Costa Rican organic growers need 'more incentives'
State Phytosanitary Service (SFE) figures show organic hectarage fell by 2% to 9,360ha, which is 15% lower than the peak surface area achieved in 2010.
SFE Organic Certification Unit operations manager Elizabeth Ramírez told www.freshfruitportal.com the country had great potential to export a range of products, but at the moment it was just trying to maintain shipments for products like bananas, pineapples, coffee, cacao, tumeric, guavas, noni fruit and guavas.
"In 2010 exports dropped a bit and we think that's because of the economic crisis in Europe - growers say the prices are not so attractive in international markets to pay for organic certification," she said.
"The truth is that the production cost is a bit high. For example, there is one orange juice exporter that used to ship organic concentrate to England but now doesn't because the owners feel the price of concentrate in the international market doesn't bring the profits to warrant organic certification."
While exports did rise in 2012, they were still just 85% of the 12.49 million kilograms (27.5 million pounds) shipped in 2009.
She applauded a government bill that aims to establish a public certification system under international standards, which would make the process cheaper for growers and hopefully reduce the tide of declining certifications.
"This would be much cheaper for the grower, and would be a great initiative for organic production.
"Even though we have progressed with promotion law for organic production, which other countries in the region don't have, and that we have market access to many markets like Europe, Canada and South Korea, we haven't achieved that take-off in production.
"The economic incentives for growers have not provoked production advancement and development."
However, Ramirez did admit that the efforts in understanding organic production and farm management had led to better productivity for the organic growers who were still in business.
The biggest proportion of group certifications is in the province of Limon, including 1,886 growers who produce bananas and other products over an area of 6,500ha.
Pineapples are the second most grown organic crop with 1006ha in 2012, followed by coffee (707ha), sugar cane (403ha), cacao (282ha), the category of legumes, vegetables and other fruits (220ha), and blackberries (112ha). Other organic products with small production areas include aloe vera, noni fruit, vanilla and rice.
Just over 75% of Costa Rica's organic exports went to the Netherlands last year as the main port of entry, with most of the remainder sent to countries such as Belgium, Germany, France, Hungary, Italy and Switzerland. Other destinations included Denmark, Spain, Finland, the U.K. and Sweden.
Purchases of Costa Rican organics rose by 21% in the Netherlands as purchases from key importers like Belgium and France declined. Germany however raised its imports by 49% while Hungary's purchases increased more than three-fold making it the fifth-largest receiver.