Social Justice and Export Agriculture

A Letter from Karla Koll, serving in Costa Rica

October 2019

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“What is the cost of your food?” Erlinda Quesada from Costa Rica started each of her presentations as an International Peacemaker with this question.

Erlinda is from the province of Limon in the Caribbean region of Costa Rica. She works as a community organizer with FRENASAPP, the National Front of Sectors Impacted by Pineapple Production. Though I knew of the work of FRENASAPP from my visits to the community of Milano, I did not meet Erlinda until she arrived in Louisville on September 10 to begin the orientation for the International Peacemakers. During the following month, I interpreted for her as she shared the struggle of her community with the presbyteries of New Brunswick, Hudson River, Salem and New Castle.

Starting around the year 2000, pineapple production began to expand rapidly in Costa Rica. By 2004, people in several communities close to the plantations in the Caribbean region began to notice health problems such as skin rashes, gastritis and headaches. Some began to suspect there was a problem with the water. In the rural areas of Costa Rica, aqueducts built and administered by the local communities carry water to the homes. It took several years of protests to get the government to recognize that the underground springs from which the communities of Milano and Cairo drew their water were being contaminated by agrochemicals used by the pineapple plantations. The communities took their case all the way to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in March 2015 to force the government to bring water from alternative sources further away for Milano and Cairo. The companies that polluted the water have not been held responsible in any way. These companies, some transnational and others local, have not been forced to pay for the damage they caused or to clean up the contaminated water sources.

Costa Ricans have long thought of themselves as a nation of small farmers. Oscar Arias, who was president from 1986 to 1990 and again from 2006 to 2010, promoted what he called “an agriculture of change,” the production of monoculture crops for export. “Instead of producing food for ourselves on our own small farms,” Erlinda said, “we became workers on the plantations, first for bananas and now for pineapples.”

The industrial production of pineapple requires the heavy use of agrochemicals. Along with pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers, the companies spray other products to induce the plants to flower and produce more rapidly to ensure a continual harvest. With the heavy rains of the tropics, the chemicals quickly filter through the soil into the groundwater and run off into the streams and rivers. This is very different from the way Erlinda and her family used to grow pineapples, a few plants at a time, for the local market.

Pineapple production also contributes to climate change in a number of ways. Forests are being cleared and wetlands drained as companies expand the number of acres under cultivation. The destruction of these ecosystems and the chemical contamination is contributing to a loss of biodiversity. Fossil fuels are used in both the production and the application of agrochemicals. Pineapples from Costa Rica are shipped to markets all over the world.

As part of the commitment of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) to become a Matthew 25 church, the International Peacemakers were encouraged to reflect in their sermons and presentations on the judgment of the nations in Matthew 25: 31-46. As Erlinda shared in church after church about the struggles to protect the water sources of the communities, in my mind I kept hearing Jesus saying, “I was thirsty … and you poisoned my water supply.”

As I reread the story of how the Son of Man, the Child of Humanity or the Human One, gathers all the peoples of the earth around the throne, I noticed that humanity is not divided by creed or language or ethnicity, but rather by their actions toward other human beings. Those actions began with being able to see others, and thereby see Jesus. Both groups ask the Human One the same question, “When did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?” (25: 37-39, 44)

Erlinda challenged those who heard her to look beyond the price tag of three or four dollars for a pineapple in the supermarket. What are the other costs involved in producing that pineapple, and who is paying them? Can we see the communities in Costa Rica whose water is being contaminated, whose health is being threatened, whose children are being poisoned and whose forests are being cut down? Can we see Jesus there?

Once we are able to see the folks in the communities, what are we to do? Erlinda stressed that she is not calling for a boycott of pineapples from Costa Rica. She insists that informed consumers can demand changes in the way their food is produced and work to improve conditions in the communities. She is grateful to all who invited her to speak, listened to her story and committed themselves to spread the word.

It has been a privilege for me to help Erlinda tell her story of how the communities are organizing to protect their health and their water. As a mission co-worker of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), part of my task is to be the eyes and ears of our church on the ground in Central America. At the Latin American Biblical University, we are committed to walking alongside communities and groups that are fighting for justice. I am thankful for the prayers and gifts that make my mission service in Costa Rica possible. I hope I can count on your continued support, so that together we can keep accompanying courageous people like Erlinda who are motivated by their faith to work for change.

In the hope of God’s coming reign,


Please read this important message from Sara Lisherness, interim director of Presbyterian World Mission

Dear friend of Presbyterian Mission,

Greetings in Christ! As the interim director of Presbyterian World Mission, I am grateful to have the opportunity to thank you for your continued support of PC(USA) mission co-workers.

The enclosed newsletter bears witness to some of the many ways in which God is at work in the world through long-standing relationships between global partners and the PC(USA). These partnerships are nurtured and strengthened by the presence of mission co-workers in over 40 countries; you are an important part of this partnership too, as you learn about and share how our church is involved in global ministry; as you pray for our partners and mission co-workers; and as you take action to work with others for God’s justice, peace and healing.

I write to invite you to continue joining us in partnership in three ways. First, your prayers are always needed. Please pray that God will continue guiding the shared work of the PC(USA) and global partners as we engage together in service around the world. Pray, too, for mission co-workers, that they may feel encouraged in the work they are doing under the leadership of global partners.

Second, please consider making a year-end gift for the sending and support of at least one mission co-worker. There is a remittance form at the end of this letter and an enclosed envelope so that you can send in a special year-end gift.

Finally, I encourage you to ask your session to include one or more mission co-workers in your congregation’s mission budget for 2020 and beyond. PC(USA) mission co-workers’ sending and support costs are funded by the designated gifts of individuals and congregations like yours; your gifts allow Presbyterian World Mission to fulfill global partners’ requests for mission personnel.
Faithfully in Christ,

Sara Pottschmidt Lisherness
Director, Compassion, Peace and Justice Ministry
Interim Director, Presbyterian World Mission

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