|Abstract or Summary
- The North Atlantic zone of Costa Rica is an alluvial plain, whose fairly good soils and warm, extremely wet climate generate serious weed problems in cultivated crops and pastureland. Basic foods - corn, beans, rice and yuca - are important small farm crops. New land is still being opened for small farming, encouraged by a government-sponsored homesteading program. Research was initiated in 1976 by the International Plant Protection Center, in cooperation with CATIE, to determine whether the weed control practices currently used by small farmers could be improved. Agronomic results indicate that tilling the soil gives no advantage over the farmers present no-tillage methods. Pre-plant treatments with the herbicides glyphosate and paraquat have been shown to save labor in corn crops. There is little evidence that the new treatments raise corn yields. A survey of small farmers was conducted in the region in 1977 and 1978. A random sample of 21 farmers were selected for interviews. The information included a general description of each farm family and the complete farm operation and detailed descriptions of cultural practices in corn and beans crop, with special emphasis on weed control. Social and economic information was also obtained. Small farms in the sample are in various stages of development. The first step is usually to brush out the native timberland and fence off areas for a few cattle to graze. Then parcels are cleared for annual crops, especially corn, which is the most dependable cash crop. The farmer rotates parcels for annual crops, weedy fallow and pasture. He constantly attempts to build up his beef herd. Development of perennial plots is limited by the quantities demanded for home and local use. Nearly half the labor, and half the cash resources, expended in corn production are for weed control. The farmers typically cut the weeds with machete and leave the vegetation as mulch before planting, weed the crop with machete or with very light applications of 2,4-D, and cut the weeds once more with machete before doubling the ears and harvesting. Some temporary local shortages of labor occur in the peak periods, when harvesting for one season overlaps with soil preparation and planting for the next, although general underemployment prevails in the long slack periods. Weed conditions influence greatly the quantities of labor used for weed control. Rottboellia exaltata is the most noxious weed in corn cropping. The quantitative information from the survey was tabulated in partial budgets or detailed accounting sheets of variable costs and revenues, for corn parcels on each sample farm. Analysis of variance and regression models were used to test hypothetical relationships among the variables. These results were then compared with estimated capabilities and costs of the experimental weed control treatments for the corn crop on each sample farm. Reported wage rates and calculated returns to family labor were used to estimate the values of family labor. It was found that a minority of the small corn farmers - those who currently use relatively high quantities of cash resources - might be able to reduce costs with the new treatments, without losing revenue. Their increases in cash income would not always exceed the losses in gainful employment suffered by the farmworkers. For the majority of small farmers in the region - those who raise corn with family labor as the main resource - the new treatments do not appear to offer any economic advantages. The treatments are expensive, they offer little promise for raising yields, and their labor-saving effects do not fall squarely in the peak labor periods. It is suggested, therefore, that recommendation of the new treatments should be subject to the farmers' financial conditions and to their actual objectives in growing corn. The use of soil samples and research in the control of pasture weeds are also suggested for further research by the IPPC. Finally, it is suggested that assistance in the development of extra-local banana markets for small farmers might be of great value.