10 Facts About Economic Development in Central America
Central America, which includes Guatemala, Belize, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Panama, is a diverse geographical region housing almost 50 million people. With a wealth of natural resources, Central America has the potential for sustainable and rigorous economic growth as it seeks to mitigate political unrest and economic inequality. Within this context, here are 10 facts about economic development in Central America.

10 Facts About Economic Development in Central America

  1. Central America is an Agricultural Powerhouse: The backbone of Central America’s economy relies on agricultural exports, such as coffee, bananas and pineapples. For example, agriculture comprises 24 percent of Costa Rica’s total GDP and 17 percent of Panama’s total GDP. In 2001, agriculture employed approximately 34 percent of Honduras.
  2. Central America’s Growing Tourism Industry: Belize and El Salvador contribute to Central America’s robust tourism industry. In Belize, tourism is the most important economic sector in the country next to agriculture. In 2017, El Salvador reported a 23.2 percent annual growth rate from domestic tourism. El Salvador expects to generate $75.5 million from its tourism industry in 2019.
  3. Severe Weather and Foreign Aid: In the wake of Hurricane Nate, Costa Rica alone reported $562 million in damages, severely crippling its agricultural and transportation industries. In response, USAID provided $150,000 to support immediate humanitarian efforts. More recently, in 2018, El Fuego erupted in Guatemala affecting approximately 1.7 million people. World Vision, a non-profit organization, responded by sending 30,000 boxes of medical supplies to affected regions.
  4. Tepid Economic Growth: One of the key 10 facts about economic development in Central America that informs policy-making is an analysis of GDP growth and poverty rates. As a whole, Central America has an average poverty rate of 34.2 percent. Guatemala has the highest rate of 59 percent as of 2014. Mitigating these poverty rates is difficult since GDP growth has slowly decelerated in many Central American countries. In the case of Honduras, declining prices for agricultural exports have left its main industries struggling. People expect Honduras’ GDP to grow with the decline in poverty. The nation’s poverty rate came down to 3.6 percent in 2019, from 4.8 percent in 2017.
  5. Political Uncertainty and Economic Expectations: Since 2018, many Nicaraguans protested the political oppression of their president, Daniel Ortega. They believe he is tamping out political opposition from human rights groups and using the poor to maintain political power. This recent political upheaval has alarmed investors, who have withdrawn an estimated $634 million according to Bloomberg. In this tumultuous climate, the International Monetary Fund believes Nicaragua’s economy could spiral into recession with unemployment climbing to 10 percent.
  6. Underinvestment in Infrastructure: Due to extreme weather and political upheaval, Central America often lacks the infrastructure to mobilize its economy. Central American countries spend only around two percent of their total GDP on transportation and infrastructure. Panama is a testament to the benefits of investing in infrastructure. The revenue generated from the Cobre Panama mine and the Panama canal gave the nation an average GDP growth rate of 5.6 percent over the past five years.
  7. Maintaining Trade Agreements: One way Central American countries have greatly benefited in terms of economic development is through maintaining trade agreements like CAFTA (Central America Free Trade Agreement). Between 2006 and 2016, Central America’s total trade with the U.S. increased by 17 percent and with the world, 20 percent.
  8. Grassroots Technology and Collaboration: Grassroots organizations have achieved economic success. For example, The International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) partnered with Nicaragua and Peru to promote agricultural productivity in its host country of Colombia. The CIAT has 51 active projects in Central America and 15 projects currently in Nicaragua. Such projects include investments in innovative technology that would make the rural family’s crops more resilient and more abundant.
  9. The Future is Technical: Costa Rica has successfully created a robust medical-device manufacturing industry dating back to 1987. It now generates $4 billion in exports for the country. Even more surprising, in 2017, medical device exports surpassed agricultural products for the first time in the nation’s history. Costa Rica boasts quality human resources and manufacturing and houses 96 operating firms in the medical device manufacturing sector.
  10. The Exemplary Success of Panama: Many expect Panama’s GDP to grow at six percent compared to 3.6 percent in 2018 and the country has cut its poverty rate from 15.4 percent to 14.1 percent. Panama’s performance comes from investing in industries like mining, transportation and logistics. In order to continue to compete in the global economy, Panama must continue to invest in education. One initiative in the U.S. that is investing in education in Panama is the Environmental Education Through the Transformation of Schools into Eco-friendly and Sustainable Schools program at Johns Hopkins University. Its goal is to educate Panama’s students on how to make their public school system more environmentally friendly.

