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close this bookColonization and Environment: Land Settlement Projects in Central America (UNU, 1990, 155 pages)
close this folder3. Colonization in Panama
View the documentOverview
View the documentInstitutional Aspects of Colonization in Darién
View the documentCurrent Problems Associated with Colonization in Darién
View the documentRecommendations


Deforestation and colonization are taking place with very little supervision or technical support from government agencies. Although a large part of Darién is legally protected, the mechanisms for enforcement are deficient, and the areas which are not being colonized are those which are too inaccessible to be desirable to colonists. Darién National Park and the Indian reservations have not been greatly affected by colonists, but these are areas which are quite distant from the Inter-American Highway. Filo de Tallo Biosphere Reserve, on the other hand, is located close to population centres and to the highway and is being colonized despite the presence of two RENARE employees assigned to guard the area.

To avoid long-term problems in the development of Darién, a much more decisive programme is necessary on the part of government agencies. At present, development plans and environmental protection laws exist but are not enforced due to the lack of administrative and financial support to the local offices. The enforcement of existing laws and the execution of existing plans would have an extremely beneficial effect on the process of development in the area. For example:

  1. A more forceful application of environmental controls in the 8 km strip along the Darién highway by the Agrarian Reform Agency or by RENARE has been prescribed in several development plans for Darién.
  2. In 1978 the OAS published a fairly complete set of recommendations for integrated development of Darién, including colonization and conservation, but the execution of this plan is not currently in evidence.
  3. The administrative confusion arising out of the lack of land occupation maps fairly clearly contributes to the deforestation of Indian reservations.
  4. RENARE officials have stated that environmental obligations are not as clearly stated as they could be in lumber concession agreements and suggested that these documents could be improved.

More recently, a set of recommendations has been proposed by the National Environmental Commission which touches on these problems and many more. The weakest link in the control of environmental problems at this time is execution rather than planning.

There is also a need for the development of basic technical information, especially in the area of agro-forestry. Local officials and even farmers have been convinced of the need for some sort of forestry to meet the special needs of the area. There are no models ready for immediate implementation in the area, although research has begun on some alternatives. Viable alternatives must address the question of short-term utility and profitability of the agro-forestry systems, because Darién colonists tend to be poor. There is an active interest in mahogany (Swietenia macrophylla) and cedro espinoso (Bombacopsis quinatum) in the area, and these species are being produced on a smallscale in the RENARE nursery near Metetí.

Agro-forestry programmes are being carried out by RENARE, the University of Panama, the Universidad Popular del Darién, and the IDIAP. Each of these programmes has developed independently, with a notable lack of co-ordination between them. The programme of the University of Panama is the most advanced and has the additional advantage of being formally associated with the Universidad Popular del Darién. A programme for financing and co-ordinating these programmes would be a major contribution to the future development of Darién, especially if it would permit activities to go beyond the demonstration phase and take a more active role in promoting the establishment of agro-forestry systems. This very likely will require more work in the perfection of production systems and other support activities like those which are usually directed toward other agricultural production, including extension, credit, etc.

As mentioned previously, unsatisfactory enforcement of existing land use regulations is a major problem. Clarification of land holdings through a process of mapping and land adjudication is a current strategy of local agencies in Darién, but it is being carried out very slowly; more resources and clearer mandates of action must be given to local offices to allow them to carry out this policy.

Also lacking is an understanding of on-farm land management strategies in Darién, as well as those of logging companies and possibly those of local indigenous groups. Although the general process of colonization and pasture planting is known, there are many questions which must still be answered before effective legislative or administrative strategies can be developed to control land misuse. Long-term plans of farmers, the role of land speculation, the effect of on-farm lumbering, and different types of lumber entrepreneurship, etc., all are factors which must be understood to facilitate future land management planning.