Tropical forests are disappearing at alarming rates.  During  the 

1980's, approximately 4.6 million hectares of tropical rainforest and 

6.1  million hectares of moist deciduous forest annually were converted 

to other land uses (Sizer, 1995).  The loss of tropical forests is 

greatest in Asia  (2.2 million hectares per year), followed closely by 

Latin America (1.9 million hectares per year).   The reasons for tropical 

deforestation are very complex, and are linked to local needs of the 

community, national policy, and international markets.  Solutions to 

tropical deforestation will require a complete analysis of all of the 

reasons for loss of this habitat.  Government policies may be a part of 

the solution to reducing the loss of tropical forests.  

        Costa Rica has experienced rapid rates of deforestation during  

the 1960's and 1970's.  The national government responded to this 

environmental crisis by creating a widely-praised system of national 

parks, biological preserves, and other protected lands to slow down the 

deforestation rate.  As a result of government policies, Costa Rica's 

deforestation rate has stabilized, and today there is little net loss of 

forests.  Costa Rica is viewed as an international leader in conservation 

efforts and biodiversity preservation.  However, Costa Rica still suffers 

from deforestation outside of the protected areas, threatening the edges 

of the protected areas and creating biogeographical islands of protected 

forests.  In addition, the rapidly growing population may pose another 

threat to the remaining forests.   The challenge for the national 

government of Costa Rica is to direct policy measures to the current 

deforestation outside of protected areas.   If this challenge is not met, 

Costa Rica may one day  be completely deforested outside of pockets of 

protected forests.

Physical Geography of Costa Rica

        Costa Rica is a small country (19,730 square miles [51,032 square 

kilometers]), slightly  larger that the state of West Virginia, and is 

located approximately 10 degrees north of the equator.  The physical 

geography results from the complex relationship of many variables, 

including the tropical location, topography, and prevailing wind 

direction.  The topography consists of two parallel mountain ranges which 

are tectonically active.  The highly urbanized Central Valley or Meseta 

Central located between these mountain ranges is actually a tectonic 

depression (Dorn, 1989).  Costa Rica is geologically young, and the 

volcanic soils are more fertile than the expected leached tropical 

soils.  Prevailing winds come from the east, which bring large amounts of 

precipitation to the Caribbean coast (up to 200 inches per year), and 

lower amounts of precipitation to the northern and central part of the 

Pacific coast.   The tropical location and the varied topography result 

in an amazing biological wealth; some estimates indicate that Costa Rica 

contains approximately 5 percent of all of the world's species of plants 

and animals (Baker, 1995).  This biological wealth is closely linked to 

the variety of forests found in Costa Rica, including tropical 

rainforests, tropical wet and dry forests, and montane forests.  

Forestry Transition

        All societies are dynamic, and experience change in all or some 

of the following sectors: demographic, energy, urbanization, 

technological, educational, agricultural, and forestry.   Transition 

theory provides a model to describe changes in sectors over time to 

understand the relationship between human population and the environment 

(Drake, 1993).  When analyzing a sector longitudinally, there is a 

critical period where the rate of change is particularly fast, and the 

society must accommodate this change.   The society may be  vulnerable at 

this point, and have difficulty adapting to the change (Drake, 1993).   A 

further complication occurs when societies experience rapid change in 

multiple sectors at the same time.   Then, the potentially harmful 

impacts of one transition can be exaggerated by the presence of other 

transitions, and the society must cope with multiple changes 

simultaneously.    Public policy can intervene to mitigate the negative 

impacts of rapid change in multiple sectors, if the society can identify 

these critical areas.   A period of stability often follows this rapid 

change.   The equilibrium that is achieved is dependent upon the way the 

society manages the period of rapid growth (Drake, 1993). 

        Transition theory is particularly applicable to countries 

experiencing rapid population growth. Often, changes in many sectors are 

related to either human population growth or changes in settlement 

patterns.  Rapid population growth often directly affects the 

educational, agricultural, forestry, energy and urbanization sectors.  

Besides affecting many sectors in the society, rapid population growth 

has a major impact on the environment.   For purposes of analysis, it may 

be desirable to examine one transition; however,  transitions from 

different sectors are intimately linked, and it is difficult to 

completely separate one from the others.   

