Tuesday, September 1, 2009
Last weekend I had the pleasure of visiting, for the second time since moving to Panama, the folks of Sustainable Harvest International (SHI, or CSI, as the Spanish abbreviation of Cosecha Sostenible Internacional goes) and travel with them around the field in the Coclé province of Panama, to see how sustainable reforestation really happens.
When I first explained to some friends in Panama City that I am about to visit an organization working on reforestation with local communities in “El Interior” (Panamanian for “Boondocks”), to say they were skeptics would be an understatement. There is a reason for that of course. Slash & burn agriculture is widely practiced here and the humble day to day subsistence standard of living of many agricultural communities is regarded as a hindrance to seemingly lofty consideration of environmental impact and global warming. The work of Sustainable Harvest in Panama proved to me that change is possible, and is happening. All it takes is resolve and a lot of hard work. Sustainable Harvest has the dubious pleasure of never preaching to the choir, and making change happen where its most needed.
We first met with country director, Rodrigo Rodriguez, and field trainer Diomedes Arrocha at SHI's office in Penonomé, the regional capital. Since this time of the year the rains come down hard and heavy in the afternoon, we decided to head right out to the field and reserve the presentation about the recent activities to later. We started south on the Inter-American highway from Penonome and after about 5 minutes turned left towards the inland communities of Juan Diaz, San Juan de Dios and El Entradero.
Our first stop on the road was at the farm of Sebastian Arauz at the small community of El Chumical. Arauz planted with SHI's help 500 coffee plants and 500 guayacan trees in June. He was initially skeptic when SHI began working in the area two years ago, but the benefits demonstrated by his neighbors convinced him to give it a try. So what's the lure of reforestation? In a nutshell, by understanding the needs of the community and families, SHI is able to provide solutions, and while at it encourage sustainability, reforestation and organic farming. In this case for example, SHI is working with Sebastian Arauz on several levels. First of all they offer him free organic seeds of the shade loving coffee plant to create a commercially viable crop. They also provide him with the seeds of the beautiful native Guayacan that will provide the shade for the coffee plantation.
(Farmer Sebastian Arrauz (left) and Diomedes Arrocha of SHI (right)
However, it does not end here. In tropical Panama there are basically only two seasons. The rainy season and the dry season. In the area of El Chumical, where Arauz's farm is located, generations of unsustainable farming, burnings and tree cuttings along the rivers dwindled the natural water resources. Watering the plants during the dry season is not a trivial task, and SHI is helping with innovative manual pump designs, and know-how. The reforestation work being done upstream in other communities will eventually help Arauz and his farm as well.
For us at Eco-Libris it will be interesting to keep on following these coffee and Guayacan trees over the years and see them grow and transform the quite dreary landscape around them.
In the next blog installation I will tell more about SHI's organic farming and reforestation work in the communities of El Entradero, where they also introduced a more sustainable woodstove design that helped reduce the community's usage of firewood for cooking significantly.