Editorial: A Culture That Burns

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Using fire is a normal practice in Guanacaste to clear farms, lots and even the yard around the house, and many consider it a cultural custom, but at The Voice of Guanacaste, we call it a lack of awareness and appreciation for the environment.

According to statistics from SINAC, from 1998 to 2014, 78% of the total area affected by forest fires belonged to the province of Guanacaste, and all of the experts give the same answer: because of the use of fire in agriculture.

The big problem is that in Guanacaste, fire is regarded as a tool for doing work easier and cheaper than any other way. Why? When farmers have to chop down or clear a field, the easiest way is to set it on fire and then start preparing the land to begin a new planting season. The trouble is that these practices are not controlled and are often done without the necessary knowledge, so any wind can set off a spark that ends up wiping out several acres.

The director of the campaign Un Verano sin Incendios Forestales (A Summer Without Forest Fires), Luciano Capeli, thinks this culture is the result of a moment in history: the colonization of the country, times when the government gave property titles to people who cleared jungles or forests to transform them into productive plots.

“Today, times have changed. There is no longer a frontier to colonize and the remaining forests are generating much more revenue than major crops, but bad habits are hard to uproot,” Capeli said.

Our neighbors aren’t the only ones with habits that are hard to change. Rather, it is all of us as neighbors who burn garbage in our yards as an easy solution to get rid of it. Although we are going through the months with the highest temperatures of the year, the wind doesn’t stop blowing and one burning leaf could fly away and turn into a forest up in flames.

Those who burn garbage at home say they do it because they don’t get garbage collection service and this is the best way to dispose of the trash. We believe that this is not an excuse but we are sure that if garbage trucks went to every town, these practices would be eradicated or would decrease significantly.

From an integral perspective, the culture of Guanacaste is rich and remarkable. The sense of belonging in Guanacaste makes hearts swell with pride, but like everything else in life, there are things that should change and should be transformed. We are proud of the farmers. They are the ones who have shaped this province for years, but the way they have used fire has not been correct.

We boast that we have the most beautiful province in the country, but we are burning it little by little. The ability to change rests with farmers, neighbors, you and us.