Coronavirus support provided for Costa Rica

(Photo January 2020)

Lisbeth Mora, our BioTropic Project Manager in Costa Rica, is kept extremely busy with her varied workload. We import organic ginger, turmeric and sweet potatoes from this Central American country. Normally, Mora coordinates local cultivation, harvesting and training for smallholders. But what is normal these days? The global coronavirus pandemic arrived in the Central American country some time ago, posing new challenges for its already poor northern region.

“As well as my actual job, I’m also making sure that we’re helping our workers and the community as a whole to cope with the challenges created by coronavirus,” says Mora.

BioTropic Costa Rica’s fields and packing facility are located on the border with Nicaragua. As are the fields of the smallholders with whom we work in partnership and whose organic produce we buy and sell. The border region has become a virus hotspot, because the dangers of the virus are unfortunately being played down in the neighbouring country. However, the majority of workers in the Costa Rican agricultural and service sector are from Nicaragua, in particular. And so are the people who work in our packing facility and fields. Most of those living in the area come from Nicaragua – and travel there regularly to visit family and friends. In addition, they live in extremely cramped conditions in villages near the fields. Many in the area have now contracted coronavirus.

Costa Rica’s healthcare system is one of the best in Latin America. Nevertheless, it is not sufficiently developed, especially in rural areas, and hospitals are reaching their limits. The quarantine and curfews that have been in force since March are also affecting the local economy, which mainly depends on tourism. There is mass unemployment. Agriculture is one of the few sectors in which work is allowed to continue. The consequences are threatening the region’s survival.

BioTropic and DEG Bank provide assistance

We want to provide our workforce and smallholders with the best possible support, even in difficult times. We therefore applied for financial assistance from DEG Bank, in order to be able to take faster, and above all far-reaching, local action. We are currently using this contribution from the so-called ‘Corona Response Fund’ to implement various measures to prevent infection:

• Hygiene measures, including in the homes of our employees and their family members
• Monthly Covid-19 tests for all staff, smallholders and their workers
• Hygiene training and coronavirus awareness
• Weekly supply of hygiene items, such as soap, hand sanitiser, latex gloves and face masks
• Building and reconfiguration work at the packing facility, in order to be able to comply with social distancing and hygiene regulations

The above actions are being implemented by our Anti-Coronavirus Officer, Elisabeth Masis Hernandez, who also ensures that everyone involved strictly observes the rules. If someone becomes ill, they are sent home – on full pay. This gives staff additional security in their everyday lives.

In addition to these anti-coronavirus measures, Biotropic Costa Rica’s office and manual workers, as well as smallholders, are also receiving financial assistance and food parcels to help them make ends meet during this difficult time. As a result of the curfews, they are often the only members of their family who are still working. Lisbeth Mora knows that “Without this additional funding from DEG Bank, we wouldn’t be able to help our people in this way.”

The current ginger and turmeric harvest is complete – and preparations for next season are now underway. This means that Mora can regularly be found in the fields, discussing next season with local producers. She is also meeting the local authorities to find out where our assistance can be of the most use.

The project that has been running in Costa Rica since October 2018 is continuing, despite the coronavirus pandemic. So far, several smallholders have been trained and certified and the infrastructure in the packing facility improved. We will report on this project in more detail next time.

Text: Visnja Malesic
Bilder: BioTropic GmbH
Stand: Juli 2020

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