Central America has positioned itself well for future economic prosperity based on this brief analysis of 10 facts about economic development in Central America. In order to accelerate Central America’s path of economic growth, World Vision has run a program in Guatemala since the 1970s that provides sponsorships, education, health and protective rights to children. Other organizations, like CIAT, have more than 60 programs in the Central American regions.

– Luke Kwong
Photo: Flickr

Medical Tourism in Costa RicaWhen people think of the country of Costa Rica, they often picture its lush and beautiful terrain. Each year, approximately 1.7 million people visit the country. That is almost a third of their total population. Although many people visit Costa Rica for its natural beauty, there is another side of tourism that may be less familiar. Medical tourism in Costa Rica is thriving. This type of tourism involves patients traveling to receive faster or more cost-effective medical care.

Medical Tourism in Costa Rica: Fast Facts

Healthcare in Costa Rica

Costa Rica has socialized healthcare. The basis for their nearly universal coverage comes from CCSS (Costa Rican Social Security Administration) legislation. The constitution of Costa Rica does not protect healthcare. However, social security is guaranteed. Article 21 of their constitution provides a basis, although not explicit, for the right to healthcare.

Costa Rica has three levels of healthcare: primary care, regional hospitals, and national hospitals. The primary care tier focuses on testing and a smaller percentage of the population. The second tier centers around emergency services and deeper diagnostics. Finally, the third tier serves those with serious health complications.

The country has been cited as a leader in healthcare of the region. With reforms in place, infant mortality swiftly decreased by 69 percent. Shockingly, the percent of deaths as a result of infectious disease fell by 98 percent.

Following the initial reforms, funding for healthcare grew dismal and economic crisis began in the 1980s. Throughout this period of economic decline, foreign aid helped the population of Costa Rica and kept public health steady.

Even with the contributions of other countries, the CCSS was still struggling financially. Policy changes have since been implemented with the goal of providing financial stability for the CCSS, with varied results.

Despite some complications with the execution of CCSS, it is still impressive that Costa Rica ranks 36th in overall efficiency. This is out of 191 countries as evaluated by the WHO.

Improved Healthcare Increases Medical Tourism in Costa Rica

Overall, health in Costa Rica has improved over time. As of 2017, the under-five mortality rate, logged by UNICEF, has been in continuous decline since 1990. Additionally, the percentage of children receiving all of the doses for DTP and measles are both above 90 percent. The health of mother and child are generally above average compared to the neighboring countries.

Due to the reduced cost and increased quality of healthcare, medical tourism in Costa Rica is a growing industry. Along with the boost for the economy in the medical sector, medical tourists also spend money on recreational activities. In Costa Rica, medical tourism is a new facet of tourism and is expected to expand in the future.

-Carolyn Newsome
Photo: Flickr

Measles in Costa RicaThe ninth century marked the first diagnosed case of measles globally. Since then, innumerable cases of measles have been reported across the world, including Costa Rica.

What is Measles?

Measles is viral and highly contagious. An issue surrounding the spread of measles is the length of time between contraction of the virus and the first signs of symptoms. After infection, symptoms are not necessarily present for an additional week or two. Astonishingly, the virus can survive in the air for two to four hours after a cough or sneeze by someone infected by it. Thus, the transmission of measles is enabled in places even when the person is no longer there.

At first, many of the symptoms of measles could be mistaken for a cold: fever, coughing, runny nose and watery eyes. However, running an especially high fever of 104 degrees Fahrenheit or higher is an indicator of measles. Additionally, the associated rash is incredibly troublesome. Fevers spike according to the severity of the rash.

Over many years, measles has been problematic for countries across the globe. One such country that has faced an ongoing battle with measles is Costa Rica.

History of Measles in Costa Rica

  • In 1967, Costa Rica implemented its first measles vaccination program. For approximately 10 years, the number of diagnosed cases of measles decreased. However, in 1977 there was an outbreak of the disease.
  • Following the 1977 epidemic, further programs were instituted with the goal of preventing another outbreak. Yet, another outbreak occurred in 1979. These new cases were primarily found in children too young to receive the vaccine in accordance with the program; they were under the age of 1.
  • In 1983, 90 percent of children over the age of 2 were vaccinated for measles. The country continued in its mission to eradicate measles in Costa Rica.
  • The last native case of measles was in 2006. Since 2014, when the last imported case was diagnosed, there had been no new cases of measles.
  • Concern arose during 2018 that imported cases of measles would arise, due to the number of cases in Europe and the United States. Due to travel and tourism, the number of reported cases of measles in Latin America had increased. Luckily, no new cases were reported for five years. However, 2019 has seen the reintroduction of measles to Costa Rica.

