Costa Rica is located in Central America, bordering the Caribbean Sea on the eastern side and the Pacific Ocean on the western side. Its population is 4.8 million, and the name of its capital city is San Jose. The country comprises several islands out of which Calero is the largest island. Costa Rica enjoys international reputation in terms of its high ratings on democracy, Human Development Index, Environmental Performance Index, Happy Planet Index, and tourism not to mention its rich biodiversity of plants and animals.
Costa Rica comprises seven administrative provinces, which are divided into 81 cantons. The cantons are sub-divided into 473 districts. Main climate of Costa Rica is tropical throughout the year with distinct dry and wet seasons, considered locally as summer and winter respectively. However, the country has a variety of micro-climates that vary with the terrain and location. There is both high rain and humidity on the Caribbean coastal area.
The agriculture sector is of great economic importance. Industrial crops that are mostly grown by certain global companies (examples: Chiquita, Dole, Fyffe’s, Del Monte) on monoculture plantations for export purposes include coffee (most important in terms of worldwide recognized high quality and export earnings), bananas (another major export crop), pineapples, sugar cane (largely for domestic consumption), and ornamental plants. Main food crops, vegetables and fruits are rice, corn, oranges, tropical fruits, and potatoes. About 10 percent of the cultivated land is irrigated. Subsistence farming and agro-forestry are practiced by indigenous tribes. Agro-processing is popular.
Key Statistics and Indicators
Agricultural land (sq km)
Agricultural land (% of land area)
Arable land (hectares)
Arable land (% of land area)
Arable land (hectares per person)
Fertilizer consumption (kg per hectare of arable land)
Agriculture, value added (% of GDP)
Food production index (2004-2006 = 100)
Food exports (% of merchandise exports)
Food imports (% of merchandise imports)
GNI per capita, Atlas method (current US$)
Literacy rate, adult total (% of people ages 15 and above)
Literacy rate, youth female (% of females ages 15-24)
Literacy rate, youth male (% of males ages 15-24)
Ratio of young literate females to males (% ages 15-24)
Ratio of female to male secondary enrollment (%)
Mobile cellular subscriptions (per 100 people)
Internet users (per 100 people)
Population density (people per sq. km of land area)
Rural population (% of total population)
Agricultural population (% of total population)*
Total economically active population
Total economically active population in agriculture*
Total economically active population in agriculture (in %
of total economically active population)
Female economically active population in agriculture (% of
total economically active population in agriculture)*
History of extension and the enabling environment
The credit for the initiation and development of agricultural extension in Costa Rica as an institution largely goes to the USA’s huge assistance programs going back to 1940s. The USA played a key role in creating the Inter-American Institute of Agricultural Sciences (IICA) in 1942, which was really the start of technical cooperation between USA and Costa Rica. The very first technical assistance program launched was Servicio Technico Inter-Americano de Cooperación Agricola (STICA), which later transformed in 1956 into the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock (MAG). Almost all the program resources were devoted to agriculture and rural development.
STICA established an agricultural extension service as well as a number of 4-S Clubs for the purpose of transferring improved agricultural technology to the farmers. During the 1950s, as many as 40 extension offices were established. The central agricultural extension office, located in San Jose, had the following staff: one director; two 4-S club supervisors; one home improvement supervisor; one audio-visual specialist; and two secretaries (mostly men). The capacity of the local extension staff was built. Extension projects enhanced income for all farmers, especially those who operated on small scale.
The 4-S clubs, as many as 158, were established in 1949 under STICA. The program focused on the youth and leadership development on the lines of 4-H clubs in USA. In case of Costa Rica’s 4-S clubs, the four Ss stood for Salud (health), Saber (to know), Sentimiento (sentiment), and Servicio (service). These clubs were under administrative control of the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock. A National 4-S Club Foundation of Costa Rica was also created, which had members comprising government officials as well as private citizens. Both men and women were trained under the program, most of whom later became agricultural leaders.
Later, STICA concentrated on developing agricultural research. Several research stations such as those at Los Diamantes and Nunez were built and equipped. USA provided assistance in a number of areas such as coffee research, irrigation, soil improvement, pasture development, and several agricultural research and extension projects.
