The University of Arizona

"It just goes to kill Ticos": national market regulation and the political ecology of farmers' pesticide use in Costa Rica

Ryan E. Galt


This paper addresses pesticide residues on vegetables in developing countries through the specific case of Costa Rica.  Pesticide residues are often very high on vegetables in developing countries, generally considerably higher than in industrialized countries.  Using a political ecology approach, I combine qualitative and quantitative primary data with secondary data to answer two questions.  Why do farmers use pesticides in a manner that results in high levels of residues on vegetables?  And, how do markets with unequal regulatory strength affect farmers' pesticides use, and, by inference, the resulting exposure of different populations fed by different market segments?  While usually attributed to farmer ignorance, I argue that the pesticide residue problem arises from a triad of causes: higher efficacy of more residual and toxic pesticides, combined with many vegetables' biological trait of consecutive harvests, and a volatile vegetable market upon which farm household reproduction depends.  With high input costs and low farm gate prices, farmers in markets with minimal regulation will use more residual and toxic pesticides.  Using the idea of a double standard, I show that lax regulation in the open national market means that farmers are less cautious about residues on national market produce than export produce, and that some export farmers use the open national market as an outlet for their produce when they use highly residual pesticides.  Uneven regulations between North and South are manifested in farmer's management decisions, and lead to the injustice of higher residues in developing country vegetables.

Keywords: pesticide residues; pesticide use; uneven regulation; Costa Rica; developing countries; national market vegetables; export vegetables; environmental injustice

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