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Preserving paradise: Chiquita Brands’ Nogal Reserve restoration project receives Preferred by Nature validation

By Preferred by Nature

Located within Costa Rica’s lush landscapes, Chiquita Brands is starting to implement an ambitious project to restore and connect fragmented rainforests in the country. The Nogal Reserve – La Selva Biodiversity Connectivity Project, validated by Preferred by Nature against our rigorous Ecosystem Restoration Standard, exemplifies Chiquita Brands’ commitment to sustainability, biodiversity conservation and active stakeholder engagement. 

The project spans over 6,000 hectares across 30 farms managed by the well-known banana-producing company Chiquita Brands Costa Rica SRL. Beyond their own operations, the company supports independent producers, providing guidance and supervision to support sustainable practices.

At the heart of this initiative is the Nogal Reserve, a 92-hectare Private Life Refuge situated within the Sarapiqui Canton. Surrounded by tropical forests and bordered by the Sucio River, the reserve serves as a crucial habitat for a diverse array of species. At present, the area is home to 339 vertebrate species, representing approximately 21% of Costa Rica’s wild vertebrate species (excluding marine species). Among the documented groups are 230 bird species, 48 species of mammals, 40 species of reptiles, and 21 species of amphibians.

Given the area’s significance, Chiquita Brands has teamed up with Finnish retailer S Group to kick off an ecosystem restoration project, the Nogal Reserve – La Selva Biodiversity Connectivity Project, to establish biological corridors connecting 600 hectares of fragmented tropical forest.

Bridging the ecological gap via reforestation

This project targets areas within highly fragmented forests impacted by agricultural activities, particularly banana and cattle farming, as well as human settlements.

Hernán Zaldívar Schrader, Ecosystem Restoration Specialist at Preferred by Nature and Lead Auditor explained the project goals: 

“This initiative will bridge the gap between the Nogal Reserve, and two remaining forest patches, Agricola Sofia (160 hectares) and the Starke farm (340 hectares), ultimately connecting these areas to the La Selva Biological Station in the buffer zone of the Braulio Carrillo National Park. Currently, this connection is interrupted by the national highway Route 4.”

To achieve this, the project focuses on reforestation efforts with native species on farmlands owned by smallholders, encompassing 15 hectares belonging to 10 families. By reconnecting these forest patches, the project seeks to enhance biodiversity connectivity, promote sustainable land management practices, and integrate communities as vital stakeholders for the sustainable development of the area.

Strengthening stakeholder engagement

The project's success hinges not only on ecological restoration but also on building meaningful stakeholder engagement. While still in the planning phase, Chiquita Brands plans to implement reforestation activities this year, supported by stakeholder collaboration and environmental education initiatives. To address this need, Chiquita Brands has adhered to the Preferred by Nature Ecosystem Restoration Standard to identify improvement points and increase the project’s chances of success.

The Ecosystem Restoration Standard is a global benchmark for assessing restoration performance. It provides a structured approach for field-level verification, encompassing a broad spectrum of restoration interventions. Designed for flexibility, the Standard applies to restoration projects of all scales and stages.

Using the Ecosystem Restoration Standard, Preferred by Nature evaluated the project’s ecological, economic and social aspects. As it is a project in the planning phase, there are no implementation activities in the field, so the process was defined as a validation. However, reference sites of previous similar interventions were visited as part of the validation process.

Our validation process focuses not only on project planning but also on essential stakeholder engagement. Continuous interaction with stakeholders ensures transparency and fosters a collaborative approach to conservation efforts.  

“This process isn’t just about notifying stakeholders, but as much as possible, engaging in detailed and meaningful interaction with them. The stakeholder engagement process doesn’t stop after field visits or even after a validation decision is made. Preferred by Nature welcomes feedback on verified projects at any time, and such feedback often forms the basis for field evaluations,” said Hernán.

Laying the groundwork for success

Recognising key threats such as land-use change and illegal logging, the project proactively addresses these challenges to preserve the area’s ecosystem integrity. Monitoring efforts are vital for assessing the project’s impact and success. These include tracking reforestation progress, deploying camera traps to assess biodiversity changes, and conducting botanical inventories to monitor forest structure development.

Looking ahead, Chiquita Brands aims to verify the project against the Ecosystem Restoration Standard once restoration activities commence, further solidifying their commitment to sustainable practices and environmental stewardship.

Beyond this specific project, the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration reminds us that all efforts are crucial. At Preferred by Nature, we are committed to engaging with a diverse range of actors, including the corporate sector and traditional restoration initiatives. By giving visibility to all these efforts, we strive to support a movement to reconnect humans and nature, fostering a future where human economic development and biodiversity conservation can thrive in harmony.

Photos courtesy of Hernán Zaldívar Schrader / Preferred by Nature and Ana Laura Masis / Chiquita Brands SRL

>> Learn more about our Ecosystem Restoration programme


Hernán Zaldívar Schrader
Ecosystem Restoration Specialist
Mateo Cariño Fraisse
Senior Manager, Land Use Programme

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