Arimae finally gains legal title to its land

Arimae receives its land title during a ceremony in the community. Photo courtesy of  El Siglo .

Arimae receives its land title during a ceremony in the community. Photo courtesy of El Siglo.

After a long struggle, our partner community Arimae finally received its land title from the government of Panama. We’ve been working with Arimae since 2007 and currently have 15 hectares of timber plantations on their land.

The biggest benefit to having a land title is that now the community doesn’t have to enter into judicial processes every time it wants to expel squatters from their territory. Defending their territory from squatters has always been difficult because the Pan-American highway cuts through the middle of it, allowing for easy access. The land title covers more than 20,000 acres, more than half of it forested.

One of our founders, Damion Croston, lived in Arimae between 2004-2006 and learned firsthand about its struggles over the decades to secure its land title. Subsequently, our land lease payments helped to support the community financially by covering the costs of many trips by leaders to government offices and legal fees. However, our contribution was minor compared to the time and financial resources the community’s leaders and members invested to secure their title.  

Colleagues at the Rainforest Foundation US who provided support to the community during their struggle posted this blog about the formal ceremony the community held when they received the official title from the government.

We congratulate Arimae on their success, and are happy that they can now focus their time and resources on strengthening their community culturally and economically.

Read more about the story (in Spanish) on Panamá’s El Siglo website.

Arimae Featured in Guardian Article

The Guardian UK recently did an article looking at attitudes towards REDD - Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation - among Panama's indigenous communities. Our partner community Arimae was featured in the post discussing their struggles to keep illegal loggers out of their rainforest reservation.

Panama's coordinating body of indigenous groups, COONAPIP recently decided to withdraw from applying for a REDD project that would pay them to keep their forests standing. Their withdrawal from the REDD negotiations exposes indigenous groups' concerns about colonization of their land and loss of control of their natural resources.

Indigenous groups in Panama tend to have a different philosophy about land management, preferring to keep more of their reservations forested and only selectively harvest timber. That belief clashes with land-hungry settlers who want to clear land for agriculture or cattle ranching. We see this clearly in Arimae, where illegal loggers encroach into the communities' roughly 8,000 hectare reserve in search of tropical woods and land to raise their crops and cows.

In fact, much of the land lease payments that we've made to Arimae has gone to paying legal fees related to keeping squatters out of their forests. Even though we'd like them to be able to spend that income on community development projects, we recognize the short term need that this capital plays in strengthening control of their land.

But our impact in Arimae goes beyond supporting their legal battles. We've been working with the community for more than six years to introduce agroforestry and activities related to regenerating and sustainably managing their natural resources. In this way we believe that the Panamanian government will recognize that this more sustainable model is also a "productive use" of their land, and one that makes more sense for indigenous communities throughout Panama.

We're not sure whether indigenous groups in Panama will get behind REDD. It has the potential to provide much-needed income to indigenous groups, but also raises concerns about their economic and legal ability to defend their land from settlers. Whatever happens, we will continue partnering with indigenous groups in Panama to expand the economic and environmental promise of sustainable agroforestry.

Land Conflicts and Indigenous Lands

Photo of Leaders of Arimae point out deforestation in the community's reservationLeaders of Arimae point out deforestation in the community's reservationThe Panamanian newspaper La Prensa recently ran an article about the Embera/Wounaan closing the Pan-American highway in the Darien. The block was a reaction to the Panamananian government’s failure to evict squatters from the reservation of our indigenous partner community Arimae.
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Conservation Refugees

Members of Arimae's agricultural association looking at a map of the community's reservationTwo weeks ago the New York Times published an article featuring an Oxfam report on the forced and violent eviction of more than 20,000 Ugandans from their homes. In an effort to access the United Nation’s Clean Development Mechanism, in 2005 the Ugandan government granted the New Forests Company (NFC) a 50-year license to grow eucalyptus and pine for carbon credits. As seen by big financial supporters of the NFC such as the World Bank, European Investment Bank and HSBC (as well as many conservationists) this would help protect land, grow trees, capture carbon, provide needed jobs and generate almost $2 million in revenues. Everyone wins, right?

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Indigenous Land Rights and Economic Efficiency

Assessing the encroachment of squatters into Arimae's reservation.Assessing the encroachment of squatters into Arimae's reservation.An interesting piece of news recently came out of Indonesia regarding the need for land and carbon rights for Indigenous Peoples if conservation programs (especially REDD) are to work. One of the higher level politicians announced a new focus by the government to deliver and enforce territorial land rights for forest communities.

Often we hear calls for the recognition of Indigenous Peoples land rights, but what is encouraging about this is the government’s recognition that their lack of land rights is economically inefficient. Because the Indigenous Peoples don’t have legal rights to their land, it is partitioned inefficiently and is not generating the potentially significant economic gain and poverty reduction.

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