Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Protesting CAFTA 2/26

TLC = Tratado Libre Comercio = Free Trade Agreement

Sunday night at 1:00 am we boarded a bus sponsored by the National University (FEUNA) and Rice Growers Union to take us to the biggest Costa Rican protest against CAFTA (Central American Free Trade Agreement). The bus ride took 9 hours to get to San Jose. Our bus had a strobe light that illuminated the overgrown road as we picked up groups of people along the way. We tried to sleep, but it was hard.

This was the biggest protest yet in Costa Rica (and possibly Central America) against a free trade agreement with the United States. Costa Rica is still the only country in the pact that has not ratified the free trade agreement. This summer we will be putting more energy (with help of our interns) to explain exactly what is at stake in this free trade agreement. But until then, we want the world to know that Costa Rica has not ratified the treaty and that the majority of Costa Ricans are against the agreement.

Check out our video blog to see some raw (unedited) footage of the protest. We will be putting more effort into editing and writing about the developments here, but we want to get the word out now about what is happening.

Monday, February 19, 2007

The Panamanian Desert

Last week, while we were working on the nursery, Harold told me this story about a desert in Panama.

Once upon a time, there was a very large farm in the mountains of central Panama. One day, a worker went to the farm in search of work. He asked the patron if he could work the fields. The patron told him that there was no work on the farm; they could not afford to hire more workers. But, everyday, the worker came back asking to work on the farm. Finally, the patron consented and let the worker work the fields. “Mira que valiente!”. He was the hardest worker the patron had ever seen. After the first day of work, the patron praised the worker for his hard work and offered to pay him handsomely. The worker refused the payment, saying that God had sent him to work the fields for free. This greatly angered the patron. The patron said that if the worker didn’t accept the money, then he would have to leave. The patron did not want to start an uproar with the rest of the workers. The hardworking man refused the payment and said if the patron did not let him work the fields for free he would curse the farm. “Largate!” said that patron. So the worker cursed the farm, turning it into a desert that would grow and grow until all of Panama was consumed. The next year the farm dried up. All of the crops died. Since then, the farm has turned into a desert. It is now known as the Panamanian desert. Every year it grows a few meters. One day Panama will turn into a desert.

I asked Harold if he believed the story. He said “tal vez si, tal vez no.” One day we are going to go to the desert. Harold has never seen one before.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

The Farmers Market - La Feria

While we were back in the States during Christmas, a farmers' market started in Copabuena. It had seemed like a dream of Umberto Zuniga's that was never going to take flight. When we first moved to Copabuena, I was shocked that there wasn't a market where vegetables could be sold locally. The vegetables were either sold to the big vegetable vendors or given (regalados) amongst friends. This was something that I couldn't understand. Why buy tomatoes that come from San Jose, when your neighbor grows them and sells them to San Jose?

When I was in Oakland last December, we had a meeting with Rod Fujita at Environmental Defense. We talked a little about the economics of Copabuena - a town that depends heavily on the international coffee market. He explained very eloquently exactly why there hadn't been a farmers market in Copabuena. In a town like Copabuena, agriculture serves two purposes - one to bring income via the international market (coffee, or major vegetable prduction); and two, for personal and family sustainability (food to eat). For many community members it seems like a perversion of this division to bring a market between friends and family (ie the farmers' market). It is a precious thing that they can exist outside of a market place.

So I was surprised when we returned to find the farmers' market had started. It is very small. It is going very slowly. There are no signs for the market. Most of the buying is between the producers. But it is a start. Our intern, Sofia, is doing a project investigating how the community is responding to the market and how it can be more productive.

We are selling fruit tree seedlings - papayas for 100 colones (0.20 US$), avocado and cacao for 150 colones. We are selling the trees at low cost as a way to reach out to the community. Farmers that are dedicated to reforestation can sign up for our program to receive free seedings.

While the farmers' market is very small, I believe that it is important. This town has suffered severely from the drop in coffee prices and can no longer depend solely on international markets to create sustainability. It is time for change.....and it is exciting to watch it happen.

Check out our interns' blogs to see what they are up to

Pura Vida

Monday, February 05, 2007

Back to Coton

Last week, we headed up to Las Alturas de Coton to scope out what seeds were dropping in the rainforest. We woke up before sunrise, piling into our truck. There were six of us in the reforestation crew – Harold and Wilson (our local employees), Lara and Sofia (our interns), Brendan and I.

Going to Coton is always an exciting event – like going to a antiquated mountain kingdom. When we first rolled into town, it had even more the feeling of a ghost town. More people have left since the last time we were there. We parked in the shade next to the tractors and guards. It always takes a while for the guards to warm up to me. I feel like they are testing me. Even though they know who I am, it takes a couple of hours before they finally break their silence and shout, “Rompecama”, my nick name (The Bed-Breaker) because last year the bed I was sleeping on in the workers quarters had broken beneath me at 3 in the morning waking up the whole town. After shouting “Rompecama”, I respond with my anticipated response of “Pichaso” which does not translate into English very politely. Then we were friends again.

I needed to find Clemente, the old man who tends to their reforestation nursery to tell me what seeds were in season. The guards sent someone on horseback to find him up in the mountains. After a little while, Clemente came hobbling down the road to meet us. In his thick mountain accent he asked me, “Busca semillas?” (Are you looking for seeds?). I nodded. “No hay.” We had come to early in the season. The seeds are still waiting for a few more weeks of the dry season before they want to fall. I had a feeling before we came that this might be the case. The end of January is the beginning of seed harvesting season in Coto Brus.

We went up to the rainforest anyways. We found a few seeds. Some “aguacaticos” (little mountain avocados) and some palms. We also found a “Sabanera”, a large non-poisonous snake. We hiked in the forest for a few hours and then headed for a swimming hole in the Rio Coton. Harold and Wilson said they had never swam in water so cold and fresh. By 1:00 we all really needed some coffee.

We went back to town, and I asked some guards if there was anyone in town who could make us coffee. Dona Elisa, who usually cooks me meals and makes coffee, had taken the day off to go to San Vito. The guards consulted each other and agreed that “cuesta mucho para encontrar cafĂ© aca” (it takes a lot to find coffee around here). The problem is that there is no one in the town. After about half an hour, we finally found a sympathetic woman who made us some coffee and food.

We are heading back to Coton next month. We plan on making it a monthly seed-collecting journey.

Pura Vida