Food sovereignty in Changuinola: A certain hope from a cacao farm

Food is something I think about a lot on a regular basis. Of course, I love eating and cooking, but I am also interested in where my food comes from, how it was grown and what are the politics/social issues surrounding its production.

(However, I do not pretend to be an expert on the subject and what is written in this blog post represents only a small fraction of this complicated issue)

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The cacao fruit (Photo by Anne-Sophie Caron)

A few days ago, we had the opportunity to visit a cacao farm in Changuinola. This farm contrasted strongly with the coffee farm we visited the previous day which was mostly a monoculture, continued to use pesticides and marketed its production strongly to the international market. The cacao farm, on the other, was an agroforestry system, with the land being divided in three parts:

  1. Crops (mostly aim as a way to increase food security in the community and protecting the farmers against the rapid changes in the market)
  2. Agroforesty (where cacao, plantain and timber species are grown simultaneously)
  3. Parcel of protected forest (which helps regulate the microclimate of the farm

Agroforesty systems have shown to be an important tool of rural development since they provide a range of ecosystem services (soil protection, biodiversity conservation, carbon sequestration, …) as well as providing an additional mean of livelihood for the producers since they can also harvest the wood. This type of system also promotes a certain resilience of the land to both climatic events and crop diseases.

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An example of the tree diversity within the cacao plantation (Photo by Anne-Sophie Caron)

However, the system is not perfect, especially since there is no difference in price on the market between products grown without pesticides and in a way that provides ecosystem services and products grown “traditionally”. But the farmers are aware of this and are trying to change this unfortunate situation and make this choice more appealing than the alternative for fellow farmers.

Additionally, the farmer refused to be part of the cooperative in place in the region, which he did not think respected the producers enough and instead started a group with other cacao farmers of the region. Farms like this one are an important example of the possibilities of self-governance, even in a region like Changuinola where the agricultural landscape seems to be dominated bigger farms (like banana farms) owned by American companies. These farms have been found to have huge impacts on both social and environmental aspects of the region, so it is important to provide an alternative.

However, it seems that times are slowly changing. In fact, multiple countries from Central America and the FAO have discussing public policies that aim to promote family farming as a tool of social development for rural areas and to ensure food security and sovereignty to the farmers and their communities. Such policies are also framed to protect natural resources and manage risk and adaptations to climate change. It is unknown if the social policies will be put in place soon, but this still shows a slight shift in mentalities which cannot be ignored.

 

References

http://www.fao.org/panama/noticias/detail-events/en/c/372983/

Rodriguez, T. (2012). Dynamiques de coopération transfrontalière sur la façade caraïbe du Costa Rica et du Panama : le cas du bassin du fleuve Sixaola. Études caribéennes [Online] URL : http://etudescaribeennes.revues.org/5747

Kapp, G., & Manning, D. B. (2014). Land Management Systems at the Interface Between Forestry and Agriculture. In Forests and Rural Development (pp. 85-110). Springer Berlin Heidelberg.

Rossi, D. (2013). Los Agroquímicos usados en Las Plantaciones Bananeras y sus Efectos en el Agua, la Gente, y el Ambiente en la Comunidad de Changuinola, Bocas del Toro, Panamá.

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