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Developing the next generation of agri-preneurs in Costa Rica

An 'experimental' orange grove has been established (© Jane Yeomans/EARTH University)
An 'experimental' orange grove has been established
© Jane Yeomans/EARTH University

Smallholders across the globe are an important source of agricultural raw materials for the food and beverage industry. However, these raw materials are often consolidated by processors which then transform the harvested produce into value-added ingredients. In Costa Rica, The Coca-Cola Company has joined forces with one of its orange juice suppliers - TicoFrut - to engage smallholders in the supply chain and train the next generation of orange farmers via a participatory research project. The long-term aim is to increase smallholders' earnings and provide a reliable, steady supply of safe, good quality, raw materials for processors and the food industry that have been grown in a sustainable manner.

Establishing links

Costa Rica is an established source of a variety of fruits, such as bananas and pineapples, as well as coffee, sugar and many other tropical crops, which are used both domestically and exported. The country is also a producer of oranges, most of which are exported as frozen juice concentrate. But with growing demand and increasing prices for orange juice, orange production is becoming an attractive proposition for small growers in the northern part of the country, in the provinces of Guanacaste and Alajuela, as well as in neighbouring Nicaragua.

In an effort to establish an early link with current and future growers, The Coca-Cola Company and TicoFrut launched a project to train rural youth in the sustainable production of oranges in the Los Chiles district of Alajuela. After conducting a stakeholder consultation, an 'experimental' orange grove to test and demonstrate practices related to citrus sustainability was established on an underutilised piece of land in a rural school - Colegio Técnico Profesional de Los Chiles - that is accessible to many growers in the area.

Students are receiving formal training in all aspects of citrus production (© Jane Yeomans/EARTH University)
Students are receiving formal training in all aspects of citrus production
© Jane Yeomans/EARTH University

As well gaining experience by working in the orange grove, students from the high school are receiving formal training in all aspects of citrus production, from planting and fertilisation to sampling and harvesting. Parents of the students, most of whom are smallholder farmers, are also given the opportunity to attend these training workshops and to visit the experimental grove to learn best practices including plant spacing and selecting rootstocks. At these workshops the farmers also gain contact with extension agents and buyers (TicoFrut).

Costa Rica's EARTH University has been enlisted to provide guidance and technical supervision. Each month, University staff spend three days conducting workshops, meeting with teachers and extension workers, and working with TicoFrut to manage the grove. Workshops in the community are also conducted for parents and other producers who have no way of getting to workshops held at the school.

Sustainable growth

Nitrogen fertilisation is commonly practised by Costa Rican orange growers and much needed research is being conducted on the use of biofertilisers and compost as alternatives to synthetic fertilisers. Two strains of indigenous nitrogen-fixing bacteria, Azotobacter, are being tested as biofertilisers. In addition, students are taught how to make compost, using pineapple processing waste, sawdust, and the sludge from the wastewater treatment plant at TicoFrut's processing site. Greenhouse gas emissions from the compost experiments are being tracked in an attempt to identify ways of minimising emissions. Also the University is teaching the students how to collect and process data from the project, providing valuable skills in citriculture, in research and scientific protocols.

The presence of The Coca-Cola Company, TicoFrut, and EARTH, working in partnership with the teachers, has motivated the school to reactivate other production areas on the farm, and the workshops have helped the school maximise the resources that they had available, making positive changes to the farm's management. Without the presence of the project, it is almost certain that this transformation would not have occurred.

The University is teaching the students how to collect and process data from the project (© Jane Yeomans/EARTH University)
The University is teaching the students how to collect and process data from the project
© Jane Yeomans/EARTH University

In 2014, the trees at the school's farm will have reached commercial maturity and the first harvest will take place. Harvested fruit will be sold by the school to TicoFrut and will generate a much-needed revenue stream. This money will be used to continue improving the farm, so students can learn more, as well as to improve the condition of student dormitories.

It is also hoped that with exposure to new and sustainable methods of growing citrus, producers will be able to expand their production and market this to buyers, such as TicoFrut. "With increased demand for food globally, mutual reliance between smallholders and the food and beverage industry has the potential to deepen," says The Coca-Cola Company's Ernesto Brovelli. "Establishing a link with the youth early on will guarantee a smooth transition for smallholder farmers into supply chains."

Written by: Ernesto A. Brovelli (The Coca-Cola Company and Professor at the University of Florida) and Jane Yeomans (Professor at the EARTH University)

Date published: July 2013


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