The most rewarding USA support in terms of agricultural education and sustainable agricultural development was in the form of the EARTH University, which later benefited not only Costa Ricans but also nationals of many countries in the region. The USA assistance also led to the establishment of the Faculty of Agriculture at the University of Costa Rica, the Centro de Investigación en y Semillas (CIGRAS), Centro de Investigación en Tecnologia de Alimentos (CITA), the Escuela Técnica Agropecuaria (ETA), and the Consejos Agropecuaria Nacional (CAN).
STICA was followed by the POINT IV program in 1950. During the 1950s, the agriculture share of assistance was about halved as other sectors like health and education also needed development funds. During the 1960s and 1970s, the USA provided support to the development of rural cooperatives as a matter of priority. A large number of grower and producer cooperatives were established, which took over the production and distribution of coffee and some other crops, dairy products, and agricultural inputs including fertilizers and tools. Small and medium-scale producers benefitted most in terms of access to technical information, logistic assistance, credit and marketing.
Since 1993, the agricultural extension and research in Costa Rica have been following participatory approaches. Presently, the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock provides extension services through its Servicio Nacional de Extension Agropecuaria (National Agricultural Extension Service) and Instituto de Innovación y Transferencia de Tecnologia Agropecuaria (INTA - National Institute for Agricultural Innovation and Technology Transfer).
Although USA has been for decades the main donor country for Costa Rica, yet its assistance has drastically declined especially since 1996 when the US ended the bilateral economic assistance to Costa Rica in 1996. However, there have been other donors that have assisted the development of agriculture sector in the country. The Inter-American Development Bank (IADB) provided $14.4 million loan to support sustainable agricultural development, which focused on boosting competitiveness among farmers in low-income areas. In the past, the World Bank financed several major projects including Agriculture Credit and Development Project (1977), Atlantic Agricultural Development (1986), Agriculture Sector Investment and Institutional Development Project (1992), Sustainable Cacao Production in South-Eastern Costa Rica (2001), and Carbon Sequestration in Small Farms in the Brunca Region (2006). Some of the projects financed by the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) include Agricultural Credit Project (1982), Northern Zone Agricultural Credit Development Project (1988), and Agricultural Development Project for the Peninsula of Nicoya (1994). The European Union development funding for Costa Rica aims mainly to support social cohesion and regional integration. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) has about 12 currently active projects covering various aspects of agriculture, one of them focusing on the reform of extension system in Central America countries including Costa Rica.
Major institutions providing extension/advisory services
Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock (MAG - Ministério de Agricultura y Ganadería)
The Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock (MAG) has overall responsibility for providing public agricultural extension services to the farmers. This responsibility is carried out by the following two public institutions under the Ministry:
- National Agricultural Extension Service (Servicio Nacional de Extension Agropecuaria).
- National Institute for Agricultural Innovation and Technology Transfer (INTA - Instituto de Innovación y Transferencia de Tecnologia Agropecuaria).
The Ministry has eight Regional Directorates of Agriculture, and 86 Agricultural Service Agencies, that perform various agricultural extension functions in the field. In 2009, the number of the extension agents based at the regional and field offices was about 500.
The responsibility for coordinating the activities of the regional directorates and agencies rests with the Higher Directorate of Regional Operations and Agricultural Extension (DSOREA - Direccion Superior de Operaciones Regionales y Extension Agropecuaria). The DSOREA comprises the following four departments to cover agricultural extension matters:
- The Department of Organization and Business Management.
- Department of Sustainable Production.
- Department of Monitoring and Evaluation.
- Department of Information and Communication for Development.
Before 2008, the agricultural extension services followed participatory approaches through producers’ participation, participatory technology adaptation, producers’ knowledge-based indigenous technologies, participatory program implementation and evaluation. However, as the government started the implementation of the National Food Plan (Plan Nacional de Alimentos) in 2008, the focus of agricultural extension services shifted from participatory extension to the training and capacity building of the producers’ organizations in the subjects of sustainable production through low tillage technologies, integrated farm management, organic agriculture, and environment-friendly agricultural and fishery technologies.
The DSOREA also developed a new strategy that aims at promoting stakeholders’ participation and especially that of producers’ organizations at all stages of the agricultural value-chain, i.e. pre-production, transformation, and commercialization. Another objective of the new strategy is the expansion of public extension services and its integration with that of producers’ organizations.
