In Costa Rica, Farmers Start to See Value of Biodiversity

BY Larisa Epatko  June 10, 2013 at 3:11 PM EST

Photos of Costa Rica by Sam Eaton of Homelands Productions

In Costa Rica, birds, bats and bees serve vital roles in controlling pests and pollinating crops. Now, researchers are measuring the contributions of these critters to encourage farmers to move away from the single-crop model and toward biodiversity.

In the next installment of the “Food for 9 Billion” series airing Monday on the PBS NewsHour, Sam Eaton of Homelands Productions visits the central American country to report on one such biodiversity push.

A typical farm in Costa Rica grows coffee and other crops, such as corn, beans and bananas. But when Ademar Serrano Abarca purchased his land 10 years ago, he did something unusual at the time. Instead of clearing all of the trees, he set aside more than a quarter of the property to let the forest regenerate, according to Eaton’s report.

Costa Rica compensates farmers for keeping part of their land out of production, but researchers with the Las Cruces Biological Station in Costa Rica’s southern Puntarenas province and Stanford University’s Center for Conservation Biology found that farmers benefit in other ways as well. Birds, such as the Rufous-Capped Warbler, have a voracious appetite for insects that damage coffee plants. Bats do their part at night, eating bugs and spreading seeds, while native bees are helping with pollination.

“Not all of us share these same ideas,” said Abarca of setting aside part of his land. “Other farmers don’t have this, they’ve lost it. But for me, it’s a gain. Everything you see here is a gain for me.”

Watch Monday’s broadcast report:

We’ll have more “Food for 9 Billion” reports throughout the week from Qatar, Singapore, California and India. This series is a PBS NewsHour collaboration with the Center for Investigative Reporting, Public Radio International’s The World, American Public Media’s Marketplace and Homelands Productions.