Panama: Defending People and Planet

The Problem© MADRE

Panama's rainforest is one of the largest in the Western Hemisphere and home to several unique species of plants and animals. Indigenous Peoples who live in the rainforest (and who have managed it sustainably for hundreds of years) are hard-hit by ecological destruction. Ninety-five percent of Panama’s seven Indigenous groups live in poverty. Women, who are responsible for providing their families with food and medicine, are threatened by the extinction of native agricultural seeds that underpin local food security, and by the depletion of medicinal plants from the forests. As these species disappear so does traditional Indigenous knowledge related to agricultural diversity, ecology, and pharmacology.

The problem is part of a global crisis: the Earth’s plants and animals are becoming extinct at the rate of 140,000 species each year—more than ever before in human history. The main causes are industrialized agriculture, infrastructure development, and industries like mining and timber that extract natural resources from the environment.

The Solution

MADRE supports ongoing community workshops that enable Indigenous Kuna women in Panama to recover traditional Indigenous knowledge of biodiversity and secure agricultural seeds in danger of extinction by reviving traditional seed stocks and making them available to local farmers. MADRE is providing Indigenous women with training in managing eco-tourism projects, enabling them to earn much-needed income from their lands without risking environmental degradation.

MADRE also conducts human rights trainings so that Kuna women have information and skills to play an effective role in the field of sustainable development and to represent their own issues in policymaking on Indigenous Peoples’ environmental rights and biodiversity at the local, national, and international level. Working in partnership with Daughters of the Stars, a local Kuna women’s organization, MADRE is working to create new models for sustainable development and nature conservation projects that are implemented in collaboration with Indigenous Peoples and uphold collective Indigenous rights.

The Results

  • The women are producing and distributing local, organic agricultural seeds, creating healthier, more sustainable alternatives to genetically modified seeds promoted by multi-national biotech companies in the area.
  • Indigenous women are strengthening their efforts to protect environmental rights and conserve biodiversity on their lands.
  • Women who participated in the initial MADRE workshops are now using that model to bring knowledge and skills to other women throughout the Kuna territory.
  • Indigenous women are building a network to develop local, national, and international strategies to protect their environment and fight for their rights.
  • Locally, the women have begun working with the autonomous Kuna Congress to make sure that the congress takes women's needs and perspectives into account in its governance of Kuna territory.
  • Nationally, the women are working with government agencies to identify and replicate positive models of conservation programs and to ensure that economic development is pursued in ways that maintain a healthy and viable world for future generations.
  • Internationally, Kuna women are pressing governments to implement the UN Convention on Biodiversity in ways that protect and develop traditional Indigenous knowledge and uphold the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
  • Poverty is eased as sustainable entrepreneurial projects are developed. These projects reduce the pressure on Indigenous Peoples to sell their lands to real estate developers.

MADRE in Panama