated it!! Corbana runs samples of  banana plantation soil in a machine that utilizes a plasma flame to emit different wavelengths that correspond to the different elements and chemicals which make up the soil.

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The soil samples that are sent to Corbana to be analyzed by the machine.

These spectral emissions are used to classify the chemical constituents and concentrations of chemicals within the soil. This information is necessary to ensure the growth of a quality banana crop. Leaf samples are taken first to see if the banana plant is healthy every three months. If the crop shows insufficient levels of nitrogen, phosphorous or nitrogen soil samples are taken to resolve the problem.

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The machine which produced the spectral emissions, and Dimitri tentatively looking away..

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Ben admiring the deadly sigatoka negra!

We then visited another laboratory which analysed common and deadly pathogens that attack the plantain crop, such as the ¨sigatoka negra¨ as the native Ticos call this fungus. The disease is caused by the fungus Mycosphaerella. The symptoms are brown specks on the leaves of the banana plant. Within three-four weeks the leaf turns black and dies, which ultimately leads the bananas ripen too early. Other characteristics of a disease ridden banana plant, are that its bunches grow too small, the fruits become short and deformed, and the taste of the fruit is acid.

To prevent the disease the farmers use chemicals, but on organic farms it’s forbidden. In stead the farmers keep the disease in check by cutting off leaves where the specks are appearing.

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The deadly sigatoka negra has attacked!

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cor2 When compared to the disease ridden plants, this healthy plant will be able to produce delicious bananas for the whole world to enjoy!

At the molecular lab we learned that Corbana is committed to reducing the use of pesticides by  50% by 2015. This is also the same year that Costa Rica plans to attain a completely neutral carbon society. The challenge for the  banana producers is to reduce the volume of pre-harvest crop treatments while  maintaining  a yield of 2,500 boxes per hectare.

The group also learned that when there is a higher number of microorganisms in the plant, it is more beneficial for it to be able to fight off the pathogens and diseases without external help. This follows the same concept as inter-cropping  When more organisms are present there are more mechanisms available to fight off foreign pathogens and pests that negatively affect the banana crop.

After leaving the laboratories, we made our way to the banana plantation.  We were amazed to see how the workers used a trolley system to transport the bananas to the washing, sorting and packaging part of the plant. The workers followed certain requirements which assured that best bananas are picked and delivered to get rinsed off, showered with lactic acid, aluminum and finally packaged and shipped. The banana´s quality is judged by a ratio of length to width.

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Loyal worker transporting the world renowned bananas.

Also the pool in which they are sorted is full of bacteria that break down elastics that the banana excretes from the cut end to ensure that the banana is not covered in the elastic material. This material would lead to a decrease in shelf life and public satisfaction  During our short time at the packaging plant we saw a large truck full of  rejected bananas being trucked away to feed local animals. While this practice cuts down on waste a more lenient public acceptance of deformed fruit would further decrease the carbon footprint of the crop as a whole. We then made our way to a pilot plant that ferments partly decomposed leaves, organic compounds, and plant nutrients in order to produce bio-pesticides and bio-herbicides.

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A hard working woman putting the ¨ Chiquita ¨sticker on the bananas.

We were asked to smell and touch the newly matured bio-pesticide  As I entered I thought I would be able to handle the smell but as soon as they opened a barrel I immediately needed to leave! I completely understand why a fresh Chiquita banana would not be worth the smell even to a nasty bug! After the tour we got back onto the bus for a long ride.

Along the way we saw a forest fire. Surprisingly the group did not seem very interested. This site made me very sad, as I could imagine exactly what a beautiful landscape and ecosystem was being returned to simple carbon. On the way we stopped at a restaurant located on the pacific ocean. It was the first time for several students to experience the worlds largest ocean. The visuals were almost as astounding as the cuisine!

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Una de las tantas delicias de Costa Rica!

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Bananas are essential for the Costarican Cuisine! These are platanos fritos which are very common for breakfast.

