Monteverde study links ecotourism to reduced food security

The rise of ecotourism in developing nations such as Costa Rica has brought an influx of jobs to the community and money into the local economy — but these may not be the only influences visitors have infused into the local society.

Statistics from nutrition and food security research in the Monteverde area exposed a startling finding about the impact of ecotourism on food security. The study was conducted by researchers at the University of South Florida and the Monteverde Institute (MVI).

The three-year project, funded by the National Science Foundation, found that the majority of Monteverde-area families not involved in tourism activities showed high levels of food security. But the majority of local families involved in tourism exhibited some degree of food insecurity.

“Food security is defined by all kinds of things … It’s not just ‘Is there food or is there not food?’” said Justin Welsh, MVI community programs director.

Jannelle Wilkins, executive director of MVI, said security levels are not only dependent on scarcity of food, but on the quality and nutritional value of food as well. Cost of food was not the center of the issue either, as many in the food-insecure subgroup purchased more expensive, processed goods as opposed to less-expensive and locally grown products.

Many residents who work in the ecotourism business often feel they lack the time required to prepare meals, thus affecting their nutritional choices, Wilkins said. In other words, they might choose a bag of potato chips to eat rather than spend the time and energy to cook a typical and nutritious meal with rice and beans.

Health has been compromised through these food choices, evident through an increase in cardiovascular diseases in the Monteverde community, Wilkins said. The findings pose further questions of just how strong and intricate an impact tourists have on the Tico society. Researchers are currently working on follow-up projects to further identify effects of ecotourism.

— Gaby Ramirez

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