Ministry of Environment and Energy (also listed as Ministry of Environment, Energy and Telecommunication)
The Ministry of Environment and Energy is also involved in the provision of extension advice through its National System of Conservation Areas (SINAC) that is responsible for promoting the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity in Costa Rica, concentrating on primary and secondary forests, mangroves, wetlands and forest plantations. In 2010, the Ministry organized a series of five workshops with the support of the United Nations Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR), focusing on participatory strategic planning at the local level aimed at effective environmental quality management.
National Institute of Agricultural Innovation and Technology Transfer (INTA - Instituto Nacional de Innovación y Transferencia en Tecnologia Agropecuaria)
The National Institute of Agricultural Innovation and Technology Transfer (INTA) is the main public institution for research on crops, livestock and natural resources in Costa Rica. The generation of improved technologies and their transfer to the farmers in cooperation with the agricultural extension agencies are its two key functions. INTA comprises a number of research and outreach centers located in different parts of the country. It works in collaboration with these field offices, agricultural extension offices, and public academic institutions of higher learning. INTA has established PLATICAR http://www.platicar.go.cr/, which serves as a platform for the exchange of information among farmers, extension agents and researchers in the area of agricultural technology, information and communication.
Three are presently no well established private agricultural advisory services in Costa Rica that provides technical advice to the farmers for fee on a regular basis. There are, however, a large number of commercial plantations that are assumed to have their own local and overseas sources for technical and marketing information. These plantations are usually monoculture with individual focus on single commodity such as banana, pineapple, teak, bamboo, and sugar.
Review of literature shows quite a large number of private companies that are engaged in various agricultural businesses. Although, with rare exceptions, there is no information available on their involvement in extension type activities, it is assumed that they do provide technical instructions to the farmers on the use or operations of raw or processed products of their interest. Some of these national private companies dealing in agriculture are:
- Agricola El Cantaro, S.A., located at San Miguel (farming and agri-business).
- Macori Maquinaria Agricola de Costa Rica, S.A., located at Cartago (agricultural machinery).Coopevictoria, R.I., located at Grecia (sugar and coffee production).
- Techno Agricola de Ca S.A., located at San Antonio (farming and agri-business).
- Agricola Ganadería Los Roble S.A., located at San Miguel (agriculture and livestock).
- Agricola Murpi, S.A., located at San Pedro (farming and agri-business).
- ASD de Costa Rica, located at San Jose (development of highly productive oil palm seed varieties and clones; involved in technology transfer to businesses and small producers through in-service training, formal courses and direct technical assistance).
Some of the multi-national private companies engaged in specific agricultural commodity plantations are:
- Del Monte.
There are dozens of NGOs in Costa Rica that are engaged mainly in promoting sustainable agricultural development and the management of natural resources, but there is no NGOs that provide conventional extension services to the farmers on regular basis. There are, however, some non-profit civil society institutions of professional prestige in Costa Rica, enjoying international reputation, that have been involved in academic programs, research, development, capacity building, community outreach and extension type activities for sustainable rural and agricultural development through their regular programs. A few examples of such non-governmental institutions are:
EARTH University (Escuela de Agricultura de la Region Humeda)
The EARTH University, essentially an agricultural institution of higher learning started its academic programs in 1990. It has two campuses, one at Limon in Guacimo, and the other at La Flor in Guanacaste, and attracts students from dozens of countries. The university program leading to a degree in agricultural sciences focuses on investigating sustainable agriculture in tropical environment. All second and third year students work with small-scale Costa Rican farmers on their farms, and with organized groups in sustainable community development activities. Local farmers and the students learn from each others’ experience and knowledge. Students can choose one or more areas of human development, agricultural development, and rural micro-businesses.
