- December 4, 2014

What does restoration look like? In Costa Rica it looks like a self-sustaining business.

You could be forgiven for thinking Luis Arturo Salazar is a farmer. He wears boots and blue jeans. He talks about yields per acre. And, of course, he owns a farm. But he is also an entrepreneur, a scientist, and living proof that you can make a good living through restoration.

"In the 1960s the frontiers of agriculture had really expanded," he says.  Standing just inside a plain, wood paneled office near the center of his farm, it’s easy to imagine the soft green trees of the countryside around us giving way to crops. As a result, he says, by the 1970s forest cover in Costa Rica had reached an all time low. In the early 1980’s the Costa Rican government, in a moment of foresight, decided to help reverse this trend of forest loss by creating an incentive program to encourage landowners to plant trees or allow forests to regrow on their land.

"With these incentives we were able to plant trees and expand our business entirely through self-financing," he says. Dr. Salazar (a physician by training) first bought farmland in Sarapiquí, Costa Rica, and was planting trees with support from the government program by 1986.  In the late‘80s, as his trees grew, so did his landholdings. Salazar bought more farmland and continued planting trees. In time he built a sawmill.

By the mid ‘90s it seemed his – and Costa Rica’s – luck had run out: reforestation incentives dried up, national inflation rates soared to nearly 30 percent, and expensive bank loans threatened to bury the farm, forest and mill altogether.  But by then Salazar had an asset he was able to draw on for capital: his trees. Using the value of his land and potential timber sales as collateral, he was able to upgrade his business to stay competitive and to pay off loans and negotiate more favorable rates until times improved.

Now Maderas Cultivadas de Costa Rica (Cultivated Wood of Costa Rica (MCC)) is a diverse and flourishing FSC certified business. They weathered the global recession and sell timber, plywood, particle board and pulp for construction, furniture, and other uses around the region. 

Dr. Salazar is proud to harvest timber sustainably from land he owns. "Over 4,000 hectares of primary and secondary forest in Costa Rica," he says - much of it land he helped reforest. (Salazar has other forestland holdings that are more intensively managed plantations).  Dust from board production is composted and used as fertilizer on his farm. "And we use sawdust and other waste from the sawmill to generate a small amount of energy," he says.

A trained physician and scientist, Salazar next plans to invest more in experimenting with native species in the future, to see if he can't make a profit while expanding native forest cover.  Already he plants native species with commercial use alongside his more traditional plantations of teak and melina. "But we hope to do more", he says.

We spoke with Dr. Luis Arturo Salazar through a translator while in Costa Rica for a meeting of the IUCN global forest team. IUCN does not work with Dr. Salazar’s farm – but we do work with small landowners and forestry concerns across the world, and in Meso America. Visit our web pages on FLR – or write to us at flr [at] () - for more information about our work on FLR and in Meso America.

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Country: Costa Rica