The question in the title has always aroused many ambiguous feelings and misgiving thoughts in my head. On one hand, it is undeniable the importance of economic growth and all the direct and indirect effects in a country’s population. On the other hand, we can’t deny the side effects on nature. How to balance capitalist interests and sustainability is (probably) one of the most difficult tasks of the modern era and I believe it is fundamental to discuss this theme in all the spheres of society, as for example in grad courses like ours.
Yesterday, we had the opportunity to visit the Bayano Lake. This is the second largest lake in Panama and was formed in 1979 to supply a hydroelectric station. The lake is situated in an indigenous land (formed by 14 comarcas of the Kuna Madugandi Tribe), and the presence of a vast flooded forest attracted the attention of a large logging company (EcoTimber). As any other company’s implementation, many aspects need to be considered and during our visit many questions were raised. How the timbers are extracted? What are the side effects to the lake’s flora and fauna? What is the return to the indigenous comarcas? Who does the comarcas’ profit administration?
We were informed that the extraction of timber is made by people from the community, which were properly trained for the job. The underwater logging prevents the extraction of resources on land, avoiding the destruction of vast green areas and reports are realized in order to monitor the lake’s community. Regarding the return to the comarcas, a percentage from the sale goes directly to the community which supposed to be fairly distributed between the 14 comarcas.
Despite all the reported company’s good intentions, some issues are still surrounding my head. I miss an explanation about profit monitoring. There is a general congress formed by represents of the 14 comarcas which has the huge responsibility to distribute the percentage that belongs to the community. Unfortunately, as any other brazilian, I am used to see daily news about corruption in my country, and it is almost impossible not think about it in a situation like this. I really don’t think it is the company’s responsibility to monitor the profit distribution between comarcas, but it would be a nice initiative to offer tools and specialized professionals to help administer this money, as well as to ensure a fair distribution.
Other huge concern is about long term plans for the community. Underwater timber is a finite resource and the entire region depends directly or indirectly on it. So, what are the plans for the community in the future? Browsing the EcoTimber website I was glad to see that the company has plans to construct a new school in the region, which is a great educational investment. However, we cannot forget about the necessity of generating capital for the community when the resource no longer exists and I believe that as good company, the EcoTimber needs to ensuring the welfare for the future generations of Kuna Madugandi.
More information: http://www.coastecotimber.com/