The Situation: March 2010

This gives you the basic background you need to understand the situation we find ourselves in

The Chiriqui Highlands forms part of the Talamanca Mountain Range, which has the highest biodiversity index of the Central American isthmus, although it is most famous for its bird populations. In 2001 the  Range was designated a Worldwide Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO. The area contains the International Park la Amistad and the Volcan Baru Park. It is part of the PAMBAC (Panamanian Atlantic Mesoamerican Biological Corredor) which extends from the Colombian border to the Costa Rican frontier.

The isthmus of Panama itself is one of the most diverse in the world in terms of species, with more than 1,300 species of fish, 175 of amphibians, 228 of reptiles, 930 birds and 232 of mammals. The flora has more than 9,520 species, 850 of which are angiosperm, 22 gymnosperm, and 930 compatible fern and related organism. (statistics per publications of Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute and ANAM (Autoridad Nacional del Ambiente)).

The forested area also provides a significant contribution to carbon sequestration. The University of Northern Colorado is studying the area of Chiriqui called Renacimiento, whose capital is Rio Sereno on the Costa Rican border. The study seeks to determine current land use, degree of deforestation and potential for providing forestation incentives.

Panamanian environmental authorities began to develop a general land use and environmental monitoring plan starting in the 1996. It was part of a regional study of the MBC (Mesoamerican Biological Corridor) sponsored by the Global Environmental Facility ( and International Bank for Reconstruction and Promotion (the World Bank). Under ANAM (Panamanian governmental agency focused on the environment),  the effort identified biological corridors and began to focus GEF funds on still intact areas. This project became known as the Panamanian Atlantic Mesoamerican Biological Corridor Project (PAMBC). The objective of the project was to promote biodiversity and sustainable development.  The Chiriqui Higlands was one of the areas which have received attention in this project.  Local groups engaged in reforestation, organic agriculture and sustainable  development projects as a result.

Much of the fuss in the area is about the Biological Corridor that runs from the border with Colombia to the U.S.  It is an area of extraordinary biodiversity. The Talamanca Mountains, part of the Park which itself extends north into the Bocas province of Panama all the way to the Carribbean coast, has the largest tracts of virgin rain forest in Costa Rica and Panama. More than a third of the plant species are found nowhere else in the world. Here you can also find the ocelot, Baird’s tapir, and the Resplendent quetzal, one of the most beautiful birds in the world and just one of over 450 bird species that live in the Park.

However, there are threats to the ecosystem. More than 80% of the fresh vegetables consumed in Panama is grown in the region. Unfortunately the farmers uses chemical fertilizers, fumingants and pesticides. There is signficficant deforestation, and harvesting of flora and fauna.

The two protected areas in this region are the Volcan Baru National Park and Parque Internacional La Amistad. An environmental education project was part of the program to protect these areas.  A number of projects focused on opportunities to produce income in an environmentally responsive way.

As a result of this there is a lot of environmental activity. But before you can understand what’s going on you also need to know who is who.

La Fundación Natura:

La Fundación Natura is a NGO established in 1991 to promote the protection and conservation of the natural environment of the República de Panamá.

The Nature Conservancy

The Nature Conservancy was founded in 1951 and currently operates in all 50 states and 30 countries. It seeks to address threats to conservation involving climate change, fresh water, forests, invasives species and marine ecosystems. There are more than 700 staff scientists and the NC employs a non-confrontational approach. They work with indigienous communities, businesses and governments.


This organization has been in existence since 2001, and with another name, Amiscode, since 1993. They have several employees. They seem to be effective organizers. They are actively helping the 13 members of ADATA, the network of environmental groups in the area, referred to as the Tierras Altas de Chiriqui, The Chirqui Higlands.


This is an organization of 13 environmental groups in the Chiriqui Highlands. Gary is helping them develop a website currently housed at


This council consists of about 8 agro-ambientalista groups in Renaicimento, including Apaasac and other members of Adata. They were brought together by the mayor and organized by MIDA, a Panamanian governmental agency focusing on agriculture. They meet monthly, spending three hours helping with one another’s projects, and there is one hour of training.


APRE is an organization with 93 members who produce coffee. APRE is building a coffee processing plant that takes the coffee fruit and processes it to the point where it is dry, ready to grind then roast. The idea is to give local coffee producers an outlet for their coffee besides such giants as Cafe Duran, the largest coffee producer in Panama, also located in the region. They hope to be getting a better price. The project is supported by the Nature Conservancy, Fundiccep and other organizations.


There are other active groups in the area, in fact more than a dozen or so more, but this gives you an idea of how complex the situation is here.

In the next post I will talk about the rising conflicts about the hydroelectric projects in the area.

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