          The forestry transition describes changes in forest cover over 

time.  At the beginning of the forestry transition, a large percentage of 

a region is forested.  During the critical period of the transition, 

deforestation rates are exceptionally high.  Forest cover eventually 

stabilizes at a lower total area of forest cover than at the beginning of 

the transition.  The rate of deforestation is determined by many 

variables, including local demand for forest products and land, and 

international demand for forest products.  Forests are a renewable 

resource, and the forestry transition is complicated because regeneration 

of forests often occurs simultaneously with deforestation.  However, 

regenerated forests frequently do not contain the rich biodiversity of 

the original forests because non- native or mono-species  often replace 

the native species.    The forestry transition is further complicated 

because of the difficulty of obtaining longitudinal data on forest cover  

and the lack of universal agreement on definitions for forest cover and 


          The forestry transition for Costa Rica is illustrated in Figure 

1.  Forest declined rapidly from 1961 to the early 1980's, while the land 

in permanent pasture increased dramatically.  The country was in a very 

vulnerable stage during this period of extremely high rates of 

deforestation. Deforestation rates were 7 percent per year during this 

period of rapid change, versus 2 percent for the other time periods 

(Sader, 1988).   This  high deforestation rate between 1977 and 1983 

indicates a significant loss  of primary forest.   

          Continuation of this rate of deforestation would have 

eventually resulted in complete deforestation of the country. However, 

stability is reached by the early 1980's, and there appears to be little 

change of forest cover since that time.   The amount of land in cropland 

has remained almost constant.    Costa Rica has completed the forestry 

transition, and has reached a stable point where total deforestation 

rates are relatively low.    However, deforestation does occur, and the 

following section explore the reasons for historical and current 

deforestation in Costa Rica.
Causes of Deforestation in Costa Rica  

           Deforestation results from both direct and indirect factors.  

Direct factors emanate from the local area, while indirect ones can be 

attributed to global factors (Honadle, 1995, p. 90).   Direct factors 

include social variables, such as population growth and change in 

migration patters; economic variables, such as growth of transportation 

corridors and employment opportunities;  and political variables, such as 

national land policies and government subsidies.  In addition, physical 

variables, such as type and accessibility of forests, play an important 

role in the rate of deforestation.   Indirect causes for tropical 

deforestation result from international market needs (Honadle, 1995, p. 

92).   Indirect factors include world demand for tropical products, such 

as hardwoods, fruit, and palm oil, and the world demand for beef.   The 

indirect factors are frequently linked to direct factors; for example, 

global consumer demand for bananas increases the amount of land cleared 

for banana plantations and the local community sees the potential for  

both employment and revenue from the banana plantations (direct 

factors).   Tropical deforestation is a complex  problem that is affected 

both by other  sectors in the society, and by international markets.      

        Historical analysis of forest cover is often restricted by lack 

of both the necessary data and longitudinal maps of land use/land cover.  

Sader and Joyce (1988) used satellite images to complete a longitudinal 

study of the loss of primary forests in Costa Rica during five time 

periods: 1940, 1950, 1961, 1977, 1983 (Figure 2).  The study focuses on 

physical variables related to deforestation, including type of forest, 

humidity, and slope.  


Figure 2:  The Forestry Transition in Costa Rica. 

Source:  World Resources Institute, 1994.  

        Prior to 1940, most deforestation occurred in the tropical wet 

and dry forests in the northwestern part of the country.  These 

ecosystems have a distinctly dry season, and were cleared for crops and 

pasture land in the early history of the country  (Sader, 1988).  Primary 

forest occupied only 11 percent of the entire tropical dry region as of 

1940.  Between 1940 and 1950, the highest average annual rates of forest 

clearing occurred in the tropical dry and montane moist forests (Sader, 

1988).  During the time period of 1961 to 1977, the highest annual rates 

of clearing occurred in the montane wet forests, followed by the tropical 

wet forest.  By 1977, the primary tropical dry region was totally 

deforested.  As a result of the loss of the tropical dry forests,  the 

tropical moist forests are now cleared for cattle ranching.  

        Annual deforestation rates between the years 1940 to 1983 were 

lowest for relatively dry forested areas, such as montane forests.   The 

more humid  areas are less accessible and less desirable for agriculture 

and pasture use because of high rainfall, rugged topography and rocky 

soils (Sader, 1988).

        Much of Costa Rica is in relief; the majority of the low lying 

areas are located inn tropical rainy locations.   Prior to 1940 and for 

the period 1940 to 1950, the largest amount of forest cleared occurred in 

the 31 to 45 percent slope category.  Between the years 1961 and 1977, 

the forest clearing rate increased on the shallow slopes (4.4 percent per 

year).  Prior to 1977, the 0 to 5 percent slope areas were inaccessible 

Atlantic coastal plains.  However,  the rate of deforestation has 

increased in the tropical rainforests adjacent to the  San Jose-Guapiles 

Highway in the 1977 to 1983 period (Baker, 1995).   

Social  Variables Related to Deforestation

        Deforestation is closely associated with a growing population 

because of the need for additional land for both settlement and 

agriculture.  Costa Rica has  a population of 3.3 million people.  The 

birth rate is 26 per thousand, and death rate is 4 per thousand, which 

results in a 2.2 percent natural increase and a doubling time of 32 years 

(Figure 3).  Costa Rica is in Stage 2 of the Demographic Transition 

Model, the fastest growing stage of the model.  Population growth rate 

has been dramatic, as illustrated in Figure 4, which shows an exponential 

curve fit to the population growth for the time period of 1950 to 1995.   

