Meet Nandayure Studt. She and her family farm and produce organic cacao in Costa Rica. Nandayure comes from a family of farmers – they have been working the land now for four generations. Find out why she chose to continue the family tradition, what motivates her to grow organic, and how she thinks policymakers and consumers can best support organic farmers like her.
© Nandayure Studt
Why did you become an organic farmer?
My mother’s family have always been farmers. They were among the first villagers to settle in Pavones, clearing trees upon their arrival to establish farmland. Today my family advocates for forest conservation.
Back when my great-grandfather began, he and his family lived without electricity or running water, and the closest village could only be reached via a dirt road after half a day’s travel on horseback. My grandma, along with my mother, aunts, and uncles, used to tell me stories of how they lived back then. These stories fascinated me.
My family did not have lots of comfortable shoes or clothes, luxury items as they would say. But they were free and happy and had more than enough food. They grew everything organically because that was the only known method for farming. The green revolution arrived with its chemical solutions when my uncles were young, and our old ways of farming changed – but before that, it used to be different.
When my grandfather died, he left my grandma with twelve children to feed. Most of our land was sold. My uncles took up work on neighbouring farms and my aunts studied or married, but they all learned trades and were hardworking. The older siblings supported the younger ones, encouraging them to stay in school. They were a very close and supportive family.
Out of all my cousins, I am the only one still interested in agriculture. I started off farming with my uncle, Pipo. Uncle Pipo now has Parkinson’s, which we all know he developed as a result of his prolonged exposure to strong poisons and pesticides while working for large farms. Now he is retired and has left me in charge of his land, a small 4-hectare farm. This farm has become my gym, my therapist, and my temple.
What motivates you to grow cacao?
I fell in love with the cacao crop at 20 years old, when I was introduced to it during a college project. Before then we had never planted cacao on our farm, it was not a traditional crop in the zone where we live. But my uncle got tired of hearing me talk on and on about how it was such a beautiful crop.
Eventually he offered to farm it on half a hectare of infertile land that he could no longer use as pasture. The hardest part of farming cacao was getting the trees to survive their first year, but once we had enough shade and adequate ground cover, the land transformed into a beautiful food jungle.
What were your biggest challenges in becoming an organic farmer?
At first it was very difficult to grow organic. Convincing my uncle that organic agriculture was better was tough, especially when he had been told the contrary his whole life. Stepping into a decision-making role as a young girl, at a time when girls were not traditionally involved in farming, was also difficult.
The land had suffered and the transition to organic was hard. The soil is unproductive and we have pests like leaf cutter ants and squirrels. There are no effective organic solutions available to combat these pests.
By far the biggest challenge we face is making our business economically sustainable. In order to cover our operational costs, I had to learn to make homemade chocolate and navigate bureaucracy to legally be able to sell certified organic foods. And still it is difficult to generate enough income to pay myself and invest in planting more trees. In order to plant those trees, we would first have to invest a great deal of money in rehabilitating the soil. Unfortunately, because the weather has changed so much, the risk of losing trees during the first three years is very high.
How do you think policy-makers can support organic farmers?
Just make things simpler, the less time I have to spend on paperwork is more time I can spend on the farm. And secondly, regulate conventional farming better.
There are currently little to no controls on conventional farmers in Costa Rica, and the amount of pesticides being used is alarming. And yet, the trouble one must go to as an organic farmer is amazing. Nowadays it feels like the people who want to do the right thing are being slowed down while pesticide use is left unchecked without controls.
Why should consumers choose organic?
To stop poisoning themselves, for starters. Beyond that, choose organic to have a closer, more intimate relationship with their food. Eating is not just about being full, it is a cultural act, which connects you to the people and the land where the food was produced. To know the farmers, to know the land, and to know that what they are putting into their bodies is a part of them will make them healthier and eating more enjoyable.
What is your vision for the future?
I want to plant more cacao trees, diversify my farm, produce more foods to sell at the local market, and – why not – export. If more people were to buy my products, I could offer to buy harvests from other farmers at fair prices. These farmers would then be motivated to establish similar organic agroforestry systems.
Fair prices and organic agroforestry systems could really have an impact, not only on my family’s farm but also on the whole town. More trees and fewer open pastures could transform the landscape. Maybe then the rains will become more regular, as they used to be. With a stable market selling goods at fair prices, fewer people would need to abandon their land and search elsewhere for work.