It is a sad and ironic fact that, while farmers across drought-stricken Costa Rica lament the loss of cattle and ruined crops, lettuce farmers in Cartago curse the abundance of their crop.
Even sadder is the fact that 30 percent of the region’s farm workers have been made redundant as lettuce prices continue to fall and mountains of the unsold crop continue to grow.
Due to the vegetable’s low thirst rate, more farmers are turning to its cultivation as a means of surviving the drought, and herein lies the problem.
Farmer Eliécer Quesada, 38, from La Lima de Cartago farm, almost 20 kilometers east of San José, said, “The problem is that the market is saturated with people growing lettuce.
“From our nine hectares we produce 20,000 heads of lettuces a week. On a bad week we are left with 10,000 unsold.
“We are against the wall right now. We are dancing with the most ugly. It can’t go on like this.”
Quesada said a head of lettuce that used to sell for ¢300, now it goes for ¢120. On top of this, his production costs have gone up with the rising cost of fuel, electricity and renting machinery rentals.
“In the last two months I have had to let go five workers,” Quesada lamented. “The government should get involved and regulate the farming so that everyone isn’t producing the same thing.
“There are developers constantly offering farmers money for their land so they can build shopping malls. If this continues, more farmers will sell-out, and then where would we be?”
While this year the farmers in Cartago have managed to water their crops from the reserves within their 60 meter wells, next year may be even tougher.
“The water level is down to 48 meters, and – considering this farm uses 250,000 liters per minute – this won’t last for much longer,” Quesada said.
A combination of global warming and the effects of El Niño is believed to be behind the drought.