In 1990, approximately one-third of the population was under 15 years of 

age, indicating that population growth will probably continue for several 

decades (World Resources Institute [WRI], 1994).  The population may 

double to 6 million before stabilizing.  This growing population places a 

stress on the country's national resources, including the forests.  


Figure 3:  The Demographic Transition for Costa Rica. 

Source:  World Resources Institute, 1994.  


Figure 4:  Actual and Projected Population of Costa Rica. 

Source:  World Resources Institute, 1994.
        Approximately half of the population resides in the San Jose 

metropolitan area and the Central Valley.  During the 1970's,   migration 

increased to the San Jose metropolitan area in response to a depressed 

agricultural sector and the promise of employment in urban areas.   

However, the global recession triggered by the 1979 oil price increase, 

1980 increase in world interest rates, and reduced foreign loans,  

altered  migration patterns.  In the time period of 1981 to 1982, 

citizens left the San Jose metropolitan area and moved to rural 

districts.    Between the years 1973 to 1984,  population increased 51 

percent in rural areas with arable land (WRI, 1994).  Population 

increased on marginal land, also; the population increased  27 percent on 

land classified as poor and 16 percent on land classified as very poor 

(WRI, 1994).  This migration to rural districts has increased 

deforestation rates. Since 1984, the population in the urban areas, 

primarily San Jose and Alajeula,  has been steadily increasing (WRI, 


Economic Variables Related to Deforestation

        Economic variables that contribute to deforestation include the 

growth of the transportation network, increased production of crops and 

beef for export, and the loss of employment on plantations.  The 

development of transportation corridors increase accessibility to 

previously remote areas, and hasten deforestation.  Costa Rica's 

transportation network grew dramatically  during the time period 1977 to 

1983.  The cumulative distance of primary, secondary and unimproved roads 

and railroads was approximately 2088 kilometers in 1967 and 5582 

kilometers in 1977 (Sader, 1988).  In 1977, the mean distance from the 

nearest road or railroad to a forest was 14.2 kilometers.  The greatest 

distance of any forest location (63.5 kilometers) to the nearest road or 

railroad is located in the northeast near the Nicaraguan border (Sader, 

1988).  However, the San Jose - Guapiles highway, which links the capital 

San Jose to the Atlantic lowlands has opened up this previously 

inaccessible area (Baker, 1995).   

        During the 1970's, much of the forest clearing is directly 

related to the expansion of the cattle industry (Figure 2).   The 

tropical wet and dry forests of the Pacific lowlands are largely 

deforested today, and the land is in permanent pasture.

           Today, it is the expansion of banana plantations, rather than 

the cattle industry, that is a reason for much of the deforestation.    

Bananas are a  major sources of revenue for Costa Rica, and  banana 

plantations bring the promise of local employment opportunities and 

increased capital for both the local and national economy.   However, 

these plantations have also caused social and environmental problems,  

as  illustrated by the following example in the Sarapiqui  region.   The 

Sarapiqui  region is located near the San Juan River close to the 

Nicaraguan border.   The Sarapiqui  contains approximately 250,000 

hectares, of which 50,000 are protected in biological preserves, 100,000 

are in peasant agricultural communities, and 100,000 consists of 

secondary growth forest, cattle pasture, ornamental-plant or fruit 

plantation (Vandermeer, 1995).   At least five banana companies are 

planning expansion in this region because of perceived market 

opportunities in the European Community and Eastern Europe (Vandermeer, 

1995).  Both the local and national governments encourage the expansion 

of banana plantations.  Costa Rica is a poor country with a large 

external debt, so companies that promise revenue and employment are 

welcomed regardless of the problems that may result.  

        The banana industry brings complex chemical pesticides and 

fertilizers to the region, reduces the amount of forests, and contributes 

to local social problems.  Pesticides pollute local water bodies and 

poison plantation workers.  Standard Fruit Company used the fungicide 

DBCP in the region, and approximately 2,000 workers on the plantation 

became sterile (Vandermeer, 1995).  Forests must be cleared for the 

banana industry.   The area in the Sarapiqui  dedicated to banana 

plantations  increased from 20,000 hectares in 1985 to 32,000 hectares in 

1991, and it is projected to be 45,000 hectares by the end of 1995 

(Vandermeer, 1995).  Banana plantations may eventually include all of the 

arable land in the region that is not either protected in a biological 

preserve or owned by agricultural communities. Frequently, the local work 

force does not provide enough laborers, and workers are imported from 

other parts of Costa Rica or from other countries, including Nicaragua 

and Panama.   

