Central American country, Costa Rica, is relatively close to the equator. This geographic location has minimal climatic variance throughout summer and winter months, however it does experience a rainy season from May until November. With average temperatures ranging from about 70-80 degrees Fahrenheit, this climate is very conducive to growing a wide variety of crops annually. Agriculture plays a pivotal role in the Costa Rican economy.
While visiting some rural Costa Rican areas, it became very apparent that farming was a way of life for many Ticos (Costa Rica’s term for native-born citizens). Bananas, star fruit (which is delicious if I may add), various citrus, plantains, and many other types of produce were found on each family farm. Individual households appeared to be food secure, without much worry about their next meal.
The farms failed to tell the whole story about hunger issues some Ticos face daily. Not surprisingly, people who grow their own food had plenty to eat. Even as visitors, I noticed the lack of meat in the average meal, something we Americans consume with nearly every meal. This foreshadowed Costa Rica’s lack of a self-sufficient meat industry. Regardless, it does have the ability to import any meat that consumers may demand.
Malnutrition in Costa Rica does not stem from a lack of food, but from poverty (an inability to afford food), and a lack of adequate micro and macronutrients. The Food and Agriculture Organization’s 2013 report showed Costa Rica had more than a 3% increase in chronic malnutrition from 2010 to 2013. Hunger is one outcome from an unemployment rate of 18%-20%, and an ever-increasing cost of living.
One of the biggest differences I noticed in Costa Rica was the handling of food waste. There were separate receptacles for food versus solid waste at the Texas A&M University’s Soltis Center. These receptacles helped us make conscious efforts to reduce our food waste. Globally, around 1/3 of total food produced is thrown away, it’s wasted, which provides a starting point in reducing malnutrition. If we consume less food, less will be purchased, and less would end up in compost or waste piles, which may drive market prices down.
Solving hunger in Costa Rica begins with reducing poverty and creating a stronger economy with more jobs. The food is there, but the question is how do we make it more readily available to those who need it the most?