Recent Cases of Measles in Costa Rica

As of January 2019, Costa Rica continued providing vaccinations for children ranging from 15 months old to 9 years old. However, this vaccination program did not prove wholly successful.

On February 18, 2019 measles was reintroduced to Costa Rica. A young child from France, with classmates that had measles, came to Costa Rica on vacation with his family. The boy developed a rash and was seen by a local doctor. He tested positive for measles.

The Costa Rican Ministry of Health is taking preventative measures to ensure that this possible outbreak is contained. The family was placed in isolation at a hospital because neither the mother nor son had been vaccinated for measles. Additionally, the Costa Rican Ministry of Health has contacted those who were on the same inbound flight and in the same hotels as the family to hinder the spread of measles.

Hopefully, with such plans in place and the measures taken to protect others, measles will be contained. Due to fast action by the Costa Rican Ministry of Health, the spread of measles is likely to be reduced with this new, introduced case.

– Carolyn Newsome
Photo: Pixabay

10 Facts About Life Expectancy in Costa Rica
Costa Rica is home to 4.98 million people, with the second-highest per capita income in Central America, after Panama. Innovative initiatives like CCSS, a national health care system, not supporting a military since 1949, relying heavily on renewable energy and preserving natural land sets the country apart. Costa Rica’s spends almost 20 percent of GDP on social programs in an effort to meet their goals established in the 1970s of universal education, health care, clean water, sanitation and electricity.

The consistent political stability also distinguishes Costa Rica from neighbors in Central America. This context has produced measurable growth in health outcomes and reduced mortality. These 10 facts about life expectancy in Costa Rica highlight the impacts of Costa Rica’s policies.

10 Facts about Life Expectancy in Costa Rica

  1. On average, life expectancy is slightly greater for Costa Ricans (79.8 years) than for U.S. citizens (78.6 years). In addition, Costa Rica ranks 29th in terms of longevity in the world.
  2. In Costa Rica, women live longer than men. According to WHO data published in 2018, Costa Rican men live on average to 77, while women on average to 82.2. Costa Rican women edge out men in terms of lung cancer and heart disease mortality but are at greater risk of stroke, external injuries and chronic respiratory diseases.
  3. Infant mortality has fallen since the 1960s.Primary health care—especially in rural and community programs — seems to be responsible for 40 percent of the reduction…” from 68/1,000 to 20/1.000 in the 1970s to 5.7/1,000 in 2018.
  4. The top 10 causes of death in Costa Rica mirror wealthier countries. These are as follows:
    • Cancer – 20 percent
    • Heart Disease – 16 percent
    • Stroke – 7 percent
    • Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease – 5 percent
    • Chronic Kidney Disease – 4 percent
    • Road Injuries – 4 percent
    • Cirrhosis – 4 percent
    • Lower Respiratory Infections – 3 percent
    • Diabetes -3 percent
    • Interpersonal Violence – 2 percent
  5. Road traffic fatalities are an epidemic in Costa Rica. According to 2017 WHO data, 13.9 per thousand people die in traffic accidents. Epidemiological data suggests that younger drivers, faster roads, motorcycle lane changing and the growing pains that occur as rural people struggle to walk to work and school on faster, newly-paved roads—are all contributing factors. Although international NGO’s concerned with road safety recommend systemic approach uniting business, education and policy approaches, Costa Rica is working toward greater road safety with policies like requiring reflective tape on garments and state-sponsored vehicle insurance.
  6. Increases in life expectancy at birth between 1990 and 2015 grew, but unevenly across the 79 counties. Socioeconomic growth and decreasing fertility have contributed to increasing life expectancy. Average births per mother have fallen from about seven in the 1960s to 3.5 in the early 1980s to below replacement level (2) today. Access to medical care varies from rural to urban locations.
  7. Physicians are fairly accessible in Costa Rica with 1.15 physicians per thousand people—among the highest in Central America. Only Panama (1.59) and El Salvador (1.92) have higher ratios. The overall high-quality medical infrastructure in Costa Rica has birthed a growing, medical tourism industry, providing more low- and high-skilled jobs.
  8. Caja Costarrisence Seguro Social (CCSS) is the national health care agency. Funded by a 15 percent payroll tax, luxury goods taxes and retirement savings, the CCSS mandates free health service to all categories of citizens: wage-earners, mothers, children, indigenous people, the elderly and people living with disabilities, regardless of insurance coverage.
  9. Incidents of parasite-borne diseases like Malaria Dengue Fever and Chikungunya Virus, Chagas Disease and Zika rise seasonally but generally are on the decline. Vaccinations, insect eradication programs and education in how to avoid getting sick are working to stem the growth of arboviruses. The International Emerging Infections Program in Central America and Panama (IEIP-CAR) begun a program in 2007 to respond to new infectious disease threats by supporting the Ministries of Health (MoHs). Communicable-disease mortality declined from 65 per 100,000 in 1990 to 4.2 per 100,000 in 2010.
  10. The Nicoya Peninsula in western Costa Rica boasts some of the highest life expectancy rates for men in the world. “For a 60-year-old Nicoyan male, the probability of becoming centenarian is seven times that of a Japanese male, and his life expectancy is 2.2 years greater.” This advantage is not the case for women. Lower levels of cardiovascular risk, being lean and tall, eating an abundant diet of traditional foods low in the glycemic index but high in fiber and accessible health care are all possible contributing factors.