Tropical Agricultural Research and Higher Education Center (CATIE – Centro Agronómica Tropical de Investigación y Ensenanza)
The Tropical Agricultural Research and Higher Education Center (CATIE), located at Turrialba that was carved out of the Inter-American Institute for Agricultural Sciences (IICA) in 1973 as a separate institution. Its main mission has been research and education in agriculture and natural resources. In 1996, CATIE expanded started its academic program by adding a Ph.D. degree program. The CATIE has been enjoying partnership and cooperative agreements with a large number of overseas institutions, and its projects and programs have benefited not only Costa Rica but also the Latin America and the Caribbean regions. CATIE’s work has benefited small and medium scale resource poor producers including rural landless, indigenous groups and women, rural communities and local organizations, cooperatives and agro-industrial entrepreneurs. The CATIE capacity building activities include on-site training to meet local institutions’ requests, training on its campuses, organization of national and international conferences and workshops, networking and policy dialogue with the government policy-makers.
The Education Corporation for Costa Rican Development (CEDECO – Corporacion Educativa para el Desarrollo Costarricense)
CEDECO helps farmers in organizing and connecting with local and national markets. The NGO teaches cooperative, sustainable and ecological agriculture to enable the farmers to produce healthy food without compromising natural resources. Such a program is meant to motivate rural people to continue residing in their communities rather than migrating elsewhere.
Costa Rican Institute of Technology (ITCR or TEC – Instituto Tecnológica de Costa Rica)
The Costa Rican Institute of Technology (TEC) is located at Cartago. Its mission is to contribute to the integral development of the country by means of training the human resources, research, and extension; keeping the scientific-technical leadership, the academic excellence and strict attachment to the ethical, environmental and humanist norms, from a state university perspective of quality and competitiveness at national and international level.
The mission of the non-profit-organization ANAI, based in San Jose but with offices at other sites in Costa Rica, is fostering sustainable development for the world’s tropics. ANAI has launched several successful participatory, community-based conservation and developed initiatives in Costa Rica’s Talamanca region, which is a UNESCO’s World Heritage Site and a “biodiversity hotspot”. ANAI’s initiatives were later joined by several other actors. The NGO lists several examples of its accomplishments including a marine turtle program, stream and watershed bio-monitoring, foundation of the Talamanca Small Farmers Association for agro-forestry purposes, ecotourism, etc. All of ANAI’s initiatives are accompanied by practical training and educational activities to empower the local people covering subjects like community promoters, organic agro-forestry, community credit, computerized management of small business, etc., all aimed at promoting sustainable development and conservation. ANAI also runs and internship and volunteer program, which has attracted interested persons from many countries.
There are many overseas non-profit organizations and some academic institutions that offer eco-tourism and on-farm living experience opportunities in Costa Rica. The tourists/students are expected to do volunteer or paid-in-kind farm work and/or live with host farm families.
Farmers-based associations, cooperatives and societies
Costa Rica has both farmer associations and agricultural cooperatives, but cooperatives are more frequently mentioned in literature than the associations. The country also has a National Council of Cooperatives. Specific extension activities undertaken by these farmers’ organizations for the benefit of member farmers are not known. It is obvious however that besides marketing, public extension support is what all of these organizations seek for their small scale famer members. Foreign companies that operate plantations have their own agricultural advisors. Examples of a few agricultural cooperatives and associations are given as follows:
- Costa Rica Association of Flower Growers.
- Dos Pinos R.L. Cooperative of Milk Producers.
- CoopePueblos Coffee Cooperative, Agua Buena (like this, dozens of location-specific coffee grower cooperatives exist in coffee growing areas).
- Coopesilencio Costa Rica (a small farming cooperative in Central Pacific Costa Rica).
- COOCAFE ((Consorcio de Cooperativas de Cafecultores de Guanacaste Montes de Oro) Consortium of Coffee Cooperatives of Guanacaste & Montes de Oro).
- Fair Trade Coffee Cooperatives.
- Coonaprosal (farmers’ cooperative involved in salt, shrimp and tropical fruit).
- Organic Agriculture Cooperatives (exist under the umbrella of the Cooperativas Sin Fronteras Internacional, an alliance of producer cooperatives in Latin America offering organic and FLO Fair Trade certified products).
- Talamanca Small Producers Association (about 1,200 members; 90 percent of them are indigenous).
- Association of Organic Coffee Producer Families (Alianza).
- Association of Agricultural Producers, Pacayas.
List of Extension Providers
The following list shows an excerpt from the GFRAS Directory of Extension Providers for Costa Rica. Some of these entries may be specially marked for having more detailed information in the database of the Worldwide Extension Study WWES.
