People, production, biodiversity
located in the south of Costa
Rica, Central America. It has an
extension of 2809.93km2,
which is 5% of the Costa
of the greater wealth of Talamanca is its people: the population is
composed of indigenous
Bribri and Cabecar, as well
as of black and white
inhabitants. Furthermore, since
Talamanca is a border region, a
strong cultural exchange with
the population of Panama
characteristic of the
area is the ecological
diversity of various life
zones: the coastal zone,
the fertile valleys, and
the mountainous zones where our
magnificent rivers have their
origins. Talamanca is a
canton of which 55%
corresponds to National
Parks (Chirripo, Amistad,
Cahuita), 31% to indigenous
reserves (Kekoldi, Talamanca
Bribri, Talamanca Cabecar
and Telire), 2% to
Gandoca- Manzanillo Wild
Life Refuge, and 12% to
canton we produce cacao,
banana, plantain, a huge
diversity of fruits and
wood, and an increasing number
of producers are raising animals
for consumption and sales:
pork, hens, bovine cattle
is undeniable that Talamanca is one of the most resourceful zones of
the country with the presence of tropical forests in natural, secondary,
and agro- forest conditions, among which different models of use are
intercalated, creating different gradients of protection and use of the
forest. Furthermore, Talamanca is a land that has been blessed with a
cultural patrimony and a linguistic and ethnic diversity incomparable to
other areas of the country.
region covers a series of protected areas such as: The International
Friendship Park (Parque International la Amistad), the Gandoca-
Manzanillo Wildlife Refuge, the Cahuita National Park, and the Hitoy and
Cerere Biological Reserve. Also, there are joint territories of
development and conservation, such as the Indigenous Reserves for
Talamanca-Bribri, Talamanca-Cabecar, and Kekoldi. In addition, there are
some other private and communal areas of protection and natural
throughout the region of Talamanca, from the Chirripó Peak (4000 msnm)
to the continental platform in the Caribbean, 9 of the 12 tropical life
zones (Classification of Holdridge) and about 60 % of the fauna
diversity of the country (560 kinds of fowls, 215 of mammals, and 250 of
amphibians and reptiles) are found.
Bribri and Cabecar, Afro-Caribbean black, Asian, Creole, and former
banana workers from all over Central America constitute the area's
heterogeneous population range in their cultural demonstrations and
In spite of the biological
and cultural wealth, Talamanca is one of the poorest cantons in the
country. The Social Development Index (SDI) in the last national census
indicated 9.75 for Talamanca in the scale of 0 - 10 of which 10
signifies less development.
a little while ago, the infrastructure (communication and
transportation) was practically void in the area, and even though the
infrastructure conditions have improved since then, the canton continues
to present alarming deterioration of economic and social conditions.
Biological and geographic characteristics of Talamanca The
preceding is an indicator of the serious limitations that exist in this
region for the conventional agricultural development. 88% of the
surface of the canton is of forest aptitude, either for protection
(majority) or for the forest and agroforestal development, with the
exception of the valleys of the hydrographic basins.
situations at the regional level such as the economic crisis of the
80's caused by the monilia disease of the cacao (previously the only
cash crop) and its macro – economic repercussions; the impact of the
1991 earthquake; periodical floods; and physiographical limitations
hindered the production of small producers trying to meet their
subsistence needs and to generate adequate income to secure their basic
Historical evolution of socio environmental and cultural scene
1500 Years Later
the pre-Columbian era, the territory currently known as Talamanca was
inhabited by the groups of indigenous peoples called Tariarcas, Terbis,
and Terrebes (Terrabas). The first two groups lived in the coast, while
the Terraba lived in High Talamanca. Thereafter, they were displaced by
the Bribri and Cabecar; who come from the north of South America
(CATIE-UICN, 1994). After the pre-Columbian era, the indigenous people
successfully resisted the intents of 1)the indigenous Miskitos, 2)of the
conquerors and Spanish settlers, 3)of the displacement promoted by the
expansion of banana plantations in the turn of the century, and most
recently, 4)of the integration policies of the centralist governments.
first foreigners who were able to establish themselves in Talamanca
successfully were the afro-Caribbean black, who established coastal
communities in the early 1800s, and who have been living in harmony with
the indigenous inhabitants of the region.
