The government supports growers through research, training, and technical assistance eventhough the agricultural sector in Costa Rica has been declining in importance since the 1950s. However, in 1998 still accounted for 15 percent of GDP and employed one-fifth of the labor force. Almost 10 percent of the country's land is used for agriculture. Agriculture is still an important contributor to foreign trade. Excluding free zone companies, agricultural exports represent approximately 60 percent of export flows. Traditional crops, like coffee and bananas, have been the staples of agricultural production since the 18th century. However, a wide range of nontraditional products has appeared since the 1980s that have begun a revival in agricultural exports.
Coffee is the country's oldest agricultural product and has been exported since the 1790s. In the 1820s the Costa Rican government stimulated its production by distributing free coffee plants and offering tax exemptions to interested families. Costa Rican coffee has been characterized by its high quality and efficient production, boasting some of the highest area yields in the world. In 1999 the country produced 147,000 metric tons of coffee. Although for many years coffee was the country's main source of foreign exchange, low international prices eroded its importance. Production for 1994-99 averaged 2.9 million bags (133,000 metric tons) with revenues of US $370 million annually. While such revenue represented about 11 percent of total export earnings in 1994, it only amounted to 4 percent of total export earnings in 2000.
Banana production surpassed coffee as the main agricultural product in 1992. Local farmers have cultivated it for over a century on the country's coasts, although primarily multinational corporations handle its export and sale. Production grew constantly during the 1990s, and prices remained steady. Exports for 1994-99 averaged 2,045,000 metric tons with revenues of US$624 million. This represented almost twice the revenue generated by coffee. Costa Rica devotes 50,000 hectares to growing bananas, almost 1 percent of its territory. It is the second largest producer in the world with an annual crop of approximately 115 million boxes sold in the United States and Europe. Growers estimate that their industry generates over 40,000 direct jobs and 100,000 indirect jobs. Workers in banana production enjoy the highest salaries and benefits in the Costa Rican agricultural sector.
Costa Rica is also an important producer of sugar. Yearly export volumes average 130,000 metric tons per year, with revenues of US$39 million. However, unlike coffee or bananas, sugar production is largely for local consumption, which exceeds 2.6 million metric tons. Over 48,000 hectares of land are dedicated to the production of sugar.
Costa Rica's main milk producer Dos Piños produces over 85% of the countries supply of milk. They have 60,250 m2 of buildings spread across 21 hectares of land. This enormous infrastructure is the successful culmination of an initiative started in 1947, when a group of 25 milk producers decided to form the Dairy Producers Dos Pinos Cooperative, R. L., in order to avoiding price abuses in the supply of raw materials for milk production and with the clear purpose, also, of supporting small dairies. Dos Piños is made up of 1,300 affiliate producers throughout the country, as well as 2,600 employees, it processes eighty percent of the commercial milk in the country, ie., 220 million kilos a year through the creation of over 300 products. Many of these dairy products are exported in massive quantities throughout Central America.
Rice is a basic staple in the national diet of Costa Rican's and can be served at every meal. The National Corporation for Rice Conarroz confirms that rice consumption significantly outweighs national production and therefore, Costa Rica has to import significant amounts of rice, over half of the rice consumed to be exact. National comsumption is about 236,000 metric tons annually, which means about 54 kg per person in a country of a little over 4 million residents. Conarroz also exports rice in Central America to Nicaragua (72.2%), Guatemala (15.1%), Honduras (9.4%) and Panamá (3.3%). Despite the fact Costa Rican can not produce enough for national consumption, it is actually less expensive for them to import and they make more profit exporting their rice than if they kept it in the county, it is a rather curious occurance.
Other Major Products
Every Saturday and Sunday in each small town is a farmers market that displays a diversity of produce available in Costa Rica, mainly items that have not been exported. Many of these are fruits: pineapple, oranges, melon, papaya, passion fruit, starfruit, guava, mangos, avacados, cas, lemons, blackberries, mamones chinos, tamarindo, maranon, watermelon, cateloupe, and pejibaye. The rest are vegetables or herbs including: plantains, potatoes, carrots, lettuce, celery, yucca, chiote, broccoli, califlower, ginger, peppers, yams, , cocoa beans, coconuts, and a variety of other items.
Ranching and Cattle
Cattle ranching began in Costa Rica in the early colonial period. By the 1960's more and more Costa Ricans had begun investing in beef cattle. By 1975, there were almost as many cows as people living in Costa Rica. This popular source of income has been quite determental to the environment with the cattle eating and trampling everything in site. Additionally, Costa Rican's began clearing large areas of rainforest to convert into pasture land which in turn put many wild animals in danger by destroying their natural habitat. All of these changes caused drought in the regions, especially in Guanacaste. When the demand for beef in the 80´s staggered, the Costa Rican ecnomy took a big hit and many ranchers lost everything. Despite these hardships, many Costa Ricans still view cattle ranching as profitable and prestigious so they continue to invest in these types of businesses. In fact, in 1994 over 2/3 of agricultural land, which accounts for 40% of the national territory, was pasture and only 7% of that was dedicated to crops.
Non Traditional Agricultural Goods
Nontraditional agricultural goods have been rising in importance over recent years. Most of them are export oriented and linked to various forms of agroindustry. Examples are African palm used for the extraction of vegetable cooking oil, and oranges processed for their juice and exported as fluid or concentrate.
Although African palm has been cultivated since the 1970s, its period of strong growth began in the 1990s. By 1996 over 27,000 hectares were in production generating a volume of 422,000 metric tons. Orange production began in earnest as recently as 1990, spurred by the construction of 2 processing plants. Production areas doubled in 6 years, reaching 23,500 hectares and 165,000 metric tons. Other important nontraditional agricultural products are hearts of palm, ornamental plants, and macadamia nuts.
Is a controversial topic in Costa Rica. In the past lots of rainforest was cleared for farmland by Costa Ricans. Currently there are very strict rules for cutting down trees from the Environmental Protection organizations SETENA and MINAET.
Tropical hardwoods like Teak and Ronron are extremely popular and valuable. Additionally, there are about 50 different species of precious tropical hardwoods including: bocote, Brazilian cherry, cocobolo, madero negro,purple heart,roble, and mahogany. Many foreigners are purchasing large tree farms in order to protect the rainforest, but also to harvest a new investment of tropical hardwoods