A couple of dear readers have sent us questions related to environmental issues in Costa Rica. Our country has considerably stepped up conservation efforts since the mid-1970s, and there is a commitment in place to achieve carbon neutrality by the year 2021. Conservation and carbon neutrality are two issues that go hand-in-hand to ensure that our country remains pretty and pristine, and thus The Costa Rica Star is delighted to answer the questions below.
Carol is a real estate entrepreneur who lives in Cartago and asked us the following questions:
Do you know what government or non-government program pays you to put your primary and secondary forest into a conservation program? How does this program work? Who would you contact to become involved it the program?
Hello Carol. The program you are referring to is known as Payment for Environmental Services (PSA is the Spanish acronym), and it is part of a monetary fund called the National Fund for Forestry Financing (FONAFIFO in Spanish). This government fund is authorized by our Forestry Law 7575 financed by a number of sources, particularly from taxes on fossil fuels, which is part of the reason why gasoline and diesel are so expensive here. This fund serves a couple of purposes: it seeks to encourage environmental conservation by offering financing for different reforestation projects, and to give financial recognition and incentives to landowners who help protect green areas. This in turn helps to provide ecological, social and economic benefits to the community.
If any of the following environmental protection measures are being implemented or practiced in either primary or secondary forests, then the landowner qualifies to receive certain financial benefits from FONAFIFO:
-Mitigation of greenhouse gas emissions.
-Protecting natural sources of water that are used for hydroelectricity.
-Protecting the ecosystem and biodiversity, and placing the protected land at the service of scientific research or sustainable tourism.
Landowners who want to register their lands in FONAFIFO must sign a five-year contract and could stand to receive about $60 per year per each hectare registered. The contract can be renewed. From a real estate investment point of view, the program not only generates income from the land, but also goes a long way in enhancing property value. Landowners should keep in mind that the conservation measures set forth by FONAFIFO aren’t overly restrictive. A nice home can be built and kept within a protected forest, as long as it abides by the terms of the contract. Just like with the Blue Ecological Flag program for our beaches, FONAFIFO makes land and real estate attractive for buyers.
The FONAFIFO program has worked quite well since its enactment in the mid-1990s. In a 2009 research study published in the scientific Ecology and Society journal, researchers from the University of Idaho and the Tropical Agricultural Research and Higher Education Center determined that FONAFIFO “provides evidence that environmental service payments can be effective in retaining natural forest and recruiting tree cover within biological corridors.”
To find out more about the land registration and conservation process, you can visit FONAFIFO’s web page or call any of their 8 regional offices around the country.
A dear reader named Peter asked the following: I will be staying at a hostel in Alajuela in March and I am interested in going to the crater of the Poas Volcano and its lagoon. What would be the most sustainable way to travel within Costa Rica? Can you recommend a travel or tour agency that practices sustainability?
Hello Peter. We are happy that you will be staying in the birthplace of Juan Santamaria, our National Hero, and that you will visit one of our most popular tourist attractions. We are even happier that you are interested in sustainable travel, something that fits in nicely with our goal of becoming a carbon-neutral country by the beginning of the next decade. Costa Rica thanks you for your concern.
Since you are probably staying at some of the quiet hostels around downtown Alajuela, we think that the most sustainable -and the cheapest- trip to the Poas Volcano in your case would be to carry your backpack and walk the 35 kilometers to the crater. Along the way you can buy fruit from the roadside stands and drop the seeds off into forest alongside the trails. If a local guide approaches you on the way to the summit, retain his or her services and pay accordingly. Take a digital camera with you, preferably one that is a feature of a cell phone. Engage the locals along the way, teach them something and learn something from them. If you plan on walking back, you’ll want to rest overnight; so if you’re camping out with your sleeping bag make sure to pick up any trash, although we recommend that you stay at a bed and breakfast or small hotel along the way.
Does the itinerary above sound unreasonable? It may be, but it is highly sustainable according to the definition of sustainability posited by Brazilian philosopher Leonardo Boff, which recently appeared on digital news daily El Pais, a publication that features a special section on environmental issues: “Sustainability comprises all actions destined to make all energetic, informational and biochemical aspects that make all living beings sustainable; particularly Gaia (the living Earth), the community and human life. Sustainability seeks to provide a continuum that caters to the needs of present and future generations, in a way that natural resources are conserved and that Gaia’s capacity of regeneration, reproduction and evolution are enriched.”
Leonardo Boff’s definition calls for a holistic approach to sustainability. Peter’s hypothetical trip allows him to leave a minimal carbon footprint by avoiding the burning of fossil fuels, supports the local economy, gives back to the earth, and promotes knowledge exchange and information sharing. To lessen the burden of Peter’s trip we could also recommend jumping on the local bus from Alajuela to San Pedro de Poas, thereby reducing his walking distance by more than 20 kilometers. That bus is likely to be an old Bluebird diesel school bus, something that will probably increase Peter’s carbon footprint, but at the same time he is supporting the local economy and mass transportation -two factors that contribute to sustainability. To reduce Peter’s carbon footprint further, it would be necessary to take a look at whether the bus company is doing its part to become carbon neutral.
A tour or travel operator can practice sustainability simply by aiming to become carbon neutral. There is little that an airline can do, for example, about the exhaust emissions from its aircraft, but there are other ways to offset them. This brings to mind Nature Air, a Tico airline that is engaged in several practices to achieve carbon neutrality. One of the ways Nature Air accomplishes carbon neutrality is through significant contributions to FONAFIFO, as we explained to Carol above. Reducing our carbon footprint and compensating for what we cannot reduce are good sustainable practices.
We hope you enjoy your trip to the volcano, Peter. If you take pictures, please share them with The Costa Rica Star at email@example.com.
We would like to learn from our readers about tourism operators that practice sustainability, or methods to reduce our carbon footprint as we travel.