These 10 facts about life expectancy in Costa Rica paint the government as a nimble in its ability to enact policies that meet needs and consistently build better health outcomes for their people.

– Heather Hughes
Photo: Flickr

Top 10 Facts About Living Conditions in Costa Rica
Costa Rica’s 4.8 million citizens enjoy a front-row view of the country’s picturesque coastal views and scenic landscapes. However, more recently, the country has been attracting more than just people looking to relocate for retirement and eco-tourists, as Costa Rica has been expanding a number of government programs in order to boost economy. In the text below, top 10 facts about living conditions in Costa Rica are presented.

Top 10 Facts About Living Conditions in Costa Rica

  1. The most thought-provoking fact about living conditions in Costa Rica is that it has one of the longest life expectancy rates in modern Southern America, prevalent among the poorest of Costa Rica’s citizens. On average, Costa Ricans live to be 77 years old, similar to people in the U.S. that live 77.4 years on average. Although there is a large development gap between these two countries, the long expectancy rate in Costa Rica has been attributed to the country’s health care system.
  2. Costa Rica’s universal health care system, known to many as the “Caja”, provides health care to 86 percent of Costa Ricans for a small monthly payment, which is based on monthly income. Under “Caja”, those covered enjoy a wide array of medical services offered in one of the network’s 30 hospitals and 250 clinics around the country. Even those who are not covered by “Caja”, services remain relatively low in cost.
  3. Compared to other civilized Central and Latin American nations, Costa Rica has one of the most developed economies and has one of the highest standards of living. It also has one of the lowest percentages of people in poverty compared to neighboring countries, being at 16 percent. Poverty is more common among those living in rural areas, those indignant to the nation and one-parent households.
  4. Around 24 percent of the country’s population is comprised of children under the age of 14. With an estimated one out of four children living below the poverty line, many of these children are put at risk for poverty conditions due to family and income instability. As a result, 36,000 children are left orphaned in Costa Rica.
  5. By defunding its military in 1948, Costa Rica was able to develop a high-quality public education system. Many benefit from the public institutions and it has even generated a higher rate of literacy among children. However, 30 percent of school-aged children do not attend school because of financial situations or low access in rural areas.
  6. Child labor serves a societal and cultural need in Costa Rica. In older rural societies, it is customary to find children working to support the overall need of the family, especially in the agricultural sector. In larger households, income must be earned more than one earner in order to survive. This is done by the males in the family where 9 percent of boys sacrifice education for the greater good of the family. Overall, 8 percent of school-aged children have no education.
  7. The coffee bean agriculture in Costa Rica is a large source of income for many, so much so that many abandon educational pursuits every year to participate in its profitable harvest. In order to pay for school supplies, teachers and students alike wake in the early morning hours to work the fields, exposing themselves to serious health conditions that pose a risk to still-developing bodies.
  8. Although there is no known cause or reason, there has been an outbreak of HIV and AIDS-related illness among children and teens. Costa Rica has the highest number of HIV and AIDS cases in Latin America. Experts suspect that the spread of the illness could be prevented with proper education and prevention methods.
  9. Costa Rican government has taken a proactive role in decreasing the number of people living in poverty. By implementing health care, job and environmental policies along with reducing inflation costs and seeking opportunities to grow the economy, the government was able to significantly decrease the number of people living in poverty. In the 1990s, 11 percent of the population was living on $1.90 a day. That number has now been reduced to 2 percent of the total population.
  10. The average American wage earner makes $12,900 a year while the poorest 20 percent of Costa Ricans earn $100 a month. In order to meet the nutritional value someone needs for a healthy life, a person must spend an average of $90 on food per month. Costa Ricans spend 30 percent of their yearly earnings on food and drink, which is roughly around $300 a year, or $780 less than they should be spending on adequate nutrition.

