Costa Rica – Ecological Engineering in the Tropics

MSU / UCR – December 15-29, 2012

Day 8 & 9 – Liberia – Universidad Earth – Engineering related to rice

Liberia – Universidad Earth – Engineering related to rice- Allison

22 de diciembre

We woke to a gray morning in Tilaran full of wind and a little rain. The group had their last breakfast at Hotel Guadalupe and after a slow start headed by minibus to a rice lecture in Liberia. The ride was shorter than expected and we arrived early despite our late departure. Our guide, Jennifer, joined us on the bus and we drove out to the fields. I was happily surprised that this lecture was not going to be an in class lecture as previous lectures- the lecture would take place in the field and we could actively participate as we learned about rice production. As we heard background information on rice and the particular private farm, Mojica, we were visiting, we watched a tractor till and plant seeds in a nearby field.

Part of the group engaged in the rice lecture with Jennifer.

Part of the group engaged in the rice lecture with Jennifer.

The tractor driver took a break from tilling and allowed us a better view of the machinery.

The tractor driver took a break from tilling and allowed us a better view of the machinery.

Luke sporting his newly purchased Costa Rican necklaces with a caterpillar crawling on his hands. He quickly put it down when he heard it can leave an itchy poison on contact.

Luke sporting his newly purchased Costa Rican necklaces with a caterpillar crawling on his hands. He quickly put it down when he heard it can leave an itchy poison on contact.

Rice, or “arroz” as it is referred to in Spanish, is very frequently featured in Costa Rican meals. Costa Rican cuisine has influences from Spanish, American, Caribbean, and South American areas. Gallo pinto (spotted rooster) is composed of black beans and rice and is the national dish of Costa Rica. Other typical meals include: arroz con pollo and casado both of which include rice.

Rice is produced across the country but a majority is produced in Guanacaste, San Carlos, and southern areas. According to the Rice Market Monitor from Food and Agriculture Organization at the United Nations, the 2012 yearly production is expected to be 170,000 tons. The estimated yearly consumption of rice is 350,000 tons. Costa Rica supports the domestic production of rice but high production costs make locally produced grain uncompetitive in comparison to cheaper imports. Because the domestic rice production support has surpassed six times the agreed upon amount with the World Trade Organization, 60 other rice-growing countries have complained. In a three-year time period between 2007 and 2010 the subsidy amount increased from $27 million to $109 million (1).

The industry is obliged to purchase all of the harvest at a price of 22,076.40 colones per 73-kilo sack or $44.14 per 160-pound sack before any grain is imported. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization, Costa Rica has the second highest rice prices in the world (1).

Rice and the price-fixing mechanism play a significant role in the Costa Rican poor’s pocket. Their diet often consists completely of rice and beans and the elimination of the price support system could reduce the cost of the rice by 25 percent (1).

A rice support program was designed to promote sustainable agriculture in 2011. It was found with the Sustainability Impact Assessment that this rice policy failed to achieve its objectives due to the incoherence of the underlying policy principles. It was suggested that Costa Rica may need to open its rice market to create the desired welfare gains for its most vulnerable citizens and contribute to sustainable agriculture (2).

Robbie taking a look at the grains of rice and contemplating life.

Robbie taking a look at the grains of rice and contemplating life.

UCR student, Wilberth, holds out his hands comparing the different species of rice.

UCR student, Wilberth, holds out his hands comparing the different species of rice.

The morning was a constant battle for most, as they tried protecting their eyes from the blowing dirt and debris while being shown the difference between the non consumed Red Rice weed and the other specie of rice. We passed many wind barrier or windshield plants as we drove in the farm and it was obvious why they were necessary with the powerful winds we were experiencing. From the rice field we went to taste the sugar cane growing nearby. The boys took over with the machete at this point and cut and skinned everyone a piece of the sweet fibrous snack.

Anh enjoying sugar cane.  She had  been discussing her excitement for the taste since before the trip.

Anh enjoying sugar cane. She had been discussing her excitement for the taste since before the trip.

Next, we went back to take a look at the machinery used on the farm up close. After saying goodbye to Jennifer we drove a short distance to EARTH at Liberia.

Liberia is located in the northwest corner of Costa Rica.

