(QCOSTARICA) Hundreds of eyes will closely follow the journey of the indigenous Ngöbes among the coffee plantations, from San Vito de Coto Brus, Turrialba and Pérez Zeledón, to Naranjo, San Ramón and Palmares for the next six months.
The COVID-19 pandemic forced Health authorities to reinforce sanitary controls on a population vulnerable to falling ill due to their social and economic conditions, but on which a large part of the collection of 2.1 million bushels expected in the 2020-2021 coffee harvest.
The first 239 indigenous Ngöbes entered the Rio Sereno immigration post in the southern zone more than 20 days ago, bound for San Vito de Coto Brus: 199 adults and 40 minors, confirmed Eduardo Cambronero Hernández, director of the Red de Servicios de Salud de la Caja Costarricense de Seguro Social (CCSS). Entry is also reported, but to a lesser extent, from the Paso Canoas border.
“The first entry was on Thursday, August 20. They were the first 18. Yesterday (September 2), according to immigration data they had 200 people in Coto Brus. In theory, we expect between 7,000 and 10,000 for the next few weeks.
“Everyone has entered through Río Sereno, and on Monday (September 7) between 10 and 17 through Canoas”, said Víctor Vargas Gamboa, coordinator of the Department of Sustainable Production, of the Technical Management of the Coffee Institute of Costa Rica (Icafé ).
Some 13,000 indigenous are expected to enter the country from the Ngöbe-Buglé region, in Panama.
However, there is interest in going out and looking for more due to the difficulty that the pandemic imposed by keeping the border with Nicaragua closed for the entry of workers from that country.
Nicaraguans are the main source of labor for coffee plantations (about 45% of the 70,000 pickers required throughout the season), confirmed Vargas.
According to Cambronero, the plan of the health personnel is to follow the indigenous closely throughout the coffee route: from the Brunca Region, where they are now, through the Central Sur (in the Los Santos area), until they reach the coffee plantations from the West in their final destination to Naranjo, San Ramón and Palmares, among other cantons with budding harvests.
For this, he reported, the personnel of the basic care and epidemiology teams have been strengthened: there are two more teams on the border on the Coto Brus side; another three in Los Santos and also in Naranjo.
“They that are required according to the impact on migration, or the impact that occurs in positive cases, of which there is no report to date,” Cambronero reported in an interview on September 4. Seven days later, there were also no reports of suspected or positive cases of COVID-19 among the Ngöbes.
The coffee growers learned from the experience left by the impact of COVID-19 in the northern area, in April, when the virus hit by surprise yuca (cassava) and pineapple producers, as well as institutions, and generated important outbreaks that paralyzed plantations.
This explains why the preparation in the coffee plantations has been intense. Only in Coto Brus 14 coffee farms were registered, something that did not happen in the north in April, confirmed Cambronero.
“There has been a significant degree of corporate responsibility. There is a clear ethical attitude. In Los Santos we have seen it. There the local government, Immigration, Health and coffee growers have joined,” described the CCSS official.
The CCSS and the Ministry of Health have provided support in everything related to compliance with the protocols – which are various – to reduce the risk of outbreaks among collectors.
The main measures are related to respect for physical distancing in the shelters and within the farms; that is, the minimum two meters between people of different bubbles, and one person for every three square meters in each shelter.
They are also related to reinforcing education among the indigenous to prevent contagion, with measures such as hand washing and the practice of the sneeze and cough protocol; the confirmation that the installation of basic services such as water, electricity, and the supply of personal protective equipment (masks) for these workers is fulfilled.
Bubbles and masks
Scenes of women surrounded by small children as they pick coffee, even carrying their babies on their backs while the basket hangs from their waists, will not be seen for long.
Temporarily, as in the rest of the country, the plazas where the collecting families used to play will be closed and efforts will be made to distribute food and other supplies on the same farms to avoid the displacement of laborers to the community.
One of the measures announced several weeks ago is that, contrary to what happened before the pandemic, children under 15 years old or pregnant women among these indigenous that will not be able to enter the country, as are part of the measures to reduce the risk of infection with COVID-19 and any outbreaks.
Also to ensure the harvest, which for this season is projected 7% higher than 2019-2020.
Since their entry, the indigenous are subjected to a general review of their state of health, and then go to the farms, after leaving their personal information with the personnel who attend them in one of the immigration posts. This information will serve to follow up on their journey through different coffee farms in the country.
At the same time, an attempt is made to control the begging as the indigenous pass through the larger towns or metropolitan areas. The goal, Cambronero said, is to issue an order to ban it.
What if a case of COVID-19 appears?
While all measures are being taken to ensure there is no contagion, there could be cases of infection.
“God willing, no! But if it happens, on the farms, we have to prepare a special shelter for positive cases and provide sanitary isolation.
“Everything is coordinated. We have a national labor commission, and regional commissions where we are working interinstitutionally,” assured the Icafé official, for whom they had never faced anything like this in the 200-year history of coffee picking in Costa Rica.
“We have had harvests in the midst of hurricanes, we have been attacked by rust and pests, but never a harvest like this in the midst of a pandemic,” he added.
The Minister of Agriculture (MAG), Renato Alvarado Rivera, assures that, for months, they have been working to move this harvest forward.
He explained that with the indigenous people of Ngöbe-Buglé there is a binational protocol, where Panama commits that they will enter the border safely. Costa Rica, for its part, is responsible for reviewing and confirming the health situation of these collectors.
“We receive them with a verification process. They are incorporated into the farms, and are followed up, with permanent health checks, every day, including temperature and symptoms control. I am totally convinced that we are going to succeed. of this effort that we are making.
“The commitment of the Ministry of Agriculture is to continue working hard with farmers so that the harvest does not remain in the field due to lack of labor,” said Alvarado, also referring to the efforts to register the largest number of immigrants with roots. in the territory to support this harvest, a figure unknown to the MAG.