Update on Kiva Loans

Partner David standing in front of some of his existing plantain trees

Partner David standing in front of some of his existing plantain trees

Late in July we closed a plantain loan on Kiva, a microlending platform that supports entrepreneurs and projects in the developing world. The $6,000 loan will cover the costs of a plantain project with our partner David, including seed stock, fertilizer, fencing materials, and technical assistance.

This latest one closes out our round of seven plantain loans, all with our smallholder and Indigenous partners in Panama. We are already starting to harvest plantains from project funded with our 2013 loans, and look forward to hopefully renewing an agreement with Kiva to continue doing these high-impact projects.

With our remaining credit line, we plan to fundraise on Kiva for longer term timber projects, that will deliver more revenue and opportunity for our Panamanian partners.

We took this set of videos to demonstrate the process of seeding the plantains in the nursery prior to planting.

Arimae in the News for Forest Carbon Inventory Project

Arimae and its forest reservation were recently featured in a blog and a video feature related to forest monitoring. Planting Empowerment supports the building of this skill set within the community as a manner to generate better land management planning.

The blog through written by the Environmental Defense Fund, Organization of Embera and Wounaan Youth of Panama, and the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute describes the forest monitoring training and data collection that took place in early April. It was the first of many training and data collection plots that would be done through Indigenous Territories throughout eastern Panama. The results of the data collection and training process will probably be presented at the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change conference being held later this year in Lima, Peru.

The UN-REDD program of Panama released this video of a different type of forest monitoring that was executed in Arimae’s forest reserve. The video includes a number of interviews with members of the Arimae community with whom Planting Empowerment has collaborated with for a number of years. The video also includes some interesting filmography done from a drone which shows some great shots of the community and the deforestation that is taking place in their reserve.

We’re encouraged to see this type of activity happening in Arimae’s collective lands because they help the community conserve its remaining, but dwindling, forest reservation.

Forest Carbon Map of Panama

Overview of creating Panama's forest carbon map. Video courtesy of Carnegie Institution for Science

Last week the Carnegie Airborne Observatory (CAO) announced that a team of remote sensing scientists had completed a forest carbon map of the entire country of Panama.

This is the first carbon map of an entire country, and we hope will lead the way to assessment of forest carbon stocks in other countries. The map helps to demonstrate more tangibly a critical service provided by the forest: the storage of carbon, which becomes CO2 when trees and vegetation are burned.

The map could also be a valuable tool for indigenous communities, including our partner community Arimae, if the REDD program becomes a reality in Panama. The map will help them to understand the financial value of the carbon in their remaining forests. REDD program payments represent an additional income stream for Indigenous communities, in addition to revenue from the tropical woods and plantains we’re growing.

The CAO team flew over parts of Panama using a sensor called LiDAR to gather data and then combine it with satellite imagery to create the new map. Greg Asner, lead for CAO, collaborated with the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI) to collect the field measurements. STRI is working with many Indigenous groups, including Arimae, to teach them how to do the field measurements that are used to further calibrate the LiDAR readings. This National Geographic article gives a good overview of his work.

Panama is lucky to have this asset, and we hope that policymakers and the Panamanian Ministry of Environment put it to use for the benefit of Indigenous communities.

Arimae Featured in Guardian Article

The Guardian UK recently did an article looking at attitudes towards REDD - Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation - among Panama's indigenous communities. Our partner community Arimae was featured in the post discussing their struggles to keep illegal loggers out of their rainforest reservation.

Panama's coordinating body of indigenous groups, COONAPIP recently decided to withdraw from applying for a REDD project that would pay them to keep their forests standing. Their withdrawal from the REDD negotiations exposes indigenous groups' concerns about colonization of their land and loss of control of their natural resources.

Indigenous groups in Panama tend to have a different philosophy about land management, preferring to keep more of their reservations forested and only selectively harvest timber. That belief clashes with land-hungry settlers who want to clear land for agriculture or cattle ranching. We see this clearly in Arimae, where illegal loggers encroach into the communities' roughly 8,000 hectare reserve in search of tropical woods and land to raise their crops and cows.

In fact, much of the land lease payments that we've made to Arimae has gone to paying legal fees related to keeping squatters out of their forests. Even though we'd like them to be able to spend that income on community development projects, we recognize the short term need that this capital plays in strengthening control of their land.

But our impact in Arimae goes beyond supporting their legal battles. We've been working with the community for more than six years to introduce agroforestry and activities related to regenerating and sustainably managing their natural resources. In this way we believe that the Panamanian government will recognize that this more sustainable model is also a "productive use" of their land, and one that makes more sense for indigenous communities throughout Panama.

We're not sure whether indigenous groups in Panama will get behind REDD. It has the potential to provide much-needed income to indigenous groups, but also raises concerns about their economic and legal ability to defend their land from settlers. Whatever happens, we will continue partnering with indigenous groups in Panama to expand the economic and environmental promise of sustainable agroforestry.