Costa Rican Odyssey Percolates Cheer for Umar

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Costa Rican Odyssey Percolates Cheer for Umar

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Umar, Ernst & Young senior, describes his experience in Costa Rica with the Earthwatch Ambassador program


Umar, an Ernst & Young senior from Hamilton, Bermuda, shares his experience with the Ernst & Young Americas Earthwatch Ambassador program in Costa Rica.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012 - 5:00pm

Here’s a groaner for the Christmas cracker, where do Costa Rican bees get their buzz from coffee, of course.

Ernst & Young senior auditor Umar Hasan recently went to Costa Rica to explore the special relationship between bees and coffee production through a special volunteer programme.

In April, Mr Hasan was one of ten Ernst & Young applicants selected from a pool of 300 to journey to Costa Rica with the Earthwatch Institute to conduct field research and volunteer his skills with a coffee farming co-operative. He collected data alongside Earthwatch scientists to help determine how conservation practices may bolster biological diversity to increase coffee crop yields.

The volunteers also assisted the co-operative with its overall sustainability plan, including reporting processes, community engagement initiatives, and carbon footprint assessment. Over the course of the week Mr Hasan assisted Professor John E (Buck) Banks a professor from the University of Washington at Tacoma, with his bee research.

“Our task was to visit 12 (coffee) farms,” said Mr Hasan. “Six were near forests and six were farther away from forests. Of the 12, six had managed bee colonies nearby and six were without colonies. At each farm, we made three observations of coffee plants and counted the number of bees and other pollinators that would interact with the coffee plant flowers.”

Volunteers were given rubber rain suits to protect against being stung.

“Catching bees is no easy task especially when you are in the middle of a coffee farm with scorching sun, high humidity and rain gear on,” said Mr Hasan. “I am sure the locals must have had a laugh when they saw us running around with nets trying to catch bees. It was different from what I expected, but different in a good way.”

The volunteers returned to Earthwatch headquarters to document their observations and examine the specimens under a microscope. They marked each of the specimens based on which farm it was captured at and its proximity to the forest. These specimens were then shipped to an insect specialist (an entomologist) to properly identify the species.

“Sometimes the work was tedious but it felt good to help out the scientists in the programme and potentially make a difference to the environment,” said Mr Hasan.

The Earthwatch programme sends volunteers, often corporate executives to environmental research projects going on around the world.

“It essentially brings science to life for non-scientists like myself,” said Mr Hasan. “ It is a good way for people to get involved. I am planning to give presentations in-house to other members of staff and let them know what opportunities are available to them with Earthwatch. This is one of the Ernst & Young corporate responsibility initiatives. I would definitely recommend Earthwatch to other people.”

Mr Hasan said he wasn’t much of a coffee drinker before he went to Costa Rica, but he is now. He returned home with special Costa Rican coffee for several of his fellow employees.

“The high altitude Costa Rican blend I brought back is a bit stronger and has a bit more of an acidic taste, and is a bit more flavoursome (than coffee from lower altitudes),” he said. “It was quite interesting to see everything that goes on behind the scenes to get that cup of coffee. I am a lot more coffee educated.”

He said one of the rewards of the programme was understanding the whole coffee process, how it is manufactured and also, seeing how small changes that the coffee farmers made over the years had a tremendous impact on their environmental footprint.

“I also appreciated the ingenuity of the local farmers,” he said. “I saw some farmers who would collect all their pig dung and from that they would run methane gases into their own houses. Some of the farmers have also converted the outer shell into fuel, and use it to run the manufacturing process. In some cases they have managed to use some of the fruit to generate ethanol to run their trucks. They have distilled some of their water from the process and run it into the local schools. It was nice to see how you could change the whole process and have minimal impact on the whole environment.”

Mr Hasan is originally from Ontario, Canada and has been in Bermuda for two years. He has been involved in other environmental projects in Canada and Bermuda, such as Keep Bermuda Beautiful (KBB).

“My interest in the environment is something that has developed over time,” said Mr Hasan. “After a project like this my interest in environmentally sustainable activities has definitely grown. I have seen how communities can come together to do small things and the large impact that can have. I have learned that small steps really do have a big impact on a larger level.”

For more information about Earthwatch see

Keywords: Environment & Climate Change | Earthwatch Ambassador program | Ethical Production & Consumption | Volunteerism & Community Engagement