Costa Rica is the largest pineapple producer in the world, with almost 60,000 hectares under cultivation, employing more than 30,000 people and generating exports of 1 billion dollars per year. Pineapple crops typically produce two fruits, at 15 and 27 months after planting. After the second fruit harvest the crop residues are removed from the field to enable soil preparation and replanting of the crop using vegetative plant material such as lateral shoots, basal suckers or fruit crowns. Average fruit yields are about 90,000 kg/ha (first harvest) and about 65,000 kg/ha in the ratoon crop (second harvest). In addition to the high fruit yield, the crop produces a large amount of crop residues, estimated at 220-230 t fresh matter/ha.
The pineapple industry in Costa Rica has been subject of various public debates related to the compliance of labour rights, occupational health risks and environmental issues. The industry is under continuous pressure from local communities, national authorities and international markets to implement more sustainable practices. One of the debates centres on the management of the crop residues. Two methods are currently used to remove the crop residues after harvest of the ratoon crop: a) Mechanized cutting of the green biomass in smaller pieces, which are subsequently incorporated in the soil with a rotor tiller or cultivator. Because of the extremely high volume of fibre-rich biomass, this method requires at least two to four passes with machinery. This is a costly operation associated with the machine costs (mechanical wearing of the tiller/cultivator blades) and fuel costs. b) The use of herbicides to eradicate the crop. Because of waxy and cellulose rich leaves high doses of herbicides need to be used, often herbicides that are banned in the EU such as paraquat. However, even with these harmful herbicides it takes two to three months before the crop is sufficiently decomposed to be burned and incorporated in the soil.
The project aims to identify the agronomic, technical, market and regulatory bottlenecks along the residue-to-product chain, the solutions to these bottlenecks and identify opportunities for Costa Rican and Dutch companies.
The project builds upon the results of a small market study that is currently carried out by MVO Nederland. That study identifies Dutch private sector parties that have an interest in solving the problems at stake in the pineapple sector, have knowledge on the valorisation of crop residues, or that play a crucial role in the production chain from biomass harvesting to bringing a bio-based product at scale to the market. The SMP study will address the technical and economic knowledge questions that these companies have to make a sustainable business proposition.