While poverty is still an issue that many Costa Ricans are facing, the policy makers of Costa Rica are taking an active role in trying to alleviate this issue and improving the living conditions of citizens. With life-changing initiatives, the number of people living in poverty has gone down drastically while setting an example for others to do the same.

– Catherine Wilson

Photo: Flickr

Costa Rica Pineapple Industry
Pineapples are popular around the world, but as a tropical fruit, they can only be grown in certain regions.

In Europe, almost 75 percent of pineapples are imported from Costa Rica, but Costa Rica’s pineapple industry is riddled with a number of social, environmental and health issues.

Social Issues

In Costa Rica’s pineapple industry, the average worker is paid the equivalent of $83 a week for over 80 hours of labor. When European supermarkets lowered the price of pineapples, the first expenses that industry decreased were workers’ wages.

Around 70 percent of plantation workers in Costa Rica are migrants, usually from Nicaragua, and as a result, they are exploited by their employers. Because many of the workers are not citizens of the country, they have a constant fear of deportation if they complain about working conditions.

Only about 2 percent of industry workers are members of a union. This is a result of continued discrimination since union members within Costa Rica’s pineapple industry are often assigned on positions that are lower paid or less desirable.

Women are often discriminated, and the find it hard to get a job or they even get fired when they become pregnant. This is due to the high costs of maternity leave and the fact that many women cannot work long hours due to obligations at home. In addition to these issues, there have also been reports of sexual abuse.

Health Risks and Environmental Degradation

Pineapples on these large plantations are grown as monoculture crops. This lack of diversity in farming results in high levels of pesticide and chemical use in order to maintain high yields.

Costa Rica’s pineapple industry is notorious for its use of toxic agrochemicals, such as Paraquat, that is illegal in the European Union and classified as likely carcinogenic in the United States.

Plantations are often sprayed with over 50 types of chemicals. While the law requires that individuals working with these chemicals work only six hours each day, many are working up to even 16 hours. These high levels of exposure raise significant health concerns for laborers.

In addition, there are negative environmental impacts as well. These chemicals contaminate the surrounding environment and seep into local water sources.

Many communities bordering pineapple plantations in Costa Rica are now forced to rely on government tanks for drinking water after reports of skin disease, respiratory problems, birth defects and other illnesses.

Aside from pesticides, the pineapple industry in Costa Rica triggers environmental degradation through malpractice causing soil erosion, sedimentation and deforestation.

Steps Towards Improvement

In response to the multitude of concerns raised by the Costa Rica’s pineapple industry, the government has implemented a five-year moratorium on new plantations and is creating legislation to limit pesticide usage.

As of 2008, Paraquat cannot be applied as an aerial spray, and some insecticides have been banned.

Companies have also made efforts to improve conditions for their employees and cover the costs of more sustainable practices.

One of the largest companies, Dole, has certified all of their plantations in Costa Rica in accordance to U.S. Fair Trade standards.

The Costa Rica USA Foundation for Cooperation (CRUSA), part of the Costa Rica Green Growth Program, invested $4 million in 2017 towards improving sustainability, increasing access to international markets and supporting rural communities.

The pineapple industry in Costa Rica struggles with low wages, long working hours, gender discrimination and toxic chemicals use.

Pressure to meet the high social and environmental standards of the global market, however, is sparking promising change.

Continued efforts towards better working conditions and sustainable practices are necessary to improve the lives of pineapple laborers and the surrounding communities.

– Georgia Orenstein

Photo: Flickr

Top 10 Facts About Girls’ Education in Costa Rica
From rainforest tours to deep-sea diving adventures, Costa Rica has made a name for itself in the fields of travel and tourism. The country is primarily known for these reasons and the conversations about other positive aspects in the country, such as the continuous improvement in education, are often left out.

Costa Rica is dedicated to its famed biodiversity but has also taken immense steps to improve its youth’s education, especially for girls. The article below details the top 10 facts about girls’ education in Costa Rica.

Top 10 Facts About Girls’ Education in Costa Rica

  1. Costa Rica is among the 25 countries that have closed the educational gender gap. The country has one of the highest education levels in Latin America since it began implementing gender equality legislation in the 1990s. This legislation made the government responsible for guaranteeing equal opportunities for men and women in education, which includes technical education.
  2. The country was quicker than most countries to ensure quality education to both boys and girls. In 2000, the Government of Costa Rica created the Gender Equity Office in the Ministry of Public Education to speed up gender equality and equity between men in women in the education system.
  3. Costa Rica spends more money on education than any other Latin American country. As of 2018, 4 percent of the country’s total Gross National Product (GNP) and about one-fourth of the national government budget is devoted to education. This number is comparable to many industrialized countries and more girls can enroll in primary school.
  4. To increase the chances of girls’ enrollment in secondary education, Costa Rica has created a plan to change family health. This governmental plan addresses the education barrier girls commonly face like pregnancy which is a growing issue as 13 percent of girls enrolled in Costa Rican schools are either pregnant or are already mothers.
  5. Girls have a higher enrollment rate in tertiary level education than boys. The percentage of girls in this level of education is at 59.8 percent, while the boys are at 46.6 percent. As a country that is often cornered in conversations about education, this higher education enrollment rate is impressive. In comparison, according to the World Bank’s data, the world’s average for girls enrolled in tertiary education is only 38.9 percent.
  6. With the improvement in girls’ education, more economic and job opportunities are being created for women. In 2000, 76.6 percent of Costa Rica’s female population were working for wage or salary. In 2016, this rate increased to 83.7 percent, while the employment rate for their male counterparts was at 75 percent.
  7. The girls’ primary school enrollment rate is substantive today. In the last 20 years, the rate has increased substantially. Today, nearly 97 percent of girls are enrolled in primary school and an average of 97.3 percent complete this stage of their education, passing boys that are at 95 percent.
  8. Upon graduating from primary school, 84.5 percent of girls go to secondary school, while 96.6 percent of boys do. This is due to the country’s high teen pregnancy rate. Organizations like Soy Niña (I’m a girl) are helping to increase girls’ enrollment in secondary school by holding learning sessions across the country that provide girls with tools to improve their self-esteem, critical thinking, leadership, problem-solving and conflict resolution skills.
  9. In 2017, for the first time ever, Costa Rica and other countries participated in the first International Day of Women and Girls in Science in the country. The San Jose UNESCO office, alongside the National Institute of Women, spent the day celebrating efforts to increase girls’ participation in science education. Today, women make up only 28 percent of scientific researchers.
  10. According to UNESCO, the Latin American country has set several other goals to reach by 2030. One of the goals is the continuation of decreasing the number of girls who dropped out of school. As of 2016, only 6,000 girls had dropped out, while six years prior almost 10,000 had.

Costa Rica’s commitment to bettering girls’ education is not only inspiring, but their methods could serve as a guide to other countries. As exemplified in the top 10 facts about girls’ education in Costa Rica above, providing girls with a quality education does not just benefit the students, but the country as a whole, as new economic opportunities are created and a stronger workforce is built.

If Costa Rica continues to make strides like the ones described, it is only a matter of time before they become known worldwide for much more than their coffee and scenic travel destinations.

– Haley Newlin
Photo: Flickr

EARTH University
Escuela de Agricultura de la Región Tropical Húmeda, otherwise known by its acronym EARTH University,
is located in the Limon province of Costa Rica. Situated in the middle of beautiful, sprawling jungles, the university focuses on teaching sustainable development and entrepreneurship for students to apply in their communities. EARTH University’s vision statement reads: “Our actions are mission-driven to alleviate poverty, promote social justice and build a future where our communities achieve sustainable and shared prosperity.” Their aim is to alleviate global poverty one person at a time. Below are 5 facts about EARTH University, the work they do and the innovative students changing the world.

5 Facts About EARTH University

  1. The university offers a large selection of scholarship opportunities for students from rural communities across the world. The student body is composed of less than 500 students, and 70 percent of the students have received full scholarships. This allows their outreach to impact and lay the groundwork in disadvantaged communities, as well as create ways to alleviate poverty without relying on charity and donations. This leads to a more independent way of sustainability.
  2. Due to their focus on agriculture, location amidst fertile jungle soil and the inheritance of a banana plantation, EARTH University is able to sustain development through profits from these sources. Grown in eco-friendly and sustainable ways, the university’s bananas are known as some of the best in the world and are distributed in Whole Food locations across the United States and Canada. 
  3. EARTH focuses on a hands-on education backed by the notion of “learning by doing.” Students are encouraged to work with their hands and are all responsible for the continued thriving of the university and its resources. For example, the student cafeteria is stocked with sustainable meat and produce grown by students on EARTH University farms.
  4. Due to the level of dedication committed by each student and faculty member, students are able to pinpoint where the agricultural sector is lacking and how to improve upon its structures. More importantly, students are able to apply this skill in their home communities and create a more efficient type of agriculture suited to their environment.
  5. The structure of EARTH University is one that is unique and efficient. Universities around the world are beginning to create similar structures that place a higher focus on social and environmental sustainability. Furthermore, study abroad and internship opportunities are offered to anyone interested in the field. Students and interns who take advantage of such an experience will be able to apply new ideas to the world of environmental entrepreneurship.