        When banana prices fluctuate in the world market, or the land 

becomes unproductive through overuse,  banana companies reduce their work 

force.   The unemployed workers can either migrate to the metropolitan 

areas or try to settle in the region.  Unemployed workers that remain in 

the region need land to grow subsistence crops or harvest products from 

the forests.  However,  the local community  in the Sarapiqui may have 

little land to offer the workers, and the only land that is not devoted 

to agriculture is located within the four biological reserves in the 

region.  One future scenario projects that  the landless peasants may be 

forced to clear the forests in the biological preserves (Vandermeer, 

     Protected lands have been threatened by unemployed
plantation workers before.   After several banana plantations had been
abandoned, approximately 800 unemployed laborers and their families moved
into the Corcovado National Park, and began prospecting for gold
(Bequette, 1994).  The rivers of the Corcovado National Park became
polluted with sediment and mercury.  A court order gave the police powers
to evict the workers, but soon other prospectors arrived, setting off
armed conflicts between the police and the prospectors.   The expansion
of industries dedicated to production of cash crops can have a
detrimental impact on forests in two ways.  First, the land must be
cleared for the production of the cash crops.  Second, workers imported
into the area may clear marginal lands for their own use when work is no
longer available on the plantation.

Political Variables Related to Deforestation
         Federal policies contributed to the rapid rate of deforestation
in the 1960's and 1970's. The 1961 Land Reform law allowed landless
migrants to apply to the Agrarian Development Institute (IDA) to obtain a
title for unused private land (WRI, 1995).  Unfortunately, much  of the
IDA land was marginal land, and was prone to high rates of soil erosion
if deforested.  In the 1970's, ownership rights were given to anyone who
cleared the land and lived on it for one year (WRI, 1994).  Squatters
could either claim land after a 10 year period, or sell the cleared or
improved land after only one year to cattle ranchers, who immediately
took title to the land.  Poor and landless individuals could profit by
clearing  land and  selling the land to cattle ranchers.
        Much of the deforestation on the Pacific Coast is a result of
expansion of the cattle industry.  Government policies promoted the beef
export  industry by allowing subsidized credit to ranchers, and
tolerating high delinquency rates (WRI, 1995).  People were motivated by
these subsidies to enter the cattle industry whether or not the industry
was profitable.

Current Rate of Deforestation
        The annual rate of deforestation for the time period of 1981 to
1990 is approximately 50 hectares or a 2.6 percent annual rate (WRI,
1994).  Costa Rica has the largest annual rate of deforestation in
Central America (Sizer, 1995).  The annual logging of closed broadleaf
forest (1981 to 1990) is approximately 34 hectares per year; 27 percent
of which is primary forest (WRI, 1994).  A chart showing current land
cover is in Figure 4.

Figure 5:  Land Use/Land Cover in Costa Rica.
Source:  World Resources Institute, 1994.

Government Response to Deforestation
        The Costa Rican government responded to the rapid deforestation
rates in the 1970's by banning the export of more than 60 tree species
and prohibiting deforestation without permits (Baker, 1995).  However,
efforts by the federal government have not ended deforestation; landless
peasants continue to move onto marginal land, and land is cleared for
coffee and banana plantations.
        In 1970, Costa Rica formed a national park system to protect
valuable forests and preserve biodiversity. Approximately 10.27 percent
of the total land area is protected and an additional 17 percent is aside
as forest reserves, buffer zones, wildlife refuges and Indian reserves
(Baker, 1995).   The National Park System is in charge of managing 21
national parks, 9 biological reserves, and a national monument (Table
1).  The national parks and reserves protect soil and watersheds, and
preserve the habitat for approximately 75 percent of all Costa Rican
species of flora and fauna (Baker, 1995).

Table 1:  Costa Rica's National Parks, Refuges, and Reserves
Arenal National Park                                    Hitoy Cerere Biological Reserve
Barra Honda National Park                           Irazu Volcano National Park
Braulio Carrillo National Park                        Isla Guayabo Biological Reserve
Cabo Blanco Natural Reserve                       Juan Castro Blanco National Park
Cahuita National Park                                   La Amistad International Park
Cano Island Biological Reserve                     Las Baulas de Guanacaste Park
Cano Negro National Wildlife Refuge           Lomas Barbudal Biological Reserve
Carara Biological Reserve                            Manuel Antonio National Park
Chirripo National Park                                 Marino Belleno National Park
Cocos Island National Park                         Palo Verde National Park
Corcovado National Park                            Poas Volcano National Park
Gandoca-Manzanillo National Wildlife Refuge
Guanacaste National Park
Guayabo National Monument
Tortuguero National Park
Barra del Colorado
Rincon de la Vieja
Santa Rosa National Park
Tapanti National ParkOstional
National Wildlife Refuge

Source:  Instituto Costarricense de Turismo, 1995. 

