San Carlos River Basin, northeastern Costa Rica

Socio-Economic Development

The northern plains of the San Carlos basin were populated for over two thousand years by ethnic groups such as The Votes, Corobicíes, Ramas, Guatuzos and Huetares (Rodriguez, nd). A comparatively late colonization with territorial occupation only began in the mid-19th century, after government-driven measures to expand agricultural activities. The latter activities were mostly smaller-scale livestock through forest conversion into pastures in the mid to lower catchment. Only from the middle of the twentieth century a strong livestock expansion began. At the same time, the cultivation of sugarcane provided a significant economic boost to the region, accompanied by the development of citrus and ornamental crops promoting a new agro-exporting model driven by large transnational corporations. In 1996, a new forest protection law banned logging and protected the remaining forests in the upper catchment. The most recent land use change started in the late 1990s with pineapple monocultures concentrating large amounts of land area for its production converting Costa Rica into the biggest pineapple export country in the world despite not necessarily favorable climate conditions (wet) and water-logged soil characteristics (Rodriguez, nd). However, such large-scale monocultures also often come at the expense of increased environmental and social problems.

By 2013, San Carlos recorded a total population of 178,460 inhabitants with the regional Capital Cuidad Quesada, where approximately 43,000 people live. The population density is 53.3 inhabitants per square kilometer with a Human Development Index (HDI) of 0.8 in 2018 close to the national average (PNUD, 2018).


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