Liberia is located in the northwest corner of Costa Rica. (A)

Liberia is located 215 kilometers (134 miles) northwest of Costa Rica’s capital, San José, and 72 kilometers (45 miles) from the Costa Rica-Nicaragua border. It is the capital and largest city of the Guanacaste province. It is the regional center of the northwest with 35,000 residents and the Daniel Oduber Quirós International Airport. Also known as Liberia International Airport, it is one of the four international airports in Costa Rica. Liberia hosts an expo each year in the month of July that celebrates the annexation of the Guanacaste Province that occurred on July 25th, 1824.
Brief History: The city was founded on September 4, 1769 and because it was located where the main roads of the cities Rivas, Bagaces, and Nicoya met, was a nice resting place for travelers. Liberia continued to grow and became a significant hub of agriculture and livestock. Liberia’s business and trade increased with the construction of the Pan-American Highway. Many tourists travel to the Pacific Coast beaches and often stop in Liberia along the way.
Climate: As we are traveling to Liberia in December, the average high is 32.5 degrees Celsius or 90.5 degrees Farenheit and average low of 21 degrees Celsius or 69.8 degrees Farenheit.
Interesting Fact: The locals refer to Liberia as “la ciudad blanca” or the white city because of the white gravel that was used to create the city’s roads and whitewashed colonial houses.

EARTH is a university that “has been preparing young people from Latin America, the Caribbean and other regions, including Africa and Asia, to contribute to the sustainable development of their countries and construct a prosperous and just society” and our home for the next two nights (3).  We refueled on fruit juice, salad, chicken and of course the ever-present rice and beans. From there we were assigned rooms and roommates and set up camp. EARTH staff kindly led us into our cabana-like houses consisting of four rooms, one room for each set of students. My roommate Kelsey and I settled in happily after seeing the clean and spacious rooms with many windows to observe the nature. It wasn’t until dinner time when we found a sneaky fast spider crawling on our wall and another in our shower and Dimitri reminded us all to check our beds after he found numerous friends under his sheets that we remembered we were still surrounded by thriving biological life.

At two o’clock we loaded the bus for our sustainable agriculture tour with two guides from EARTH University. We began by learning about EARTH’s land and background of the research university, like their values of knowledge and biodiversity conservation (4). Currently, EARTH grows mangoes, rice and sugar cane and has a large number of sheep and some pigs. We drove through the sugar cane fields and learned that they house all 102 varieties of sugar cane in order for research to be done to share what the best variety is for dry versus rainy season and what type has the greatest yield. We were also told that the revenue from the crops is what funds the student scholarships which made the bus full of frugal college students nod their heads in respect and interest. The next stop was my favorite- the sheep. The sheep serve three main purposes for EARTH 1) for grass control by grazing 2) as meat for food and 3) their waste for the biodigester.Here we found a number of sheep hoping around and hustling from one side of the pen to the other. The best part about this was the farm’s white-faced monkey named Bingo that grabs a hold of a sheep around the neck and rides around on his back. It was a heartwarming and comical break in the day watching the two animals coexist.

Luke and Dimitri pose for a picture with a sheep Dimitri was able to catch despite its speed.

Luke and Dimitri pose for a picture with a sheep Dimitri was able to catch despite its speed.

Next to the pen was a stall of pigs that gets cleaned once a day of its waste which is combined with the sheep waste and the water from the nearby office building to be used in the on site bio digester. The specifications of the digester are it is 11 meters long and 2 meters tall composed of 1 meter of solid and 1 meter of gas. The gas is typically produced after a month and utilized for cooking in the cafeteria and to fuel the machine that harvests and cuts the sugar cane. We drove through the mango trees and were told that there were 18 varieties on site, 3 of which are exported to the USA and 15 kept in Costa Rica. Our tour ended with a field of genetically modified rice that allows for fertilizer and pesticide application to be applied without suffering. The biggest problems that impacted this rice crop were 1) a disease that affects the stem of the rice and 2) a spider that carries a bacteria that affects the rice grain which Jose accidentally translated as snakes which had many of us confused and frightened as to how more than one per plant could often be found. We headed back to our rooms at EARTH and some went into town to grab snacks for the beach trip the next day while others checked out the pool and tried avoiding the stinging gnats they encountered. As the day wound down, we fed our brains once more with dinner before a debriefing and engaging session on rice and what sustainable farming really means. We concluded that sustainable farming has different definitions and no standard, similar to the idea of organic farming and that it is important to specify the assumptions and what definition you are considering when using the word. Many students went to bed shortly to prepare for the beach day the following morning while the Costa Rican students stayed up to listen to the national soccer or “futbol” championship.

