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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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!!!
- To check out more information about Corbana:
- To learn more about about the sigatoka negra :
- To learn more about banana seeds and how bananas are cultivated today:
- To learn more about Corbana’s pesticide pledge:
- To learn more about Biological control and other innovative treatments that are being tested at Corbana: