And the plot thickens…
When I published my story on the flies and the pineapples the other week, I got a couple of fascinating follow-ups from people that know way more about the industry than me. In addition, I’ve been working more on the topic as well, adding to my knowledge of the production methods and problems attached to them (which, I frankly admit, was hitherto rather underdeveloped, despite the fact that pineapples are my favorite fruit). So, in no particular order, here are some additional factoids about pineapple production:
- When you think about it, pineapples are the ultimate luxury fruit. Reading through a pineapple growing guide for producers in Guyana (it’s absolutely fascinating to approach it from the farmer’s angle), what stood out to me is how difficult it is to grow them. They require high levels of fertilizer, they grow at a snail’s pace, which means that in the beginning weeds are a huge problem. Consequently, the guide recommends a number of solutions – of course, all chemical herbicides (prominently figured: glyphosate and 2-4D amine). The ideal plot for planting pineapples is completely cleared of any other growth – meaning that you have to kill all other vegetation off first. They thus recommend to use herbicides before planting, after planting, when the pineapple plants are 3 – 5 months old… it seems an awful of spraying. Then, there are a number of insects that all threaten the plant’s survival (and you need insecticides, of course). Plus, you only get one fruit per plant every year or so, and have to replant every two years. What an effort!
- Another interesting aspect – the guide (and several others I found) doesn’t even consider what to do with the residues left on the field. Literally, it ends with bringing the pineapple to market – with a “you made it!” attitude – and leaves the producer to wander his fields, scratching his head on what to do with the rests on it. Not cool.
- One commenter mentioned an interesting possibility: fight flies with flies! In particular, black soldier fly larvae have been used as livestock feed and composting helpers with really good results in the US, and apparently love organic waste such as pineapple leafs. Plus, in their adult stage they don’t have mouths, don’t bite and aren’t disease vectors, unlike the problematic bloodsucking flies people are dealing with here. The commenter also mentioned the possibility of having freeranging chickens between harvest and replanting time. I love these ideas in theory, though I have a hard time wrapping my head around their applicability in an industrial ag setting – that would require a hella lotta chickens, wouldn’t it? Still, at least there are some first research efforts ongoing on the use of black soldier fly larvae in Costa Rica; one PhD student even wrote his entire thesis on it! It’s still to be seen how to scale up these approaches, but it’s promising that different ways forward are possible.
- From one organic symbiosis to another organic dissonance: a friend told me that the flies could also be attracted by the spreading of dried cow blood from Costa Rican butchers on the fields as a natural fertilizer (as the main source of nitrogen), at least in organic pineapple production. Yuck!
- Finally, the environmental impacts have high social costs: just last month, there was a hearing before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights of rural communities claiming their right to clean water, since they have had to truck in drinking water ever since pineapple plantations surrounding their properties started using carcinogenic agrochemicals which ended up in the local groundwater supply. This is a really good and in-depth article on the issue (if you read Spanish).
- Other resources on the issue: “The story behind the pineapples sold on our supermarket shelves: A case study of Costa Rica” by Consumers International is a good start.
- Further media coverage: Suisse Romande, 2007: “Les ananas de la colère“; Miami Herald, 2008: “Costa Rica’s pineapple boom raises environmental questions“; Radio Canada, 2009: “Les ananas du Costa Rica“; The Guardian, 2010: “Pineapples: Luxury fruit at what price?“; The Guardian, 2010: “Bitter fruit: The truth about supermarket pineapple”; Der Spiegel, 2014: “Süß und giftig“.