How Costa Rica’s Banana Production Is Under Two Key Threats

Editor’s note: On a recent field trip to Costa Rica, Dr. Bob Fairclough, Principal Consultant for AgriGlobe, got a closer look at some of the problems banana plantations face in the country.

Bananas are a not an insignificant crop in Costa Rica. Accounting for some 15% of the world’s total exports the nation exported the fruit to more than 38 countries in a global market worth in 2018 some US$ 8 billion. Reportedly “The Best Banana in the World”, because the industry maintains a “sustainable production process with a social and environmental aspect,” that sustainability is under threat from two fronts. The first is the non-renewal of a number of key Active Ingredients within the EU, including chlorothalonil, potentially limiting the growers’ “toolbox” to control what can be devastating diseases and insect attacks.

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Decisions made in Brussels don’t just impact growers in the EU. The non-renewal of chlorothalonil in-effect will put under question the Residue Limits (MRL’s) that fruit, including bananas, can have when importing into the EU. Currently set at 15 mg per kg (a level deemed completely safe for decades) this could drop to just of 0.01 mg/kg; the EU’s default position for substances not registered for use within the blocks territory. Common sense in applying any new MRL’s must prevail to give growers and the economy of countries such as Costa Rica time to adapt.

The second threat to growers in the region is the arrival of TR4 in Colombia in July 2019 resulting in a closure of plantations, a national emergency in Colombia and with Ecuador, Guatemala, and Costa Rica all on high alert. TR4 (Tropical Race 4), otherwise known as Panama Disease, is caused by the soil-borne phytopathogen Fusarium oxysporum. Aside from phytosanitary measures, there is no effective means to control the disease which remains a global threat to the Cavandish; the most widely cultivated variety in the region.