Costa Rica Rural Community Empowerment Project

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Project History

Initiated in 2004, the Heart of Gold project is the central undertaking of a mutual learning and research alliance between Vancouver Island University [VIU] (formerly known as Malaspina University College), Nanaimo, BC, Canada and the rural Los Santos Region of Costa Rica. It was the outcome of an international undergraduate research project in Costa Rica that critically assessed rural community development through small-scale, locally owned and operated farming businesses. The project is managed and operated by a small number of highly committed rural tourism research interns and a faculty member within the Department of Recreation and Tourism Management at VIU in coordination with the FAALS families. Tied to the department's academic emphasis on sustainable rural development and it's commitment to out-reach support for rural communities-in-transition on Vancouver Island, the Heart of Gold project advances the program's community empowerment activities into the international arena.

The Los Santos region of Costa Rica is a predominantly corporate coffee farming area where communities struggle with the challenge of rural poverty and related social and economic challenges. Even though coffee is one of the most valuable traded commodities in the world the dominant corporate coffee production model creates poverty and social inequity through economic disenfranchisement (e.g., it denies farmers access to the value-added processing of coffee beans, and provides below subsistence level income) and utilizes harmful environmental practices on traditional plantations (e.g., forest wildlife habitat destruction and chemical based farming that creates drinking water con-tamination) (Pendergrast, 1999). Because of the challenges associated with rural poverty in the region and relationships formed with local farmers, this region was deemed an ideal site to initiate a mutual research and learning alliance, which continues to strive towards strengthening the livelihood security of local farming families.

FAALS was established in 2004 at the outset of the project to represent farm families that are involved in the project in the communities of Santa Maria de Dota, Quebrada Grande/Copey, Providencia, San Marcos, and Naranjillo. FAALS was formalized as a not-for-profit organization in 2012. FAALS operates with a well established governance structure and has elected association board members who lead and direct the association’s activities. The 40 families/communities of FAALS collaborate and share resources to strengthen small scale farming livelihood security and resiliency in Los Santos. With planning support from VIU and other Costa Rican partner organizations, FAALS seek innovative farm economic diversification that focuses on agro-tourism and eco-tourism business development, and the creation of sustainable agriculture in their farm families and their region.  

Since 2004 the Heart of Gold project has undergone three phases, each with a different focus but working towards the project’s overall goals and major research themes. During the first phase (2004-2005), the research alliance between VIU and the FAALS community was established, and partnerships with other Costa Rican support organizations were formalized. 

"I want to live, I want to give... I crossed the ocean for a Heart of Gold." (Neil Young)

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last updated in 2016