Bribri-Cabecar economy, until the beginning of the 20th Century, was
based on subsistence agriculture, fishing, and hunting-and-gathering in
the forest. Their agriculture consisted mainly of corn, ayote, cacao,
pejibaye, yucca, beans and tubers. During the colonization period,
bananas, sugarcane and rice were incorporated in their agriculture. The
annual crops were cultivated in a rotation system with these crops in
the plots around their dwellings; they are harvested once or twice a
year and then rested for 10 years. In this system, small amounts of
corn, ayote, beans, and tubers can be harvested every months; thus,
allowing the small producers to have a balanced diet.
the case of the afro-Caribbean, these were devoted to fishing and
gathering, and eventually to agriculture (cacao and coconut),
incorporating some elements of the indigenous production system. With
the entry of the European descendents, pastor agriculture, along with
cattle-raising and slash-and-burn agriculture is introduced from other
practical zones of the country, which have all been injurious to the
ecology of Talamanca.
way of life and the social structure of the indigenous people were
affected, first with the entry of the Spanish, second with the banana
companies in the beginning of the 20th Century, and then by the process
of neo-colonization imposed by the rest of the country in the recent
years; therefore, in fact, the traditional subsistence patterns or forms
of cultivating the land in Talamanca have suffered significant changes.
The apparent changes have invoked a reflection by the local people on
the direction of the future of their society.
the transfer of lands from indigenous people to banana companies, a
part of the population were displaced into the interiors of the mountain
range, while others ended working for the company, which provoked the
replacement of the communal economy of subsistence with an individual
economy with work unit remuneration for goods acquisition.
these conflicts in the past were motivated by the control of the
territory of the region. Today, conflicts are caused for the control
over natural resources. First with bananas, then with cacao, plantains,
lumbers, and now, with mines. In the same way arrived the oil
exploration, repeated very recently by RECOPE which also entailed the
destruction of the environment and new pressures for the nature. Such
exploitations of the natural resources also brought electricity,
highway, environmental degradation, immigration, and the population
growth of both the indigenous and non-indigenous populations, producing
impacts very difficult to measure, but easily identifiable.
the abandonment of the banana companies in the 1940s, people returned
to the low lands and the banana was replaced by the mono-culture of the
cacao. This crop, which was traditionally cultivated for subsistence,
ceremonies, or popular festivities, became a commercial product as a
principal income generating product in the economy of the region,
peaking in the 1960s and 1970s. In
the meanwhile (40's), the development of the lumber resources in the
coastal zone was initiated by a Cuban company for exportation purposes.
Currently, many of these secondary forests in the coast have been
recovered by the means of natural regeneration. Nevertheless, the
situation is no longer the same, since the forest development is
changing the use of the soil from forest to agriculture, with all its
the arrival of the cacao disease called Monilia in 1978, the
agriculture of the zone was seriously affected, collapsing the
flourishing local economy. Productive properties were converted into
properties without production and became nurseries of mushrooms; many
properties were totally abandoned. With the assault of the monilia, the
danger of depending only on a single crop was revealed in the area.
the mid-late 1980's, the wood that gave shades to the cacao and the
forests were converted into a transient alternative to the crisis. At
the same time, the community of Talamanca again became dependent on
another mono-culture, plantains, which was booming in the national and
wars at the Central American level, the environmental, economic, and
population crisis in other zones such as Guanacaste and Puriscal
(deforestation, productive latifundism), and the abandonment of the
Banana Company in the south zone provoked the uprooted people to migrate
to Talamanca, increasing the social tension between the new and old
1985, the pilot experiment of land entitlement of 11,000 Ha in the
Gandoca- Manzanillo zone, sponsored by ANAI and WWF, catalyzed and
accelerated the process of regional entitlement of the Banana River
Project of 300,000 Ha, IDA - IDB project of 1989, a process that helped
to conciliate the rights in conflict, helping to create stable social
conditions in a long run.
