The second day in Costa Rica built on what we learned yesterday to create a fuller vision of the Costa Rican environment. Yesterday at InBioparque we witnessed the animals of Costa Rica in their habitats undisturbed by humans, but today we were able to see animals and plants living in symbiotic relationships and how those relationships provide ecosystem services for humans. This was evident when the group visited a Cacao Plantation, where we witnessed the harvesting of cacao seeds, and learned about the cultivation of the crop.
Cacao plants depend on small flies for pollination and the flies benefit by eating the nectar of the cacao flower. This is an example of the symbiosis between species. It fascinates me that the flies are a part of helping humans earn income with which they can plant more cacao plants to feed more flies. A cacao plant takes three years to mature. While waiting through the growth period, an aspiring cacao farmer who just planted his crop would be unable to find income from the cacao. Our informed guide, Erica, told us about how farmers in this situation planted plantains and vanilla. These plants provide both a source of income and a future benefit because mature cacao plants need plentiful shade that can be provided by the large leaves of the plantain plant.
The combination of plantains, vanilla, and cacao is another example of a mutually beneficial relationship between humans and the land. The diversity of crops provides the farmer a more stable income, while also providing an optimal growing environment for the cacao plant. In addition, the biodiversity of the farm protects each individual crop from harmful insects and diseases.
The way in which the cacao farmers manage their farms works to maintain an important balance. Tomorrow, we will continue with the theme of sustainable farming with a visit to Rancho Margot, another organic farm in the La Fortuna area. Personally I have gained so much from this trip, not only the joy of meeting new friends, seeing the Costa Rican landscape and improving my Spanish proficiency with words like semilla (seed) and plantar (to plant) but also the new awareness of our planet and its ecosystems.