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Costa Rica’s High Pesticide Use: Causes and Implications

by rpetersen

Costa Rica, known for its rich biodiversity and commitment to environmental preservation, presents a paradox with its high pesticide use. This article explores the reasons behind Costa Rica’s substantial pesticide consumption, its impacts, and the steps being taken to address this issue.

The Scale of Pesticide Use in Costa Rica

Costa Rica ranks among the top countries worldwide in terms of per capita pesticide use.

National data show that the total importation of pesticides increased from 16.4 million kilograms of active ingredient (k.i.a) in 2021 to 16.8 k.i.a in 2022 (that is, a 2.5%) while exports grew by 6.2% (MAG, 2023b). Of the total acquired that last year, 54.2% remained in the territory, 0.5% less than in 2021. According to data from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), out of a hundred nations analyzed, Costa Rica ranks first in average use of pesticides per hectare.

 This extensive usage can be attributed to several factors inherent in the nation’s agricultural practices and economic dependencies.

Economic Dependence on Agriculture

Agriculture is a cornerstone of Costa Rica’s economy, with exports like bananas, pineapples, and coffee playing a significant role. To maintain high crop yields and meet international standards, farmers often rely heavily on pesticides. The global demand for Costa Rican produce necessitates maintaining the appearance and quality of these goods, further driving pesticide use.

Lack of Awareness and Regulation

There’s a notable gap in awareness about the risks of pesticides among farmers and agricultural workers. Additionally, the regulatory framework in Costa Rica has been critiqued for not being stringent enough in controlling pesticide use and importation.

Climate and Pests

Costa Rica’s tropical climate is conducive to pest proliferation, making crops more susceptible to diseases and insects. This environment necessitates a higher use of pesticides compared to countries with less favorable conditions for pests.

Implications of High Pesticide Use

The extensive use of pesticides in Costa Rica has raised several environmental and health concerns:

Environmental Impact

Pesticides can have detrimental effects on Costa Rica’s rich biodiversity. They contaminate soil and water bodies, affecting both terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems. The impact on bees and other pollinators is particularly concerning, given their crucial role in ecosystems.

Health Concerns

There is growing evidence linking pesticide exposure to health issues among agricultural workers and nearby communities. These include respiratory problems, skin conditions, and potentially long-term effects like cancer.

According to a diagnosis made by the UNDP with the support of the Pan American Health Organization, between 2010 and 2020, there were 58 deaths in the country due to pesticide poisoning, most of them linked to the agricultural sector, specifically to three crops: banana, coffee, and pineapple, and related to the use of diazinon, paraquat, and glyphosate (UNDP, 2022).”

Government Response and Initiatives

According to the report on “The State of the Nation” (Estado de La Nacion) “The Costa Rican state has been fertile in adopting environmental regulations of all kinds, but with significant delays in its supervisory and control capacities. In 2022 and the beginning of 2023, this dynamic continues and even intensifies. In the last decade, the country adopted an average of 106 environmental regulations per period. This figure increased to 153 and 144 between 2021 and April 2022, and during 2022 up to April 2023, respectively.”


While Costa Rica’s reliance on pesticides is driven by economic and agricultural factors, it poses significant environmental and health risks. Addressing this issue requires a concerted effort from the government, agricultural sector, and community, emphasizing sustainable practices, regulatory reform, and education. As Costa Rica moves towards these solutions, it can better align its agricultural practices with its global image as an environmental steward.

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