Forest Protection Plan Promoted in Panama’s Darién Indigenous Zone

08 April 2013 | News story

EFE. Panama joined on March 12th to the regional initiative of forest protection in indigenous areas to implement a strategic plan ensuring long-term, sustainable forest management in the Emberá Wounaan Region, located in the Darién province bordering Colombia.

The General Congress of this indigenous territory presented the "Strategic Plan of Forest Governance in the Emberá Wounaan Region” before environmental authorities, Panamanian conservation organizations and international cooperation agencies.

The plan, which has a 20-year horizon, aims to ensure forest conservation and sustainable management through the application of traditional indigenous law, national policies and legislation and international treaties ratified by Panama, according to the document accessed by Acan-Efe.

The strategic objectives and goals established for the first five years include a 70% decrease in illegal logging, completion of land use ordering in some areas of the territory, strengthening of community forestry enterprises, and reduction of deforestation and forest degradation.

National and Emberá Wounaan authorities are positive about the initiative, which has the technical support of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and is framed in the project called, “Strengthening Local Governance Systems to Improve Business Climate in Mesoamerica’s Forestry Sector: an Alternative for Reducing Deforestation and Poverty,” executed with funding from the United Kingdom through the Development Ministry (UK Aid).

Gerardo Gonzalez, in charge of Panama’s National Environment Authority (ANAM, for its name in Spanish), told Acan-Efe that as part of State forest resource management, his agency finds the initiative “interesting” and “very important”.

Gonzalez considered this plan for long-term implementation “a giant step forward” for the Emberá Wounaan, and said ANAM could provide technical support.

Inhabited by 10,001 indigenous in 40 communities, the Emberá Wounaan Region was created in 1983 as a separate area of Darién and covers 438,350 hectares (27% of the province).

The long-range vision of the plan is wise sustainable management of more than 430,000 ha of forest with a view to conserving the natural resources in perpetuity.

Emberá Wounaan forests are rich in precious woods with high commercial value, such as mahogany, yellow pine and cocobolo. Even though the ethnic group’s General Congress has banned extraction and sale of such species, they have a well-known attraction for loggers.

Along with timber merchants, these indigenous have the problem of what they define as invasion of their lands by colonizers (campesinos).

Emberá Wounaan General Chief (Cacique General) Betanio Chiquidama told Acan-Efe that the plan aims at scientific forest management based on ancestral knowledge, along with land use ordering to determine which areas are suitable for farming, grazing, forestry and production, so that “[national] governments and the Panamanian people know these lands are being used wisely,” to benefit the economy of the district and country.

"In practice, what we see for the future is our entire territory organized and planned and the forest intact for future generations," stated Chiquidama.

The idea is for all of the country’s seven ethnic groups to approve the document, so presentation of the plan was jointly convoked by the entity for National Coordination of Indigenous Peoples of Panama (COONAPIP, for its name in Spanish).

Edilberto Dogirama, President of the Emberá Wounaan General Congress and IUCN representative, told Acan-Efe that the idea behind formally presenting the plan is to seek funding from among the national and international stakeholders attending, although no specific amount has been set.

The United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and Global Environment Facility, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), IUCN and the German Technical Cooperation Agency (GTZ) are interested in supporting the plan for the region,” assured Dogirama.