EARTH University is responsible for creating a new generation of environmental entrepreneurs who are able to apply their new skills where needed. When students are able to implement their skills in their own communities, whether these communities are disadvantaged or not, prosperity is created. Through their students, EARTH University is contributing to the downsizing of poverty. This type of structure has been proven time and again as students’ innovative ideas and skills spread, decreasing poverty.  

– Trelawny Robinson
Photo: Flickr

girls’ education in Costa Rica
Costa Rica is a country known for its dedication to its diverse environment. But less known is its dedication to educating its youth, predominantly girls. The range of resources offered throughout the country, whether institutional or grassroots oriented, are just as diverse as its environment. The following are ten facts that help illuminate the successes and improvements of girls’ education in Costa Rica.

10 Facts About Girls’ Education in Costa Rica

  1. As of 2018, four percent of the country’s total GNP, one-fourth of the national government budget, was given to education. More money is spent on education in Costa Rica than any other Latin American country.
  2. In 1869, the country made education free and compulsory for all citizens. After this mandate, the number of schools in the educational system have risen to more than 4,000. The World Bank reports as of 2016 that girls’ educational participation at the primary school level is 96.6 percent, with secondary school enrollment at 84.5 percent.
  3. Girls’ enrollment at the tertiary level of education in Costa Rica is 60.9 percent, which is much higher than the male enrollment at the same level who have a participation of 46.6 percent. This participation in higher education is substantial. The world’s average percentage of girls enrolled at the tertiary level of education is only 38.9 percent.
  4. UNICEF reports as of 2012 that girls ages 15 to 24 years old have a literacy rate of 98.7 percent in Costa Rica. This rate exceeds the literacy rate for males, which is 97.9 percent.
  5. There are several programs for girls’ education in Costa Rica that include sustainable development. Sulá Batsú is a local organization that targets young women, specifically in low-income communities, and provides education on technology. By integrating the arts and cultural practices into the process, girls learn more than just technical skills. They also learn how to incorporate their unique identities into the work they produce. The organization has seen the success of 250 students in their technology camps in 2018 alone.
  6. February 15, 2017, marked the inaugural event of the first International Day of Women and Girls in Science in the country. Along with the U.N., this celebration aimed to encourage girls’ education in Costa Rica in science-related fields. Positions in these fields have been traditionally held by men; only 28 percent of researchers are women. Science is viewed not only as the main component of creating a sustainable society aimed at protecting the planet but is also seen as a path to eradicating poverty.
  7. Young girls engaged in STEM are reaching unprecedented rates in Costa Rica. In 2014, at the Twenty-sixth Math Olympiad, 66 medals were given to 132 high school students who had achieved success in the final events of the academic competition. Of these 132 students, a high number of finalists were girl students. This trend was also seen at the Fifth Robotics Olympiad in Costa Rica, where many of the teams had girl participants and some groups being formed solely of females.
  8. The World Bank estimates that of the 4.85 million people living in the country, 1.1 million live in poverty. The Women’s Empowerment Coalition in the country is aimed at helping impoverished girls and women to ensure that they reach a higher standard of living through education. The Coalition works by educating socially vulnerable girls, ensuring they achieve a high school education and job placement assistance. The organization’s model is “collaborative, reciprocal and relational.” The classes are self-paced and mentoring, educational materials and resources are provided to students to assist them in achieving U.S. high school diploma equivalencies. The Coalition has reached over 4,000 women and girls thus far.
  9. Mujeres en Tecnología en Acción (Women in Technology in Action) was launched in January of 2015 and is an organization aimed at promoting the participation of girls in science and technology-related fields in Costa Rica. The group identifies girls aged 15 to 19 living in communities at social risk and invites them to take part in the program. Participating girls learn skills that will better serve them in technology-based careers, such as leadership, entrepreneurship and female empowerment.
  10. UNESCO has worked with the government to identify a list of goals to be reached by 2030. Several of the goals center on educational standards, which will be implemented throughout the country. UNESCO identifies girls as being vulnerable to poverty if not properly educated at an early age. As of 2016, less than 6,000 girls had dropped out of school, a significant decrease from the 2011 record of 10,000. This progress illustrates the dedication to girls’ education in Costa Rica as a means of eradicating poverty country-wide.