23 de diciembre
On Sunday, we all partook in a little thing Robbie liked to call “Sunday Funday”. We had a relatively education-free beach day at Playa Hermosa celebrating Anh’s birthday. I say relatively because we were all encouraged to contemplate the idea of tourism and how it affects carbon foot printing and the other ideas we have been learning about. We spent the day on the beach being cautious of the riptide but enjoying the company, sun, and water. Many students worked up an appetite playing in the large waves and we all ate lunch at a restaurant along the beach.

Alex and Ben swing with a view of the Pacific Ocean in the background. The two had some issues with their synchronization and shortly after the picture was taken, they took a tumble.

Alex and Ben swing with a view of the Pacific Ocean in the background. The two had some issues with their synchronization and shortly after the picture was taken, they took a tumble.

Despite Dr. Reese’s efforts to not bring home any “lobsters” many red faces appeared back at the bus. We had a relaxing afternoon, went into Liberia to enjoy dinner, and wrapped up the day discussing in our groups our floating map design which we will begin creating later this week.

Anh at lunch with the servers who serenaded her for her 21st birthday! She even got some coconut flan at dinner at the other restaurant.

Anh at lunch with the servers who serenaded her for her 21st birthday! She even got some coconut flan at dinner at the other restaurant.

After the completion of the study abroad trip and additional learning about sustainable agriculture at different farms, it was evident that carbon neutrality is on the mind of many farmers and citizens of Costa Rica. At Monte Verde, we learned about the reforestation project that is being attempted to improve the soil and thus the crops and agriculture in the cloud forest area. At Mojica, Jennifer quickly dismissed the idea of cover crops or crop cycling, although it seems that those methods and reforestation are crucial in conserving soil quality (8). Orlando Chinchilla, director of the National University’s Institute for Forestry Research and Services, believes space is too limited to grow the additional vegetation needed to offset Costa Rica’s emissions. Alex Leff quoted Chinchilla, saying “the whole country isn’t going to be reforested. We need to leave room for houses and infrastructure, to plant crops like rice and beans, not to mention the African palm or pineapples” (6).  Another interesting observation made in country was that Mr. Gonzalez from EARTH University at Liberia said organic rice farming was not possible but we were served organic rice for dinner at University of Georgia’s campus in Monte Verde (7).

Rice farming ties in with Costa Rica’s attempts for a carbon neutral country because of the heavy impact it has on carbon foot printing. The rice crops at Mojica used three rounds of fertilizers and tilled the ground in between each round. These methods add to carbon in the atmosphere in addition to the carbon emitted from utilizing machinery in each process.

References
(1) Rogers, Dennis. “Costa Ricas Rice Subsidy Has Strong Impact on the Rural Poor.” AM Costa Rica Archives. Costa Rica News, 25 May 2012. Web. 17 Dec. 2012
(2) Umaña, Víctor. “Food Policy Coherence for Sustainable Development: The Case of the Rice Sector in Costa Rica.” ATDF Journal 8.1/2 (2011): 41-54.
(3) “About EARTH.” Our Mission, Vision, Values. Earth, n.d. Web. 23 Dec. 2012.
(4) “About EARTH.” EARTH Facts. Earth, n.d. Web. 23 Dec. 2012. .
(5) Arriagada, R. A., Sills, E. O., Pattanayak, S. K., Cubbage, F. W., & Eugenio Gonzalez. (2010). Modeling fertilizer externalities around Palo Verde National Park, Costa Rica. Agricultural Economics, 41, 567–575.
(6) Leff, Alex. “The Race for Carbon Neutrality.” GlobalPost. GlobalPost International News, 13 Nov. 2009. Web. 08 Jan. 2013.
(7) Gonzalez, Sergio G. “Sustainable Agriculture Tour.” EARTH University, Liberia, Costa Rica. 23 Dec. 1012. Lecture.
(8) Velazquez Ruiz, Jennifer. “Rice Tour.” Rice. Mojica, Liberia, Costa Rica. 23 Dec. 2012. Lecture.

Media References
(A) Map of Costa Rica. Digital image. Http://costarica.embassyhomepage.com/costa_rica_map_sanjose_map_hotel_monteverde_tourist_map_costa_rica_road_map_la%20fortuna_tourist_map_tamarindo_holiday_map.htm. N.p., n.d. Web. 14 December 2012.

