Overburdened agricultural production plan
Inappropriate industrialization of agriculture
The first coffee plantations in Central America had been incorporated into natural forests by carefully thinning existing tree cover and selectively clearing ground vegetation. Original vegetation, including nitrogen-fixing leguminous plants, had been left basically intact. The combination of shade trees (including planted banana and citrus) and coffee trees not only ensured richer and more complex agro-ecosystems, but larger trees also served as efficient soil stabilizers on the moderate to steep slopes which are predominant in the coffee growing regions of Costa Rica and El Salvador. Moreover, a forest-like appearance was regained within a few years when the coffee seedlings matured into trees. In the mid-1970s, shade trees were razed and other non-coffee vegetation cleared in coffee plantations in Costa Rica in order to enhance the coffee trees' productivity. More efficient (high yield) coffee varieties were planted. Although modernization practises increased the yield in the short run, they proved to be ecologically counter-productive. Direct exposure to the sun accelerated photosynthesis of the trees which, in turn, led to rapid soil exhaustion. Moreover, the removal of native nitrogen-fixing leguminous plants necessitated increased dosage of nitrogen fertilizers. Loss of the protective natural cover and of mature root systems hastened soil loss by wind and rain, and produced a heavier sedimentation load in nearby rivers. A parallel system for cocoa plantations, called the "clear-cut system", was introduced at about the same time into Brazil and Costa Rica (where practically 90% of forest in the middle altitudes has been eliminated by coffee plantations); however in Brazil, the traditional [cabruca] plantations of cocoa (clearing substrate vegetation but retaining some indigenous tree cover) remains the most common and is considered by many to be the most environmentally positive form of agriculture practised in Brazil today. In Costa Rica, low interest credit is now being offered to coffee planters who combine commercial shade trees with coffee plants; there has also been discussion about the possibility of using reforestation incentives to plant trees in existing coffee plantations.
Modernization of agriculture can mean little more than converting land from production by the poor for the poor, to production by wealthy landowners for use by the wealthy in developing countries and by consumers in the industrialized countries. As such it may have actually increased the amount of hunger in certain areas of the world. Such agriculture is in effect soil mining in that the nutrients in each crop, taken from the soil, are discarded (or exported) with long-term irreversible damage to the soil.