Sunday 1 Apr, 2012

Learn How a Banana Plantation Can Change the World

Depending on the tour to Costa Rica that you travel on, you could be visiting EARTH University in Costa Rica. More specifically, you’ll get to walk through their banana plantation where you’ll find out just how amazing this fruit is. Costa Rica is the second largest banana producer in the world, so you’ll learn about the crop, harvesting, processing, packing and exportation. EARTH University’s banana plantation is incredibly innovative and the positive steps they are taking to protect the environment are really inspiring.

More than fifteen years ago, the founders of EARTH University acquired 8,154 acres of land to build the University campus. The land included an active commercial banana farm. After hiring an international advisory group to conduct an environmental assessment of the property, EARTH University was advised to get rid of the banana plantation. Traditionally, banana production requires the use of heavy chemicals and creates massive amounts of solid and organic waste. The banana industry was also known for its harsh and dangerous working conditions.

The President of the University, José Zaglul, decided to keep the banana plantation active because he realized he had an opportunity to prove to the world that sustainable agriculture is possible. The location for EARTH University was specifically chosen so they could make a positive impact on social and economic conditions in the area. Zaglul knew that keeping the banana plantation would set a great example to the students at the University and would help transform the industry.

Today, the banana plantation at EARTH University is setting the standard for other producers and has a long history of coming up with ways to reduce the environmental impact of banana production. Recycling is a huge part of the plantation at EARTH University. In fact, they have the highest amount of recycling than any other banana plantation in the world.  It is the first farm in the world to recycle the organic plastic bags that the bananas are wrapped in. They also recycle the polypropylene bags that hold the banana trees in the field, which used to be thrown away.

Water contamination is prevented at EARTH’s plantation by creating a boundary of 50 metres between the river and where they start producing their bananas. They have also developed an innovative filtering system for banana packing plants so the water waste that goes into the fields is clean and doesn’t contain chemical or solid waste. EARTH does not use any pesticides or harmful chemicals and they have switched to organic fertilizers. They are also the first plantation to use organic fungicides for their post-harvest treatment.

The developments are EARTH University’s plantation are not limited to production. To improve their working conditions, they started bringing warm food to their workers in the field. They also installed toilets in the field, where none existed before. Employees at EARTH’s banana plantation receive good wages, social security and healthcare benefits. Cultural centres have been built nearby and the University opened up family-friendly recreational facilities.

The innovative research projects at the University are centred around using  the tropic’s rich biological resources carefully and efficiently. For example, the banana plantation has started to produce paper from banana stems and outdated textbooks! Every ton of banana paper saves between 17 and 20 trees and over three cubic yards of landfill space. Making paper from these recycled materials also results in 35% less water pollution and 74% less air pollution than traditional means. (Find out more from their YouTube video!)

EARTH University has worked hard to use their banana plantation as an outdoor lab to research new, innovative ways to manage waste, reduce chemical use, and improve working conditions. This has resulted in a more sustainable model of banana production and many other banana plantations have started to adopt their sustainable strategies.The plantation at EARTH University has shown that business can be conducted without negatively affecting the environment and society. In fact, it has provided positive solutions to worldwide challenges.

Learn more about Whole Foods’ Partnership with Earth University: