By Emilio Godoy
“The value we give it is a function of the benefits that forests provide. But it is not just oxygen, ”Embera Cándido Mezúa, president of the National Coordinator of Indigenous Peoples of Panama (Coonapip), told Tierramérica.
"It is seeing organic matter, mineral resources in the subsoil, ways of life related to the customs of indigenous peoples," added the great chief of one of the seven original Panamanian peoples, who live in five territories delimited under the figure of regions, that function as collective property neither alienable nor salable.
In this richly forested Central American and tropical country, indigenous people manage it through community forestry companies (CFEs). But Mezúa complained about the difficulties in establishing them, which harms the health of its wooded areas and the well-being of its guardians, the original inhabitants.
Of the 3.8 million inhabitants of Panama, 417,000 are indigenous, occupying 16,634 square kilometers, equivalent to 20 percent of the national territory.
According to a map released in April by the National Environmental Authority (Anam), prepared with the support of agencies of the United Nations (UN), 61.9 percent of the Panamanian surface, 46,800 square kilometers, has coverage wooded.
But every year there is a worrying loss of 200 square kilometers, Anam warns, in a country with 104 protected areas that cover 35 percent of the 75,517 square kilometers of the territory.
OBEs “are an effort that is not well developed. Only wood is extracted, the value chain is not developed, the added value is outside the region, ”said Mezúa, chief general of the Emberá-Wounaan region, on the border with Colombia, where his people also live as in Ecuador.
For the indigenous leader, CFEs help to maintain forests in the long term, with rotation systems that allow knowing their value and that of their wood in the management area. But “those who take the benefits are the big industries. The regions are not subject to credit and cannot guarantee the land, they depend on cooperation, ”he criticized.
Currently only five CFEs operate, the main activity of which is wood processing.
In 2010, two indigenous regions signed a 10-year commercial agreement with the Panamanian company Green Life Investment to provide it with raw materials. But it barely extracts about 2,755 cubic meters of wood per year.
On average, the yield in these regions is 25 cubic meters of wood per square kilometer and the total extraction in the indigenous regions is about 8,000 cubic meters per year and income of just over $ 275,000.
In five years, the plan is to have 2,000 square kilometers under management, Mazúa explained.
The governmental Indigenous Business Development Program of Panama has given these projects just over $ 900,000.
Forest use on indigenous lands is low. In 2013, La Anam issued 9,944 forest permits, of them only 732 to the comarcas.
The look at REDD
Mezúa analyzed that the hope of indigenous peoples is that CFEs are strengthened with REDD +, the mechanism of the UN Joint Program for the Reduction of Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (UN REDD), aimed at mitigating climate change.
“We want to pay for the conservation and sustainable use of the forest. It is critical to find the balance between conservation and development. But REDD + is not going to solve the forest crisis alone, ”the coordinator of the mechanism in Panama, Gabriel Labbate, told Tierramérica.
Currently, REDD + Panama is focused on preparing the country for the 2014-2017 period and designing the initiative's dissemination platform, the transparency channel and mechanism for claims and accountability, the review of governance structures and the first steps for the operational phase, which should start in June 2015.
UN REDD was launched in 2007 and its instrument has 56 developing countries from the South as partners. Of these, 21 are building national plans, for which they collectively received $ 67.8 million. Besides Panama, in Latin America in this group are Argentina, Bolivia, Ecuador and Paraguay.
Forests trap carbon from the atmosphere and store it in their trunks and in the soil. Hence the importance of stopping deforestation and avoiding releasing it into the atmosphere. In addition, trees control the hydrological cycle, by allowing water to evaporate and feeding rain.
Panamanian indigenous people believe that because of the role that forests play in their worldview, there is no one like them to participate in REDD +, which incorporates elements such as the conservation and enhancement of forest carbon and the sustainable management of forests.
But in February 2013, its representatives withdrew from the pilot program, considering that it disrespected free, prior and informed consultation, violated collective land rights and violated the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
They only returned to that instance in December, after the government's promise to correct the deficiencies reported.
In REDD + "the safeguards, the benefits, the price of carbon, the norms on carbon management and the legal security of the territory," explained Mazúa.
"We want an indigenous territorial climate fund to be established, that will allow us to define how the indigenous are going to give it a value from our point of view and how it is translated into economic valuation," said the chief general.
"The idea is that the money goes to the communities, but it is a matter of volume and financing," said Labbate, who is also responsible in the country for the Poverty and Environment initiative of the United Nations Environment Program. .
Precisely, poverty and environment are intrinsic in the original Panamanian peoples. Data released by the government and the UN on September 28, highlight that poverty in Panama affects 27.6 percent of the population, but between 70 and 90 percent of indigenous families are poor.
The indigenous representatives request their inclusion in the distribution of the international financing that Panama will obtain for conserving its forests.
In addition, they demand that compensation not be linked only to forest protection and carbon sequestration in indigenous regions, but also to nurture an environmental policy that allows them to develop economic activities and combat their poverty.
The caciques believe that the tool to reduce their inequality with the rest of Panamanians is in their forests. "But they have to support us to make it happen, REDD is only part of the aid strategy, but more important is that legislation is enacted to guarantee our territorial rights in practice," Mazúa stressed.
Latin American Network of Tierramérica newspapers