        In 1989, the country began to reorganize the National Park System 

in an attempt to  increase the protection of the forests.   The national 

parks, reserves, and national forests are being combined into larger 

regional conservation units (RCUs) so that wildlife can easily migrate 

from one preserve to another. The Guanacaste Regional Conservation Unit 

serves as a model for these megaparks (United National Environment 

Programme).  The other RCUs are:  Arenal, Cordillera Volcanica Central, 

Isla del Coco, Osa, Pacifico Central, Tempisque, and Tortuguero.   Costa 

Rica is widely praised for its system of protected areas.   Only five 

percent of the forests in Costa Rica are not under some kind of protected 

status.  The National System of Conservation Areas will hopefully ensure 

the long term preservation of one-fourth of the country, and the current 

administration plans to expand the conservation areas to cover one-third 

of the total area of the country (Figueres, 1994)

          The national  government also promotes reforestation by using 

tax breaks, but the reforestation often results in the development of 

tree farms that contain non-native species, such as teak.  The government 

grants legal residency status to persons participating in reforestation 

programs; however, these efforts frequently do not replicate the once 

complex ecosystems (Baker, 1995).  

Costa Rica's Model of Sustainable Development

        Sustainable development is not a clearly defined concept; many 

interpretations can  be found  to  describe sustainable development. The 

Brundtland Commission summed up the spirit of sustainable development as 

"development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the 

ability of future generations to meet their own needs" (in Hale, 1993).  

The Jose Maria Figueres Olsen administration views sustainable 

development as an alternative development paradigm to ensure both 

economic growth and environmental protection in Costa Rica (Figueres, 

1994).  Costa Rica is currently experiencing difficulty in many sectors, 

including the forestry, demographic, energy and urban sectors.  Forests 

outside of protected areas are cleared, the human population is rapidly 

growing, energy consumption increases 9 percent annually, and the 

migration to the Central Valley increases (Castro, 1994). The possibility 

of a reduced standard of living for Costa Ricans has convinced the 

government to pursue a model of development that differs significantly 

from the current industrialized model.   The national government is using 

Agenda 21 from the United Nations Conference on Environment and 

Development in Rio de Janeiro in June,  1992 as a guide for implementing 

sustainable development policies, and hopes to export this sustainable 

development model to the rest of the tropical developing world 

(Figueres,1995; Keating, 1995).   

        A key motivation for the construction of this new model of 

development is the desire for preservation of the forests which host the 

vast biological wealth; as stated by the Minister of Natural Resources, 

Energy, and Mines:  "Biodiversity is a pillar of Costa Rica's sustainable 

development initiative" (Castro, 1994).  The Costa Rican model for 

sustainable development is impressive in its extent, and attempts to 

integrate international (extra-regional), regional, national, and local 

components  (Figure 5). 

Figure 5:  Major Components of the Costa Rican Model for Sustainable Development:
International Component
Ratified Convention on Climate Change (1994)

Statement of Intent for Bilateral Sustainable Development, Cooperation 

and Joint Implementation of Measures to Reduce Emissions of Greenhouse 

Gases - United States and Costa Rica (September 30, 1994)

Convention on Biological Diversity

Conservation Units can Procure international funding

INBio - Merck Pharmaceuticals, Inc.

INBio - Intergraph
Regional Component
Central American Commission of Environment and Development

protect region's biological diversity (1989)

coordinate preservation of tropical forests

Central American Convention on Biodiversity (1992)

Central American Alliance for Sustainable Development (1993)

Convention for the Management and Conservation of Natural Forest 

Ecosystems and the Development of Forest Plantation (1994)

Megaparks (Path of the Panther )

Si a Paz and La Amistad
National Component
Constitutional Reform

Reforms to articles 18 and 15 of the Constitution

"right to a healthy and ecologically sound environment"

Institutional Reforms

Ministry of Natural Resources, Energy and Mines

Policy Reforms

Increased Public Participation

Electricity Tax

Local component
Water districts

Local autonomous groups

Source:  Figueres, 1994 and 1995; Keating, 1995; World Resources  Institute, 1995, Castro, 1994. 
International Component of the Model         An integral part of the sustainable development model is for  Costa Rica to forge alliances and agreements with other nations.  Opportunities for sustainable development investments and projects, such  as the Global Environmental Facility wind power project, are created by  international agreements (Castro, 1994).   Costa Rica has  also adopted  the Convention on Biological Diversity and the Framework Convention on  Climate Change.  Costa Rica is welcoming joint implementation projects,  cooperative projects between developed and developing countries to reduce  greenhouse emissions (Castro, 1994).  On September 30, 1994, United  States Vice-President Gore and President Figueres signed a letter of  intent for a Bilateral Sustainable Development, Cooperation, and Joint  Implementation (United States, 1994).  A pilot project will institute  sustainable forest management in a national park and buffer zone in  central Costa Rica.  The project includes funding to police illegal  deforestation and purchase privately held land inside the park (United  States, 1994).            International non-governmental organizations are welcomed   to  Costa Rica to help develop conservation programs  and provide funding to  implement these  programs.   Costa Rica contains numerous private  reserves and a children's reforestation project in Monteverde.  Some of  these organizations participate in a debt-for-nature swap program that is  designed to both protect forests and reduce the country's external debt  (Table 2).  One example of a debt-for-nature swap follows.  The Nature  Conservancy bought a portion of Costa Ricas debt from a United States  bank  at a discounted rate.  Costa Rica then paid off the National Parks  Foundation with bonds in the local currency, and agreed that the money  would be used on conservation projects.  Table 2:  Debt-for-Nature Swaps in Costa Rica. 
Purchaser                       Date    Face Value of debt      Millions of dollars     Cost($) Funds Generated(million $) 

FPN                             2/88    Total   5.4             918,000                 4.05

Netherlands                     7/88    Total   33              5,000,000               9,9

TNC                             1/89    Total   5.6             784,000                 1.68

Sweden                          3/90    Total   24.5            3,500,000               17.1

Sweden/WWF/TNC                  3/90    Total   10.753          1,953,473               9.602

Rainforest Alliance/MCL/TNC     1/91    Total   0.6             360,000                 0.54

Source:  World Resources Institute, 1992.  

        Costa Rican conservation units can procure international funding, 

and manage their budgets separately from the national budget.  Costa 

Rica's National Biodiversity Institute (INBio) recently signed a contract 

with Merck Co., Ltd, one of the world's largest pharmaceutical 

companies.  INBio will provide Merck with samples of plant and insect 

species in exchange for royalties from any marketable products (Langreth, 

1994).  The objective of the agreement is to finance the conservation of 

biodiversity, and to ensure that Costa Rica receives a small percentage 

of profits derived from pharmaceutical extracts.  Some of the proceeds 

will help fund the "All Taxa Biodiversity Inventory," a detailed survey 

that will eventually include all of the species found in the Guanacaste 

Conservation Area (INBITTA, 1995)

Regional Component of the Model

        Central America has a unique political geography; seven small 

countries share  an isthmus that connects two much larger regions.   

Because of the physical proximity, environmental problems frequently 

become transboundary problems.  These issues require a regional solution, 

and the governments of the Central American countries have made  several 

efforts to unify the region.  During the 1989 Summit at Costa del Sol, 

the Central American presidents agreed to create the Central American 

Commission of Environment and Development (CCAD) to protect the region's 

biological diversity, and coordinate preservation of tropical forests  

(WRI, 1995).  CCAD consists of representatives from each of the seven 

Central American countries. The charter states that the goal of the 

organization is to promote "coordinated actions by governmental, 

non-governmental, and international organizations" (Weed, 1993).   The 

CCAD created a forestry unit that designed a regional Tropical Forestry 

Action Program (TFAP), to develop guidelines for forest policy (Figueres, 

1995).   In 1992, CCAD representatives signed an agreement with the 

United States National Aeronautics and Space Administration to receive 

regular satellite images to provide information to use to advise member 

governments on deforestation (Weed, 1993).

        As a result of the Convention for the Management and Conservation 

of Natural Forest Ecosystems and the Development of Forest Plantation, 

the Central American countries propose to consolidate the management  of 

protected areas, reforest lands, and manage forest growth in secondary 

forests (Figueres, 1995).  The region's national forest service directors 

and TFAP coordinators met with farmer's unions, forestry industry 

representatives, and women's groups during the convention to discuss any 

concerns related to the management of the regions forests.  

        Transboundary protected zones are being established throughout 

Central America to protect international forests from squatters and 

prospectors.  These international reserves, often called "Peace Parks," 

include La Amistad Conservation and Development Initiative,  located 

along the border  between Panama and Costa Rica,  and the 500,000 hectare 

"Sistema de Areas Protegidas para la Paz (System of Protected Areas for 

Peace), also called the Si-a-Paz, reserve along the Costa 

Rican-Nicaraguan border (Weed, 1990).  An eventual goal is to create a 

Central American biogeographical corridor called the "Path of the 

Panther."     These transboundary parks are rich in biodiversity, and 

unfortunately are under intense pressure for development (Weed, 1990). 

        A regional plan called the Central American Alliance for 

Sustainable Development (alianza para el Dessarrollo Sostenible de Centro 

America) was launched in December, 1993 by United States Vice-President 

Albert Gore and the presidents of the Central American countries 

(Figueres, 1995).  The objectives are listed below:  

Table 3: General Objectives of the Central American Alliance for 

Sustainable Development

1.  To make Central America a region where peace, freedom, democracy, and 

development will thrive by promoting a change in personal and social 

attitudes in support of sustainable development in the political, 

economic, social, cultural, and environmental domains. 

2.  To ensure sustainable practices for preserving regional biodiversity.

3.  To communicate the Alliances achievements to the international 

community so that Central American efforts will serve as an example to 


4.  To permanently strengthen societys capacity and increase 

participation in the process of improving the present and future quality 

of life. 

