Bananas and Bikes in Shiroles
One of the constants in rural Talamanca is the importance of bananas or plantains to nearly every family and individual that we met. Unlike the bananas that you find in your local supermarkets which are generally grown on large plantations owned by multinationals like Dole or Del Monte, the majority of the bananas in Talamanca are grown on small 1-5 hectare parcels of land owned by individuals or families. Individual agriculturalists like Calixto, whom we met in Shiroles, are the rule more than the exception in this area. In addition to owning and farming 5 hectares of his own land about 10km outside of Shiroles, Calixto acts as a middleman in the town as he buys from other small family farms and then sells them on to larger operations which will ship the bananas by truck or boat down the Rio Telire for sale in Bri Bri, Puerto Viejo or even San Jose.As with nearly everyone we met in Costa Rica Calixto is a man working on many fronts to support his family, which cannot subsist on the sale of bananas alone. In early 2019 Calixto and his son Edson purchased a lot of 96 bikes from MiBici for repair and sale in Shiroles. This year, in conjunction with MiBici, we were able to create a new model for bike distribution in Costa Rica, and this lot of bikes was part of that new model. Rather than the bikes being repaired and sold locally by MiBici's credit co-ops, individual co-op members are now purchasing the bikes either individually or with another co-op member. This new model allows for individuals to obtain small loans through the co-op to purchase the bikes before they then sell them onward to others in the community.
Folks like Calixto and Edison are paying about $25 per bike from MiBici before they prepare the bikes for sale using a complete tool kit that we provide with each shipment. (Each container is split into 10 even lots and each lot contains bikes, spare parts and a complete tool kit and training materials). These bikes are then sold, on average, for $58 to community members. Many co-op members, like Calixto and Edison, will also sell bikes on credit or layaway assuming the buyer puts down 25% of the purchase price up front and pays the balance within 1-2 months.
In Talamanca many families receive federal government subsidies of $35 a month to help defray the costs of school uniforms, books and transportation for their kids. This is a market that Calixto and Edison tapped in Shiroles as they were able to sell 41 bikes to students at the secondary school there. Compared to other forms of available transport for students, the bikes are significantly less expensive and are a more sustainable choice that can be used by other family members when not with the students. Compared to the daily cost of a roundtrip via moto taxi, a bike pays for itself after 18 days, while those students who take the minibus would realize the same savings after 29 days. It's clear that a bike is the preferred choice here!
And back to the bananas -- while we were in Shiroles Calixto had to break away from us in order to load up a large stack of crated bananas into a truck that would make the hour long trip via the bumpy dirt road along the Panamanian border back to Bri Bri. For Calixto it is because the bananas that he can augment his income by repairing and selling bikes and because of the bikes that he can afford to purchase bananas from others in his community. Sometimes the circle of things isn't a circle at all but is a yellow crescent that you can eat!