Training options for extension professionals
For pre-service education in agricultural sciences including agricultural extension, the following academic institutions offer degree programs in Costa Rica:
- The EARTH University (described in a previous section).
- The Tropical Agricultural Research and Higher Education Center (CATIE) (described in a previous section).
- University of Costa Rica (Universidad de Costa Rica): http://www.ucr.ac.cr : The University of Costa Rica is located in San Pedro, San Jose, but has several other regional campuses. It is considered as the oldest, largest and most prestigious academic institution in the country. Among its several faculties are the Faculty of Agricultural Sciences and the Faculty of Social Sciences. This university also manages 26 research institutes; those related to agricultural and rural development include: Agronomical Research Center (CIA); Center for Research on Agribusiness (CIEDA); Center for Research on Sustainable Development (CIEDES); Center on Women Studies; Research Center on Seed Science (CIGRAS); Research Center on Animal Nutrition (CINA); Research Center on Plant Protection (CIPROC); Research Center on Natural Products (CIPRONA); and National Research Center on Food Sciences (CITA).
Extension professionals may contact the following institutions for their regular in-service training programs, or have special need-based in-service training courses organized:
- The Earth University.
- The Tropical Agricultural Research and Higher Education Center (CATIE).
- University of Costa Rica.
- National Institute of Agricultural Innovation and Technology Transfer (INTA).
- Agricultural research centers under the University of Costa Rica.
- Costa Rican Institute of Technology (ITCR or TEC).
Info-mediaries and information and communication technology (ict) for agriculture and extension
After investing in ITC starting the 1980s, Costa Rica has made indeed impressive progress in the development of its ITC sector as compared to several other economically well developed countries in the Latin American region and elsewhere. A non-profit, private organization Omar Dengo Foundation was created in 1987 for implementing innovative education programs, and computer laboratories were set up all public schools. Costa Rica now has a Chamber of Information and Communication Technologies (CAMTIC), and major computer and software companies like Intel, HP, Microsoft, Fujitsu and IBM have established ITO (information technology outsourcing) operations in Costa Rica. According to the World Bank, in 2011, the number of mobile cellular subscriptions (per 100 people) in Costa Rica was 92.20. During the same year, the number of Internet users (per 100 people) in the country was 42.12.
In 2009, the Information and Communication Service of the Ministry of Agriculture of Bhutan signed a project with the National Institute of Agricultural Innovation and Technology Transfer (INTA), called “Development of Local Capacities on Environmental Friendly Agricultural Technologies through Knowledge Management Process between Bhutan and Costa Rica”. Both countries have been benefiting from VERCON (Virtual Extension Research Communication Network), a platform for linking research and extension, established with the support of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO).
From April 16-17,, 2013, an international seminar, “Digital Technologies for Competitiveness, Social Inclusion, and Sustainable Development in Costa Rican Agriculture”, was held at the headquarters of the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation in Agriculture (IICA) in Costa Rica. The conclusion was that the ICTs employed by public agricultural institutions in Latin America and the Caribbean are mostly for internal use, with few products and services being offered to end users, and that this situation has to change to enable ICTs to have a bigger impact on the development of agriculture and rural territories in the region.
The Institute of Technology of the University of Muenster in Germany launched a pilot study on Internet support for agricultural cooperatives in Costa Rica. The goal was to initiate, install and consolidate the presence of these cooperatives in the Internet. Results of the study are not known.
So far, there is little evidence of ICTs being applied in support of extension programs in Costa Rica. However, given the fast pace of ITC development and new commitments to expanding the use of ICT to other sectors, it is a matter of time when the ICT will be fully incorporated in agricultural operations in general and in extension programs in particular.
Resources and references
Anderson, B. 2012. “Information & Communication Technologies (ICT) in Costa Rica”; in Technology News.
Caribbean Export Development Agency (Barbados) (no date). Doing Business with Costa Rica.
Directory of Development Organizations; Resource Guide to Development Organizations and the Internet, Volume IV.A/Latin America and the Caribbean; available at www.devdir.org/org/files/Costa_Rica.PDF.
