Costa Rica’s Coffee History & World Trade
Created: March 2014
Costa Rica’s coffee history is inextricably tied to its economic development. The country’s 19,730 square miles of tropical forest is abundantly rich in natural resources. The location is on a narrow peninsula of land that separates the Pacific from the Atlantic and Caribbean seas. It is difficult to find a richer biodiversity. This geographic positioning facilitates trade in every direction. Seaports, to the east, the Caribbean Sea and to the west, the Pacific Ocean; the continents of North America and South America lie north and south of Costa Rica. Combine that with the cultivation of a tiny ‘berry’ in the late 1700s called Arabica coffee. This made Costa Rica into an exporting nation and the resultant economic development brought in much wealth.
Of course, coffee isn’t Costa Rica’s only agricultural export. However, given that this land was once considered a useless acquisition by Spain in the 1500s, Costa Ricans have proved that assessment grossly incorrect. Today, Costa Rica enjoys one of the Caribbean and Latin American leading economies, with a Gross Domestic Product is of over 45.13 billion USD (in 2012).
A Brief History of Costa Rica for Context
While Christopher Columbus discovered Costa Rica in 1502, the Costa Rican inhabitants, mostly Amerindian descendants, had lived there for centuries before. Ancient relics attest to this fact, but the sight of natives wearing golden jewelry was all the encouragement Columbus needed. Spain colonized the country in anticipation of harvesting riches. But Spain gave up on the land, in 1719, when a misguided Spanish governor declared, “Costa Rica is the poorest and most miserable Spanish colony in all America". The Spaniards did not find the gold they sought and lost interest.
In 1821, Costa Rica became a part of the Mexican Empire for a short while. In 1823 the nations of Costa Rica, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Honduras and El Salvador formed the ‘United Provinces of Central America’, also referred to as the Federal Republic of Central America. The Provinces of the Federation constantly engaged each other in border disputes.
In 1856, a conflict between Costa Rica and Nicaragua led to the capture of the northern Guanacaste Province in Costa Rica. This led toward independence when, in 1869, the Costa Ricans went to the polls for the first time and elected Juan Mora Fernandez as head-of-state. In 1838, the Federal Republic of Central America fell apart and Costa Rica formally declared its independence.
Costa Rica’s Coffee Industry Takes Root
The Spanish were so desirous of gold that their shortsightedness allowed them to overlook the value of Costa Rica’s other natural resources which included fertile volcanic soil along the Mesta Plateau. Its soil and location is ideally suited for planting the best coffee in the world.
Another reason Spain lost interested in Cost Rica is that there wasn’t a large indigenous population to exploit. This resulted in a constant labor shortage and farming is labor intensive.
For this reason, even one of the country’s governors had no choice but to labor on his farm. Workers were comprised of a few indigenous peoples, Indians, Mulattos, Blacks, Amerindians, and Whites. The numbers increased over the years with the arrival of migrants from Jamaica, which settled along the Caribbean coast, as well as many Africans, Europeans, Americans, and Middle Eastern settlers.
Costa Rica Becomes an Exporter Nation
To gain a better understanding of the country’s economy today, it is necessary to understand how it developed over the years. Some good decisions made by her early governors have contributed positively to her progress. The strain of coffee selected to establish industry was ideal and it quickly began to mobilize the economy via exports. The cultivation of coffee helped to create the hugely successful banana industry again adding to the country’s revenues. Both provided employment for unskilled farmers all over the country. Some of the revenues earned by government, financed important social programs, such as basic education and health coverage for all.
Today, investments in Costa Rican properties are possible through the Blue River Estates, in Guanacaste, Liberia, at the base of the Rincon de la Vieja volcano. Here, residential lots are packaged for sale in a subdivision of the 76-acre property. Additionally, there are 26 acres set aside as a permanent private park, adjacent to the Blue River. With a panoramic view of the Rincon de la Vieja volcano in the background the property’s are on the fringe of the lush tropical rainforest, complete with waterfalls and hot springs. Property owners offered free club membership to the Blue River Resort and Hot Springs and all their facilities. You‘ll notice many surrounding properties are farms. The ground here is lush and fertile, perhaps capable of growing your own berries for that perfect cup of coffee.
Next we will take a look at some historical dates that record Costa Rica’s economic growth and how it was financed.