Exporting the best and most nutritious food while consuming the imported and cheaper products could jeopardize public health, social development and the country’s ability to nourish itself.
In other words, it may put at risk Costa Rica’s food security, according to Alex Pacheco, professor of Natural Resources at the Escuela de Agricultura de la Región del Trópico Húmedo, located in Limón.
Food security is a term first coined in 1974 by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.
It describes a country’s ability to provide nutritious food to its residents at any given time, even in crisis.
Pacheco explains that even though food scarcity is an unlikely scenario in the country, there might exist a lack of nutritious quality on what Costa Ricans eat, due to the fact that the best crops are reserved for international markets.
“A lot of people rely on imported food because it might be cheaper. However, low prices are low because of trade agreements, subsidies, pesticides or genetic manipulation.
That’s the reason food grown miles away from here may have competitive prices,” he said.
The professor argues that having access to food that is not healthy and nutritious is not really the concept of food security. He also explains that a country whose residents eat what comes from afar, loses its capacity to face unexpected changes in the world and in the market.
“We have extensive crops of pineapple, coffee, bananas, etcetera. Nevertheless, if for whatever reason we lose access to the food we import right now, we are not prepared and our diets are not based on pineapple, coffee and bananas. Exporting provides great socio-economic advantages, but we must make sure that self-sustainable agriculture and agro-ecology is taking place,” he said.
Pacheco explained that, at the global level, the trend is to encourage local and small farmers to produce food that will be locally consumed as well.
This becomes even more important in small villages located in remote places, so that residents don’t depend on big cities to provide their food.
“There is no such thing as food scarcity. There is enough food for everyone, The reason many people don’t have access to it is just because of the inefficient distribution channels, which makes products more expensive and harder to get,” he adds.
To make sure that Costa Rica doesn’t fall short on it’s own capacity to provide aliments to its citizens, the agricultural affairs office of the legislative assembly is currently discussing a bill that seeks exactly that: to encourage internal consumption of locally produced food.
The bill 20.076 was introduced Aug. 23, and right now has the support of 30 lawmakers from several parties, according to Javier Cambronero, legislator of Partido Acción Ciudadana.
“The proposed law will make agriculture-oriented public institutions work together to empower small producers and give them the tools to sell at competitive prices. If approved, this law will require the state to buy national production for all the hospital networks, jails and school cafeterias,” he said.
According to the latest report of Estado de la Nación, a social research and analysis program, from 1998 to 2011, the country imported 73 percent of the beans and 34 percent of the rice, the two main ingredients of a typical Costa Rican diet.
In addition, a 2015 report of the food and agriculture organization shows that Central America increased its dependency of imported cereals, with Costa Rica at the top of the list.
Between 2007 and 2012 the import of basic cereals in the country came from United States, El Salvador, Colombia, Nicaragua and China. In the same period, 97 percent of all rice came from the United States.