Lessons in Diversified Farming

Opening slide of the Azuero Ecology Project Program on More Diversified Farming

Opening Slide of the Azuero Ecology Project Program on Diversified Farming

The Azuero Ecology Project periodically makes helpful presentations to the public.  This one was titled “Ideas for a More Productive and Diversified Farm” (see original Spanish in photo).

Over a hundred people came to this presentation, many of them obvious camposinos (country people) wearing their Panama hats flipped up in the traditional manner.  Others seemed to be from various agencies, there to learn so they could pass the information on to the people they serve.

Of we three gringas who decided to attend, only one of us could be said to be fluent in Spanish, which was the language of the presentation.  In spite of that, both myself and my fellow Spanish Learner actually understood quite a bit and since we are both avid gardeners, what we understood, we both found fascinating.

Gardening in Panama is very different from gardening in New York, California or Georgia or even Florida, where the climate is more similar.  Farming is a bit of a stretch for me, but the principles would be the same, so I was ready to play.

The first expert presented on the need for biodiversity.  Many plants, including trees, are grown from seed here.  He emphasized the need for genetic diversity, recommending that plants be grown from seeds from 20-30 parent trees chosen for their health and productivity.  Cross-pollination among these during the next generation would raise production levels.

As someone who has a mere three papayas grown from seed to her credit, I can see the value in doing that.  My papayas, as thrilling to me as they are just because they are, are not producing the best fruit I have ever tasted.  I can see how using the seeds from several different parent papayas might have improved my results and also how that might have made planting the seeds from my own papayas worthwhile.

Another presenter discussed how the depth of the topsoil impacts production and pointed out that leaving so-called trash trees to grow actually improves the soil and holds more water in it.  For some reason – tradition, I think – farmers in Panama are very big on cutting trees, not realizing how that contributes to erosion and drought.

Of course, because my Spanish is still quite weak, I missed more of what was said than I gleaned.  However, I made sure to get a translation of the impassioned part of the question and answer period.  Attendees became quite excited over two topics.  The first was water pollution, especially in the Rio Guarare.  A great deal of the pollution is thought to be caused by chemical fertilizers.

The next flurry of excitement commenced when a man inquired what plants they might grow along the quebradas (water ravines) that the cows would not eat.  The discussion moved quickly from cows to deer, a concern, apparently, for growers anywhere there are deer, and from there to hunting.

At this point people began yelling.  Deer are protected by law in Panama, but the law has few teeth.  Hunters are coming onto private land without permits (also illegal) and taking the deer, shooting on farms where children live, where cattle can be mistaken for deer, where men and women and children can be injured by hunters shooting at deer.  However, unless the hunters are caught in the act, they cannot be prosecuted.  This is a serious concern for these farmers, and one that seems to have no immediate obvious solution.

The Director of the Azuero Ecology Project told me that his team tries to make these presentations as useful to the people as possible.  The team of presenters had all thought trees would be the most interesting and useful topic that day, but it was hunting that raised the room’s temperature, surprising nearly everyone.

Based on what they learned from the question and answer session, the group and the attending agencies may place a stronger focus on helping the farmers with this issue, as well as the others they face.  And that can only be a good thing.