Source:  World Resources Institute, March, 1995. 

National Component of the Model

        The Costa Rican government is taking steps towards sustainability 

by implementing constitutional, institutional, and policy reforms.  In 

1994,  articles 18 and 50 of the Political Constitution were revised to 

confer the "right to a healthy and ecologically sound environment"  

(Castro, 1994).  The Parks Service, Fish and Wildlife Service and Forest 

Reserves and Protected merged into a new institution:  the Directorate of 

Conservation Units under the Ministry of Natural Resources, Energy and 

Mines (United Nations Environment Programme).  Costa Rica is currently 

experiencing a nine percent increase per year in electricity demand, and  

an electricity tax was implemented to internalize the full environmental 

costs of generating electricity (Castro, 1994).   

        A national  government - non-governmental organization (NGO) 

commission developed a project to convert up to 2 million hectares of 

pasture back to woody crops and forest (WRI, 1995).  In November, 1994,  

the Ministry of Natural Resources, Energy, and Mines and the Ministry of 

Rural Development inaugurated the 7,000 hectare Horizantes Forest 

Experiment Station in the Guanacaste Conservation Area (ATBI for 

Terrestrial Organizations of the Guanacaste Conservation Area).  

Government and private extension agents provide educational support to 

help citizens switch from grass to woody crops.  

Local Component 

        The national government plans to integrate local community groups 

into the sustainable development model.  Costa Rica has  numerous 

community organizations, including 2,000 rural development boards, two 

thousand water control boards, and 100 nongovernmental organizations 

(Figueres, 1995).  These organizations will be informed and hopefully 

involved in the national government's effort to pursue sustainable 


Exportability of the Model

        Costa Rica is planning to become a pilot project for sustainable 

development, and create a model that can be exported to the rest of the 

developing world.  But, can the Costa Rican Model be applied to other 

tropical developing countries?  Even though Costa Rica is a poor country 

and is classified economically as a developing or a Third World nation, 

Costa Rica has undergone a social and political transformation in the 

past four decades that differentiates it from the rest of the Third 

World.  Many social indicators place Costa Rica in a developed nation 

category  rather than with developing nations.  Table 4 compares relative 

characteristics of wealth and social indicators for Costa Rica, its Third 

World neighbors in Central America, and the more developed United 

States.  Advances in education, health care, and urban and rural 

infrastructure have resulted in a dramatic improvement in the lives of 

both rural and urban Costa Ricans.  Costa Rica has had a strong 

democratic tradition since its independence in 1821.  Costa Rica was the 

first Latin American country to base its government on free elections and 

a multi-party system (Wearing, 1993).  In 1948, Costa Rica abolished its 

military, and the government still pursues a philosophy of social and 

economic improvements for all Costa Ricans.  The nation continues to 

develop democratic institutions, and search for ways to both improve the 

lives of the people and the quality of the environment.  Costa Ricas 

political system contrasts dramatically with the political systems of its 


        The Costa Rican Model of Sustainable Development has evolved from 

this history of social transformations and democratic principles. In 

addition, the country actively seeks international experts to help design 

programs and restructure governmental agencies.  The well educated and 

healthy Costa Rican population is an asset to the implementation of 

conservation projects.  The country already has a strong environmental 

educational program.  The traditions of dedication to the quality of all 

citizens and democracy are very different from the experience in much of 

the developing world.  An important question is whether the Costa Rican 

model can be applied to nations that have not undergone social and 

political transformations.   Because of the unique circumstances in Costa 

Rica, some of the programs initiated in Costa Rica may be difficult to 

implement elsewhere in the developing world.  

        Another potential problem with the model is that it may not stop 

the high deforestation rates outside of protected areas.  The Costa Rican 

Model of Sustainable Development ultimately relies on a national system 

of protected lands to save forests; indeed the current administration 

plans to increase the amount of protected land to approximately 30 

percent, and today only 32 percent of the total area is forested.  

Therefore, almost all of the forests in the country would be under some 

kind of government protection.  Placing land under protected status does 

not  address all of the critical variables related to deforestation.  In 

addition, there can be no guarantee that the sanctity of national parks 

will not be violated if the local population needs land or forest 

products.  The model needs to incorporate the reasons for deforestation, 

and attempt a solution to this problem.  Deforestation outside of 

protected areas is caused by many linked variables, and is a difficult 

problem to solve.