Costa Rica has taken strides to ensure that its population consists of well-educated, globally-minded citizens. These 10 facts about girls’ education in Costa Rica exemplify how an already progressive state will continue to work hard to maintain this standard well into the future.

 – Taylor Jennings
Photo: Flickr

Poverty in Rural Costa Rica
While Costa Rica has become a popular, tropical tourist destination, poverty still grips the country as the gap grows between the rich and the poor. While tourism has benefitted the livelihoods of many urban Costa Ricans since it boomed in the 1990s, poverty in rural Costa Rica reveals itself through the agriculture industry and its significant lack of access to education and technology.

Urban and Rural Poverty in Costa Rica

About 159,000 households in Costa Rica remain poor, and twice as much poverty exists in rural areas. Extreme poverty mostly affects the unemployed in the cities, while in the countryside those on farms struggle in poverty. These people living in poverty in rural Costa Rica have been left behind by the foreign aid that lifted the rest of the country out of crisis in the 1980s.

Crisis due to oil prices and conflicts raging throughout Latin America led to staggering inflation in Costa Rica. Between 1980 and 1981, the Costa Rican colón was devalued by 254 percent. The U.S. supported a new government in Costa Rica in 1982, and this leadership based itself heavily around increasing the country’s exports.

Direct foreign investment in Costa Rica has been high, as the country accepted loans from the World Bank and loans and grants from the United States Agency for International Development. In 1998, Costa Rica had the second highest rate of direct foreign investment in Latin America.

Economic Investment and Modernization

This investment has seemingly paid off. The export of goods and services constitutes almost 50 percent of Costa Rica’s GNP; the average growth of export rates has been 14 percent annually. An economy increasingly based on exports seems as if it would alleviate poverty in rural Costa Rica. However, small farmers have suffered in the transition. Peasant farmers with only small plots of land and landless workers predominantly have incomes under the poverty line.

There have been struggles to modernize farming systems, as many of these peasant farmers cling to rain-fed agriculture. For many farmers, crops do not generate enough income, and they look to additional employment off their own farms; that being said, this population has a limited ability to do so because education in rural areas goes past the age of 10 at a much lower rate than in urban Costa Rica.

Overall, 30 percent of school-aged children do not attend school in Costa Rica, but the problem is much more prominent in rural areas: family heads-of-households employed in agriculture have an average of 4.7 years of education, while those employed in everything except agriculture average 7.4 years of education.

Other symptoms of poverty throughout Costa Rica include inadequate wastewater treatment, lagging electricity and high rates of underage marriage. Additionally, Internet is only available to 60 percent of the population.

Portland Roasting Coffee and Costa Rica

Since 1996, Portland Roasting Coffee has been working to address the poverty that remains in Costa Rica, with their business model based on direct sourcing and forming relationships. As the country focuses on exports, coffee production has been a huge source of revenue with a favorable world market. The Food and Agriculture Association of the United Nations considers coffee “the single most important crop in terms of land use and value of production, with a large number of small producers depending on it.”

The importance of the crop is significant to Portland Roasting Coffee’s relationship with La Hilda Estates in Costa Rica — the coffee company received their first direct trade shipment of coffee from La Hilda Estates, and have been partnered with them since 1998.

On that Costa Rican plantation, Portland Roasting Coffee befriended the Vargas family, began La Hilda Estate School to educate the children of farm workers, helped establish Internet and hired an instructor to teach about computers at the school.

Additionally, the coffee company has also connected 40 students from the farm school with children in the Portland Public School District. Through such a combination of measures, Portland Roasting Coffee addressed poverty by building relationships with their suppliers, paying fair wages and contributing to the improvement of the education and Internet lack.

Two-Way Benefits

In exchange for such support, Portland Roasting Coffee receives its signature Costa Rica coffee, which they sell wholesale online and at their coffee shop locations around Portland. It is a light roast with citrusy notes, such as lemongrass and tangerine.

Portland Roasting Coffee also has projects in Malawi, Rwanda, Honduras, Sumatra, Tanzania, El Salvador, Guatemala, Papua New Guinea, Kenya and India that are modeled off its success in combating poverty in rural Costa Rica.

By paying a fair wage that allows farmers and farm laborers to live above the poverty line, Portland Roasting Coffee receives a quality product to sell in the U.S. while simultaneously improving a nation. Hopefully more companies and organizations will follow in the coffee company’s footsteps, and meld business with goodness.

– Charlotte Preston
Photo: Flickr