Dragon, S.L. and N.T. Place. 2006. Perceptions of farmers, students, and faculty regarding university-based extension: A case study from EARTH University, Costa Rica. Journal of International Agricultural and Extension Education, Volume 13, Number 3, Pp. 65-78.
Echeverria, J. 2010. Costa Rica Case Study: The Importance of Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services for Economic Growth and Equity in Costa Rica; National Economist Report.
Gonzalez, J.P. 2008. Free Trade Agreement between Dominican Republic-Central America – United States of America (CAFTA-DR): Effects on Costa Rica’s Agriculture Sector. Picado & Leon Abogados.
Hartwich, F., M.V. Gottret, S. Babu, and J. Tola 2007. Building Public-Private Partnerships for Agricultural Innovation in Latin America: Lessons from Capacity Strengthening. Washington, DC: International Food Policy Research Institute.
Hocde, H. and D. Meneses. 2003. The Meeting of Two Worlds: Constructing Processes of PTD in the Huetar Region of Northern Costa Rica; in (Ed.: C. Wettasinha, L. van Veldhuizen, and A. Waters-Bayer) Advancing Participatory Technology Development: Case Studies on Integration into Agricultural Research, Extension and Education; International Institute of Rural Reconstruction; ETC Ecoculture; ACP-EU Technical Center for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation.
IFAD (no date; probably 2000). Completion Evaluation Report of Costa Rica: Northern Zone Agricultural Credit Development Project. Rome: International Fund for Agricultural Development.
Kimata, E. 2013. Seeking new options for Costa Rica’s farmers. Article published in the Tico Times, online newspaper of Costa Rica.
Latin American Council. 2011. Final Report of the Seminar-Workshop on Experiences in Developing Agricultural Cooperatives and Agri-food Mini Industries in Latin America and the Caribbean; XXXVII Regular Meeting of the Latin American Council; 19 to 21 October 2011; held at Caracas, Venezuela.
Miller, M. and M.J. Mariola. 2008. The Discontinuance of Environmental Technologies in the Humid Tropics of Costa Rica: Results from a Qualitative Survey. In (Ed. K.S.U. Jayaratne) Proceedings of the 24th Annual Conference; Volume XXIV; Global Entrepreneurship in International Agricultural and Extension Education; Association for International Agricultural and Extension Education (AIAEE); March 9 to 15, 2008; EARTH University, Costa Rica; Pp. 338-349.
Monge-Gonzalez, R. and J. Hewitt. 2010. Innovation, R&D, and Productivity in the Costa Rican ICT Sector: A Case Study. IDB Working Paper Series No. IDB-WP-189; Inter-American Development Bank.
Novkovic, S. and N. Power. 2005. Agricultural and rural cooperative viability: A management strategy based on cooperative principles and values. Journal of Rural Cooperation, 33 (1) 2005: 67-78.
Pomareda, C. 1995. USAID and the Agriculture of Costa Rica 1945-1995. Paper prepared for the Academia de Centroamerica, as part of the study on Impact of USAID on Costa Rican Development during the Last Fifty Years.
REPCAR (no date). Improving the Management of Agricultural Pesticides in Colombia, Costa Rica and Nicaragua: Experiences of the GEF-Reducing Pesticide Run-Off to the Caribbean Sea Project.
Sce, G. 2008. Costa Rica’s ICT-Based Development.
Solano, C., H. Leon, E. Perez, and M. Herrero. 2003. The role of personal information sources on the decision-making process of Costa Rican dairy farmers. Agricultural Systems, 76 (2003) 3-18.
Stads, G.J., F. Hartwich, D. Rodriguez, and F. Enciso. 2008. Agricultural R&D in Central America: Policy, Investments, and Institutional Profile; ASTI Regional Report. International Food Policy Research Institute and Inter-American Institute for Cooperation in Agriculture.
Villalobos, V. and R. Monge-Gonzalez. 2011. Costa Rica’s Efforts Toward an Innovation-Driven Economy: The Role of the ICT Sector. Chapter 2.1 in The Global Information Technology Report 2010-2011; World Economic Forum.
- FAO-informa-de-politica-Costa-Rica.pdf 1.82 MB2014-12-10
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- Authored by M. Kalim Qamar (September 2013)
- Edited by Burton E. Swanson