GRASPING ‘THE BLUE BAGS’ A settings approach to perceptions on chlorpyrifos-treated bags in plantain production (Costa Rica)
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Summary Introduction and theory This research explores reasons for the continuous use of chlorpyrifos-treated bags in plantain production in the Bribri and Cabécar Indigenous Territories of Talamanca Costa Rica. It explores perceptions of the users and relevant other actors on the use, and on alternatives, and places these perceptions in the perspective of different environmental elements. The settings approach to health promotion has been taken as a viewpoint for this research, with a specific focus on the work setting, home setting and community setting. Methods This research is of explorative nature and has an observational study design, in which qualitative methods are used. Data were collected through literature research, semi-structured interviews and observations. The sample existed of 31 plantain producers, eleven intermediaries, two hired workers, three governmental organizations and five non-governmental organizations. To structure the obtained data, the ANGELIPU-framework was used. In this framework a distinction was made between settings and sectors, and the physical, economic, political and socio-cultural environment. Results The results of the literature review showed that economic considerations seem to be the main motive for the continuous use of chlorpyrifos-treated bags. The economic situation can lock producers in the use of the bags, because they cannot find opportunities to change the use. Producers in the territory are dependent of intermediaries and mention the rules of the intermediaries as a reason to use the bags. Pollution forms a main concern related to the use of the bags. Health risks seem to receive less concern. Alternatives would only succeed when the economic needs of producers and the quality standards for plantain are taken into account. The results of the interviews on perceptions about the use of the bags confirm that economic considerations are the driving force for producers to use the bags. A higher price is paid for bagged plantain because of existing quality demands (for which the bags are needed) on the national market. From the intermediaries’ perspective the use of the bags therefore is dependent on the national market. The intermediaries’ monopoly on trade in plantain appears to be mainly dependent on contacts in the national market, and not only on the monopoly on transport that intermediaries have. The people that effectively are in contact with the bags, the hired workers, have to place the bags because it is part of their job and there are no other options for work. The fact that most respondents do not place the bags themselves but hire workers to do so, is an important point that can be related to down-playing health risks and the continuing use of the bags despite possible negative health effects. The fact that potential health risks are not perceived to be the most pressuring problem by most parties, plays an important role in the continuous use. Environmental problems, which are considered to be a big problem, could be solved without diminishing the use of the bags. The results of the interviews on perceptions about alternatives to chlorpyrifos-treated bags suggest that mainly economic uncertainty makes the producers critical about alternatives. The main barrier that will have to be faced when trying to diminish the use of chlorpyrifos-treated bags, is that both producers and intermediaries believe that it is impossible to meet the quality criteria without using the bags. If the requisites cannot be met, the economic risk is likely to be too big for the producers. A successful alternative should guarantee a similar level of income compared to what the producers have now. Using a different type of bag (without chemicals) has a chance of success because it is very similar to the current production style. A second important issue is that the perceived problem is the environmental pollution caused by the bags, and not the use of the bags itself. From the perspective that the environmental pollution is the only urgent issue, setting up a good collection and recycling system would be a good starting point for intervention strategies. The fourth results section, in which lessons for intervention are summarized, suggests that perhaps the most important lesson is that the problem that ‘we as outsiders’ consider to be the problem (the use of chlorpyrifos-treated bags), is not what the respondents perceive to be a problem. When wanting to change something it is important to take the community’s problem perception into account (in this case environmental problems). Other factors to take into account in a future intervention are that there is most trust in the option of an ‘organic’ bag and that income security is a crucial point. Conclusion Economic considerations form the main reason for the continuous use of chlorpyrifos-treated bags. The same economic dependency (having no other options) and income insecurity also form a potential barrier for changing to alternative modes of production. Using a different type of bags (without chemicals) and setting up a good collection and recycling system are solutions that are most supported by the respondents.
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