Additional Links
Earth University Page: http://www.earth.ac.cr/?lang=en
Rice (cites Mojica Farm): http://mucostarica.wordpress.com/2011/01/12/feeding-costa-rica-rice-production-in-a-developing-country/
The book Campesino a Campesino: Voices from Latin America’s Farmer to Farmer Movement for Sustainable Agriculture found at: http://www.foodfirst.org/store/book/Campesino_a_Campesino
Feeding Costa Rica: rice production http://mucostarica.wordpress.com/2011/01/12/feeding-costa-rica-rice-production-in-a-developing-country/
Playa Hermosa http://www.govisitcostarica.com/region/city.asp?cID=309

7 thoughts on “Day 8 & 9 – Liberia – Universidad Earth – Engineering related to rice

  1. Was that ever packed full of fun information and stories–thanks Allison for the update!! I thoroughly enjoyed it!

  2. Love hearing everyone’s updates. I’m learning a lot from all of your info! Merry Christmas to all!

  3. Way to go Allison this is an awesome post! You even added references!! I thought it was interesting that while the red arroz is considered a pest that they process it and sell it all the same. I also thought it was a little odd how quickly the idea of using a cover crop was dismissed. Large scale farms definitely do not take sustainability into account as much as many of the other smaller or organic farms we have visited. I am so glad the caterpillar didn’t make me itch! Sunday Funday was definitely the most relaxed and euphoric i have been on the whole trip. The waves were perfect to ride on and the amount of shells and hermit crabs were great. All in all it was a great couple days. And lets not forget about the spider monkey riding the sheep!

  4. An important factor being done at the Mojica rice plantation that was not mentioned by Allison was how they tilled along the contour lines. Before the plantation was established, the land was previously used to produce cotton. For those who are unaware, cotton can be a very hazardous crop in terms of ecological sustainability; it requires mass amounts of pesticides which in turn is reflected on the carbon footprints and the nutrient depletion is extremely noticeable in the soil. Although I’m sure the plantation is in much better condition than its previous state, it is interesting to see that rice is able to produce a fair yield under these conditions. But as mentioned, the farmers are using contour plowing on some of their more inclined fields. With such poor soil conditions, it is easy to see that if a large rain storm were to occur, erosion would be a major issue in the area (I mean, just look what happens when a little wind goes across the land). So as a preventative measure, the contour plowing will help mitigate erosion and will also allow better water seepage into the extremely dry soil. The only consequence of using this method of conservation is the footprint left behind by having to utilize large machinery.

    With this in mind, could there be any other more “sustainable” methods/practices the rice farmers could use to reduce their carbon footprint?

  5. Nice and coherent way of laying out on the table what we did for these two days! At the beach, humans have more environmental impact than just carbon foot printing. As I was collecting sea shells, I recalled once hearing the quote “leave nothing but footprints and take nothing but pictures”. By collecting unique rocks or photogenic seashells, we have an impact on the ecosystem by removing something that may serve as a nutrient, food source, or resource of another species. Minor actions such as this have cumulative impacts on the ecosystem. I also lost my plastic sunglasses in the ocean, and thus, I am introducing a non biodegradable material into the ocean.

  6. Sunday was such an amazing day, and also a day of many firsts for me ! Like when Dr. Reinhold, Dr. Reese, Matias, and I were swept away by a HUGEE wave! But we survived and laughed at the experience afterwards. I was so excited to get a little bit of necessary vitamin D and to feel the warm water and the sand tickle my toes! Do you guys remember when we were told that there were 2 snakes per plant at the rice fields? One of the most interesting facts that I learned was that organic rice was not really an option here due to the large number of pests and the amount of pesticides that are necessary to control them. Another interesating fact was that there are actually three rounds of fertilizer that are applied to the rice. These rounds are dependent on the number of leaves that the rice plant has. The first round of nitrogen is applied when the plants have three leaves. The field is irrigates afterwards. Then the second one when the plant has 6 leaves, and finally when the plant has 9 leaves to ensure that the crop will grow and be harvested.

  7. In response to Kelsey’s comment, I think you would need to do an analysis to decided if the carbon footprint from the large machinery is greater than the effects of the erosion that it would help combat. They did mention a no tillage method which would help because longterm damage of the soil is caused by excessive tillage leading to erosion. Another option would be to look into the irrigation more and implement an adequate drainage process that involves salinization. Salinization refers to the build up of salt in the soil which can be a side effect of utilizing a large amount of fertilizer.

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