In early January Planting Empowerment hosted a group of investors in Panama for our fourth annual Panama trip. We spent a couple of days touring our planting sites, getting to know the communities we work with, discussing the issues that we’re at work to address, and exploring firsthand how our forest investments are impacting our partners.
The drive out to the Darien province of Panama is always an adventure. Besides the terrible drivers and wandering livestock, the gaping potholes usually take a toll on our rental car. Somehow we managed to escape this time with only minor vehicular damage. The Darien is different every time I go back – changed road patterns, new construction, more infrastructure, the kids are grown up – but the same environmental and economic problems persist.
Nuevo Paraiso and Arimae are the two communities we partner with to cultivate stands of native species and teak trees. Stopping by Nuevo Paraiso on our way to Arimae we met Planting Empowerment’s two land lease partners: Juan Cruz and Chico Cruz. Each leased 12 acres of land to us to raise the trees, and each is still committed to the project. After filling up on coconut water and guineo manzanas (apple bananas) our foreman Liriano led us up into the Friends and Family plantation to take in the view of the valley and surrounding deforestation. We arrived to Arimae that afternoon, and after a river bath and dinner, collapsed into our hammocks and colchones (mattresses).
The next morning we were up early to visit the Mary Knoll Sisters nunnery in nearby Santa Fe. It’s actually less a nunnery and more a sustainable farm that incorporates animal husbandry, reforestation, sustainable agriculture and aquaculture into a somewhat closed loop system. Living in the Darien for over thirty years has given the sisters a broad perspective on the development of the area.
Leaving the nunnery, I took the investors through our plots in Arimae and showed them the land where we plan to plant an additional 12 acres this June.
Overall, I was happy with the growth of the amarillo and rosewood trees in each of the plantations. As one of the fastest early growers, the teak as well had gained height and girth and some of the trees are beginning to open up their canopies. Most of the trees are now taller than the surrounding vegetation, meaning they face less competition for sunlight, and require less maintenance.
For our planned 12 acre expansion this June we will be working with Arimae to source about a ¼ of the approximately 5500 trees to be planted. They plan to collect the seed from trees in their reservation and will raise them in the nursery funded partially by the UNDP-GEF Small Grants Projects. As Arimae’s first client for saplings, we hope that our continued focus on native species encourages other forestry companies to plant natives … and to buy them from Arimae.
Check out our Facebook page for more photos of the trip.