Palm Oil "Nuts" in a cart in a plantation near Quepos, Costa Rica
We went to Costa Rica for a variety of reasons. Visiting an Oil Palm plantation wasn't one of them. But on a trip through the village of Quepos, we were brought to such a plantation--and my eyes were opened.
Palm oil, both the product and its production, have gotten a bad rap in some circles. Health advocates question its use in food-products, and environmentalists show disdain (as they do for most things) with any sort of large-scale agricultural environment, which, in the case of oil palms, they term as "monoculture".
Our guide, Antony, was proud of this plantation--which had taken over what had formerly been a banana farm until Costa Rica's domestic banana industry collapsed late in the last century. That collapse, obviously, had decimated local economies all over Costa Rica, and locals not involved in the tourist trade were deeply interested in having something come in and take its place. Enter the oil palm, a crop perfect for this region. Oil palms grow quickly, and offer their fruit after only 3 years, and continue to produce over the course of 3 decades! Their fruits are used not only for human and animal foodstuffs and cosmetic products, but also in renewable energies like biodiesel.
These plantations also provide habitat for local species. Far from keeping them out of the "monoculture", we saw birds and other animals thriving in this plantation. For people interested in ensuring that there is a healthy, cooperative relationship between global trade, local prosperity, "green energy" demands, and species conservation, oil palm farming seems to fit perfectly.
Oh, and they're spectacularly beautiful as well!
A shot of an oil palm from our vehicle.
On a bluff overlooking the cooperative plantation.
A sea of green products, habitat, and energy!