So we bought 29ha of rainforest in Talamanca, Costa Rica. Well, technically and legally, I did.
First goal reached: The logger is gone. The spray-painted red numbers on the trees only a remnant of the past.
Sit back: What happened? Why?
I didn´t need any land. And I didn´t really want any land. So why did I buy it? Or better: Why did Doña Mercedes sell it – or HAVE to sell it?
Answer: She needed money.
Next question: How can it be that you own 19 hectares of one of the world´s most diverse bio-systems and not have a better option than to destroy that biosystem by logging or selling the land altogether?
The problem, I deduced, was that we don´t know how to integrate the rainforest, as important as it may be for life on our planet, into the economic world we have created and live by.
Model for sustainable rainforest
Hence, the plan was born. Or call it vision, dream, goal, objective or ignorance, naivety… call it what you want, but I proposed to biuld a model for economically and ecologically sustainable rainforest projects that would be transferable to other rainforest regions of the world.
It seemed quite obvious to me that it should be possible to do something economically viable in the rainforest using the vast resources available rather than destroying them. The obvious first ideas are research, tourism and marketing campaigns for saving the rainforest.
Attempt Nr.1: ecological bananas
On a second round of brainstorming and traveling around Talamanca, we – Gio now officially joined in the effort – decided to join a local agricultural cooperative in farming and marketing ecological banana and cocoa called APPTA. APPTA consisted of approximately 1500 small farmers all over Talamanca selling mainly the families´ surplus of 50 or 60kg of bananas each.
We set out to plant 4 hectares of banana in the middle of the forest giving the plants the shadow they naturally require and leaving the flora and fauna in place. Young MBA students that we were, we calculated a sustainable area for one farmer to work and live off of to be 8 hectares. Taking into account an 8-hour, 5-days-per-week workload, the country´s minimum wage and social security, we were sure to be on the right path. (The missing 4 hectares of plantation were substituted by other projects we had in mind).
A time of hard work and experiencing the difference between theory and real life followed. We did manage to plant 4 hectares of banana, did certify our plantation in the joint effort of APPTA, helped to market our products in Europe among others at the Biofach trade fair back then still dominated by small and medium sized ventures. I even managed to pay with two herniated disks from harvesting and carrying the 40kg fruits through the forest…
However, after a few years of real numbers, we realized that at market prices for fresh fruit and the conditions set by industrial clients converting our produce into baby-foods and the like, banana farming only paid for about 50% of the real costs (minimum wage, minimum social security).
Just as a rough idea: 1kg of ecologically certified banana cost around €2,50-€3,50 in the supermarket in Europe; APPTA got paid around €0,10 per kg.
Needless to say, we did not give up – we are still here 15 years later.
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