Table 2:  Comparison of Costa Rica, Central America, and the United 

States Characteristics of Wealth.
Characteristic                      Costa Rica      Central America (1)     United States

GNP per capita                      $1,841          $1,201                  $22,356

Agricultural Labor Force                24%         36% (2)                 2%

Birth Rate (per thousand)               26.3        34.9 (2)                15.9

Total Fertility Rate                    3.1         4.4 (2)                 2.1

Life Expectancy                         76.3        67.28 (2)               75.9

Death Rate (per thousand)               4           6.8                     9

Infant Mortality                        14          45.4                    8

Assess to Clean Water                   

Rural (%)                               84          41                      not available

Urban (%)                               100         89                      not available

Assess to Sanitation Service                    

Rural(%)                                93          44.4 (3)                not available

Urban (%)                               100         75.6                    not available

Government Expenditure for Health (%)   26.3        11.8 (4)                13.5

Adult Female Literacy                   93          69 (5)                  99

Adult Male Literacy                     93          75 (5)                  99

Couples using Contraceptives            70          40 (1)                  74

Per Capita Energy Consump (gigajoules)  16          12.1                    320

Percent change(since 1971)              30          7                       -4

Per capita carbon dioxide emissions (%) 1.06        0.53                    19.53


(1) Central America calculations exclude Costa Rica

(2) Excluding Belize

(3) Excluding Nicaragua

(4) Excluding Honduras, Nicaragua, and Belize

(5) Excluding Belize and Nicaragua

Source:  World Resources Institute, 1994.

Policy Recommendations - For the Donor International Community

        Costa Rica is experimenting with a form of economic development 

that does not sacrifice environmental quality.  The international 

community should pay close attention to this experiment because all 

nations in the future may have to link economic growth and environmental 

protection.  Therefore, the donor international community should support  

Costa Rica's efforts with financial, technical and scientific support.  

Financial institutions should forgive the massive external debt that has 

accumulated in Costa Rica (Figure 6).  This external debt may pose the 

greatest obstacle to the Costa Rican efforts of sustainable development.  

The country is so pressed for revenue that polluting industries are 

actually welcomed in this conservation-conscious nation. The country is 

forced to cannibalize its own economy and natural resources to service 

the debt.  Debt-for-nature swaps may not adequately address the current 

$4 billion external debt. International financial support is also 

important for the institutional management of the protected areas.  This 

aid can help ensure stability for the protected zone.


Figure 6:  External Debt of Costa Rica. 

        This concept of additionality has been incorporated in several 

international agreements, such as the United Nations Framework Convention 

on Climate Change, the Convention on Biodiversity, and Agenda  (Jordan, 

1994).  Additionality refers to financial aid on top of or in addition to 

the aid that is currently received by the developing world to finance 

sustainable projects.  

Policy Recommendations - for Costa Rica

        The International Monetary Funds structural adjustment program 

requires Costa Rican government departments to reduce their staffs and 

budgets (Baker, 1995).  This reduction of government is designed to 

improve both the macro- and micro- economic performance of the country.  

However, this reduction of government may adversely affect both 

conservation projects and social programs.  The Costa Rican government 

should strive to maintain these programs, and not cut funding for the 

conservation areas, health care, and family planning during this period 

of structural adjustment.  The social improvements of the last forty 

years should not be reversed.  The government should look to other 

programs to eliminate.  

        Costa Rica, like the rest of the Latin American countries, cannot 

sustain economic growth, improve the standard of living for the 

population and protect the environmental with the heavy weight of the 

countrys external debt.  Therefore, the Costa Rican government should 

default on the external debt.           

        Deforestation experienced today in Costa Rica results from a 

variety of local decisions.  A strong regional planning system should be 

implemented to address local needs, economic growth, and environmental 

protection.  This type of institution is absent in the sustainable 

development model.  One type of planning agency that may work to reduce 

deforestation and improve the local economic situation is a watershed 

management planning unit.  Watershed management uses the boundaries of 

hydrologic units to create the political boundaries of a planning 

institution.  The watershed is managed as a holistic entity; land use 

decisions are made in the best interest of the entire drainage area.  The 

drainage map of the country will serve as the basis for the construction 

of watershed management units.  Each planning unit should have adequate 

funding, political authority, and local participation to ensure that 

development choices will not adversely affect the watershed.  The 

ultimate success of any development scheme will depend upon the choices 

made at the local level.   Finally, the creation of a Ministry of Forests 

or a Ministry of Natural Resources may help avoid potential conflict of 

interests within the Ministry of Natural Resources, Mines, and Energy. 


        The problem of tropical deforestation is a complicated one, so it 

must be anticipated that the solution will be equally complicated. One 

important key to reduction of deforestation is understanding all of the 

variables that contribute to the deforestation rate, and attempting to 

integrate these variables into the solution.  Costa Rica is a poor 

country with a rich environment.  The national government is pursuing 

economic growth that does not adversely affect the environment by 

creating a model for sustainable development,  and should be applauded 

for these efforts.  The model has many positive attributes, but, at this 

time, does not appear to adequately address the reasons for deforestation 

outside of the protected areas.  Perhaps support from the donor 

international community and institutional reform will ultimately halt 

this deforestation.
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