By Brianna Stubler
SAN LUIS, Costa Rica — The family of Oldemar Salazar Picado is one of almost 30 who work their own portion of a 50-hectare farm in Bajo San Luis known as La Bella Tica.
Twenty-five years ago the land was donated to the families, many of whom grew coffee plants and sold fruit for marginal profits, Salazar said. Now, only three families primarily grow coffee at La Bella Tica. But they are more involved, roasting the harvested fruit to sell ground coffee at a 50 percent profit.
Salazar said he is proud to be a farmer, and although some of his neighbors call him crazy, he firmly believes in his organic practices. He is one of three certified organic coffee farmers in the area.
When someone doubts his rejection of conventional methods of eradicating pests and diseases through herbicides, pesticides, fungicides or chemicals, he takes them out to the field and produces a heterogeneous mixture of dirt and insects. By planting bananas, water apples, oranges, squash, and other produce, potential pests have other food sources and are not a threat to the coffee, Salazar said.
Switching to organic farming has presented challenges, but he said he is determined to be successful and will find ways to overcome obstacles. His improved health is proof to him and his family that the difference in organic practices can have a perceptible impact.
However, not everyone supports his practices. Neighboring farms are not organic, so members of La Bella Tica have tightly lined their property with trees as a windbreak to separate themselves.
They are also recovering from a threatening disease called Roya, which attacks the leaves of the plants and significantly reduces harvesting yields as branches stop supporting fruit. Local coffee farmers have given him lists of chemicals he could use to eradicate this disease, but Salazar said it would not help and that those who do employ non-organic practices are not faring better.
Some research supports the use of fungicides to kill Roya, more formally known as Coffee Leaf Rust, but replacing the old plants with strains resistant to this fungus is also an option. Salazar and his partners have opted for this, although it is expensive and prior to this year the new variety had been difficult to find.
Additionally, he says his plants can produce for 20 years because of his healthy practices.
Roya has been an issue for coffee farmers in Latin America, as the moist climate coupled with the comparatively low elevation is a ripe environment for the disease. Prevalence in the past few years has increased the cost of coffee worldwide, so the issues facing La Bella Tica are not isolated.
Since gaining organic certification five years ago, La Bella Tica receives regular visits from government agencies for inspection, as well as nongovernmental organizations in support of their methods. Salazar also participates in a producer’s association and attends field days to observe other farmers, learning from and implementing beneficial practices.
Remaining organic presents its own challenges and requires adaptive, innovative measures, Salazar said, but he is committed and has plans for the future.
Edited by Nadav Soroker