Country works to eliminate an enemy of the ozone layer

A.M. Costa Rica/Kayla Pearson
René Castro Salazar, minister of Agricultura, in sunglasses
tours a strawberry field in Cartago with farmers who have
been successful using a fungus instead of methyl bromide.

Costa Rica has been reducing the use of methyl bromide, a gas harmful to the Ozone layer. The chemical has been found in pesticides for the last 10 years. Next year farmers will not be able to buy methyl bromide and the chemical can’t be imported in, according to the Ministerio de Agriculture y Ganadería.

To coincide with the change, several agriculturists have worked to cultivate a safe, environmentally friendly, and economical product. So far growers in the Cartago area have had positive results.

The Asociación de Productores Agrícolas located in Llano Grande of Cartago, is one of the many farming organizations backed by the ministry of agriculture and the ministry of
energy. Biotechnology engineers grow six variations of fungi called Tricodema in a heated room with rice.

The mixture can be rinsed and the water that is collected can be applied by an irrigation system or pumped back to be used on crops such as flowers, potatoes, onions and strawberries.

“The fungus Trichoderma is an antagonist that fights other fungi completely eliminating them from the land. The great advantage of this method is that it does not release polluting materials that weaken the ozone layer,” said Maria Guzman, vice minister of energy.

The Asociación de Productores Agrícolas produces 600 kilograms a month of the alternative product. This new agent works as both a pesticide and can be decomposed into a fertilizer without the destructive effects. Another benefit is it helps prevent disease with plants and controls the infiltration of pests such as the whitefly and worm, said Engineer Martha Monge Aguilar. Methyl bromide has been used as a soil fumigant.

Once installed on the farm, the fungus works indefinitely creating a natural defense in the plants.

Farmers and businessmen who have implemented this biological by product have had a 95 percent decrease in pollution to the atmosphere and ozone layer, said officials.

Cartago stawberries and a pair of gerberas

The efforts that Costa Rica has implemented to care for the ozone layer are in conjunction with the Protocolo de Montreal. The final act will be a complete ban of methyl bromide after January 2013.

Montreal Protocol has helped reduce the emission of carbon dioxide by 13 gigatons. It is the hope that in 2035 when chlorodifluoromethane, a colorless gas used as a refrigerant, is eliminated from use, the number will increase to 16 gigatons.

The change will come with some challenges. It will be more expensive for farmers because it is not as instantaneous as methyl bromide, and most are unwilling to accept such a change, said officials. This is one of the same reasons the United States has postponed this decision until 2015, said René Castro Salazar, minister of Agricultura.

Costa Rica is willing to face this challenge, despite the fact that officials will be going against what the minister described as Tico culture.

“The country is good at pioneering things, but not with leading things. With leadership comes the rewards,” said Castro.

In the short term, the change will not have an effect on price, he said, but in the the long term as people develop best practices they will begin to charge for the trademark similar to the way Nike charges for shoes.

The whole overall goal is to decrease the county’s reliance on scarce natural resources but also increase its reputation.

“We call this eco-competiveness,” said Castro.

The minister and vice minister took reporters on a tour of agricultural areas in Llano de Cartago Friday to show that methyl bromide is not indispensable. The products were strawberries and gerberas, a popular ornamental plant of the sunflower family.

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