Corbana was so interesting, but then it was time to step back in the bus and head over to CATIE where we had a delicious fried fish dinner, fried plantains, and coconut flan for dessert. Delicioso!!!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

-Related Pages-

  • To check out more information about Corbana:

http://www.corbana.co.cr/website/

  • To learn more about about the sigatoka negra :

http://www.augura.com.co/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=23&Itemid=39

http://fairtradeinecuador.wordpress.com/2009/06/12/sigatoka-the-farmers-biggest-problem/

  • To learn more about banana seeds and how bananas are cultivated today:

http://www.buzzle.com/articles/banana-seeds.html

http://www.banana.com/farming.html

  • To learn more about Corbana’s pesticide pledge:

http://test.reefertrends.com/?p=14448

  • To learn more about Biological control and other innovative treatments that are being tested at Corbana:

http://www.freshplaza.com/news_detail.asp?id=103395

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9 thoughts on “Day 4 – La Rita – CORBANA – Bananas – Engineering related to bananas

  1. It was a great experience that i share with you guys, and also a like that many of you say to me that now you will know how dificult is, and what the background behind the produccion of the banana.

    • Thank goodness that you were able to help with all the technical translation parts (and more!) Matias! This whole experience was very eye opening because I am sure that we are not all very well aware of all the hard work and research that goes into producing the best batches of bananas for the world!

  2. It was truly a great experience seeing how one of the main exporters of bananas produces their crop. Do you think any of their practices to increase the sustainability of the system and decrease the carbon footprint could be used in the United state? if not, why would they be applicable to Costa Rica but not a country like the United States.

  3. Near the end of our amazing and informative Corbana visit, we discussed an alternative to using pestacides. This alternative involved using a fungus to combat insects while avoiding damage to crops. What was this alternative called and what are some details?

  4. Fascinating write-up Mariana! So happy to hear that pesticides will be reduced. The shower of lactic acid and aluminum was disturbing…I thought aluminum was bad for your health (we’re not to use aluminum cookware, etc.). The sorting process was interesting. Did you get to see the rejected bananas that didn’t measure up? I had a moment of empathy for them!

    • Thanks so much Mrs. DeSmet, your comments always put a smile on my face 🙂 The rejected bananas are actually not too rejected, believe it or not, because they are fed to the livestock who gladly eat them with no complaints! But you are very right, at first I was very concerned when we heard that the bananas are showered in lactid acid (which is the acid that builds up and causes muscle aches when we work out too hard) and the aluminum. It turns out that by showering the bananas with the acid and the aluminum, they are protected from a certain liquid that is released when the bananas are cut down. This lquid stains the banana peel with black marks that are not very accepted by the public. I was also very excited to learn about Costa Rica’s goal of cutting down the pesticide use by 50! How ambitious!

  5. Muchas felicidades hijita, hiciste un excelente trabajo! disfrute tanto leyendo lo escribiste, lo cual fue informacion muy importante e interesante, de la cual aprendi mucho. Tambien me hiciste reir con tus comentarios divertidos e hiciste que se me hiciera “agua” la boca al compartir las fotos de lo que cenaron ese dia (principalmente los platanos fritos 🙂 ) ahora valoro mucho mas todo el trabajo que hacen las personas encargadas de que tengamos fruta fresca en nuestra mesa. Estamos muy orgullosos de ti, de que hayas tenido la oportunidad de haber hecho ese viaje a Costa Rica, que es un pais tan bonito, asi como de cada uno de tus logros y de todos los que estan por venir. Te queremos mucho mi Mariany, Papa, Mama y Naty. Besitos.

    • Que bueno que te gusto mi blog Mami!! La verdad es que fue un viaje maravilloso! Aprendimos muchisimo y cada dia estabamos muy ocupados! Pero si, bien dicho Mami, es un pais tan bonito y la comida es tan deliciosa! Te quiero mucho mi Mami!! 😀 😀

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