for a part of the population, mainly the refugees from the neighboring
Central American countries who were still in process of adapting to the
new culture, finding solutions to their serious economic and social
conditions were very difficult. As a response to the needs of this
segment of the Talamancan population, APPTA in 1994 subscribed an
agreement with ASCODI-DIGEPARE- BANCOOP, to grant credits to both the
local population (indigenous and Ladina) and refugees who have suffered
the uprooting, through the creation of productive options that serve as
economic alternatives for their development.
annual cultivation: corn, rice, beans, increased their area of
cultivation until 1986, when they began to decrease in cultivated area
and importance as a consequence of the expansion of plantain
neo - expansion of banana companies in the 1980's increased the impacts
at environmental and social levels. The banana company returned to buy
the most fertile lands at an accelerated level, provoking deforestation,
indiscriminate use of agro-chemicals, use of technology unfriendly to
the environment, and inappropriate work conditions.
the 1980s the economic, social and environmental crises aggravated with
1) the presence of the monilia, 2) the fall of cacao prices to less
than half of their previous values, 3) the end of the geographical
isolation, 4) state abandonment, 5) soil erosion and loss of natural
resources, and 5) few work opportunities for an increasingly growing
economic recession provoked by the monilia of cacao induced the
abandonment of many cacao farms, some of which were cleared permanently
and substituted with other crops and extensive cattle-raising. Those who
were living in the flooded lands in the low parts of the canton were
making a transition from cacao to banana, which was the new and most
important commercial mono-cultural crop in addition to plantains in the
in the fields of health, education and roads existed. During this
period, ANAI was the only NGO in the zone that was responding to the
problems of this context.
the 1990s, the crisis further aggravated in some aspects, new issues
emerged, and some of the previous issued also persisted:
the expansion of banana companies at the beginning of 1990s, and with
the expansion of the massive tourism (large beach tourist developments),
provoked even more migration towards the region, mainly for economic
The increase in the number of organizations and
institutions working in the zone generated certain institutional
complexity (lack of coordination and conciliation between groups and
The constant threat of external mega-projects that
put the natural resources of the region in danger (banana companies,
development of coal and of other minerals, trans-talamanca highway, oil
docks, oil exploration, massive tourism, hydroelectric dams).
loss in the biodiversity and indiscriminate mining and destruction of
forest, scenic, and wildlife resources promoted by groups with strong
economic interest, which were favored by a series of political
protectionists, ended up limiting the access to the resources by the
Absence of a global vision at regional and communal levels toward the DS.
Grass-root groups with a greater need of political expression and self-management.
unemployment rate. In the coast and some sectors of the Low Talamanca,
the displacement of an agricultural economy toward a service economy in
tourism, and remuneration economy with banana companies.
interest has been awaken by two types of tourism: 1) the massive, as a
source of income for both qualified and non-qualified laborers, which do
not require any type of local investment; and 2) by the naturalist
adventure tourism, as a method of participating in a more active way,
integrating the plots and their resources, history, and culture, to
assure other sources of income for family economy.
changes in the patterns of tenure of the land, mainly in the coast; and
reduction in the average size of the plot in the face of increasing
number of the total population and progressing urban development of the
The problems and consequences caused by the trafficking
and production of drugs became more apparent; And its consequences in
the young population of the canton no longer are problems confined only
to large cities.
Environmental pollution and the problems of waste management.
At Centro Ashé Herbs & Education we are grateful to build cooperatively to keep the knowledge of our food, herbal medicine, seeds, and our healing traditions alive and vital within our communities. Our belief is that plant medicine is the people's medicine, everyone of us comes from a lineage of plant people, and this knowledge is our birthright.
We are a community rooted educational center based outside Washington DC and the Caribe Sur of Costa Rica. Our goal is to keep our classes inspiring, useful, affordable & accessible while honoring the time, energy, and knowledge our teachers come to share. Centro Ashé programs act as catalysts to build community, land-based, and traditional knowledge. We celebrate the richness and diversity of folk herbalism across cultures while providing supportive and practical knowledge. We honor the incredible knowledge present within our communities and our teachers are all local herbalists, farmers, and plant people in the communities we work, the knowledge is right here!
Centro Ashé programs are a reflection of and supported by our community, and so it is with true gratitude we thank you for your interest and support. We look forward to building with you!