Walker Foundation Welcome by Panamanian farming community of Paguá
Walker Foundation welcome by the Panamanian farming community of Paguá. Barrett Walker is on the left and Thomas Walker on the right.
Project Report:
Implementation of biointensive farming practices in the tropics to investigate the economic impacts related to increased farm yields, natural resource preservation and climate stabilization.
Container ship transiting the Panama Canal
Container ship transiting the Panama Canal. Watersheds surrounding the Canal provide nearly 2 billion gallons of clean, fresh water a day to operate the locks. They also provide hydropower and drinking water. Half of the watersheds supplying the canal have been deforested, disrupting the natural hydrologic cycle and potentially threatening global commerce. Unless credited, photos by Barrett Walker

- Investigates the causes of economic imbalances.
- Explores and develops market-based solutions.


Food insecurity not only threatens vulnerable populations, but puts economic security and international stability at risk. In response to the global farming crisis, Sustainable Harvest International will provide training and technical assistance to 50 rural farming families in Panama for one year, while studying the economic impacts of biointensive farming practices related to increased income, natural resource preservation and climate stabilization.

Canal Authority environmental economics
Presentation by the Canal Authority to Sustainable Harvest International (SHI) and the Walker Foundation on environmental economics. Recognizing the importance of reforesting watersheds, the Authority announced plans to pay farmers to increase tree cover.

SHI-Panama Field Trainer Mariano Navarro measuring a plot for the establishment of a biointensive garden


In February 2010 SHI organized a site visit for the family trustees of the Walker Foundation and a private donor. The purposes of the trip were to:

1) Meet the farm families receiving training and technical assistance through the Walker grant.

3) Observe farming practices and the impact of deforestation.

4) Meet with the Panama Canal Authority and other organizations working to address the problem of deforestation.

5) Visit the Panama Canal to understand the role it plays in global commerce, and observe how dependent its operation is on clean, fresh water from surrounding watersheds.

The supply of fresh water from forested watersheds is a service of nature that, until recently, has been taken for granted and not priced in the economy. Water users generally pay a fee for the treatment and pumping of water, but seldom to maintain the watersheds that are the source of supply.

Sustainable Harvest arranged a meeting with the Panama Canal Authority to discuss Ecosystem Service Payments for watershed protection. Attending the meeting were: Florence Reed and Rodrigo Rodriguez with SHI, Thomas and Barrett Walker from the Foundation, and private donor Greg Stein. The group met with Angel Ureña of the Environmental Division of the Panama Canal Authority (and coincidentally SHI's former contact at our first partner organization, ANCON) and one of his colleagues. Angel showed us a presentation on the Canal Authority's conservation plans in connection with the current canal and expansion that is under way. About half of the canal watersheds have been deforested. The Authority wants to reestablish forest cover to ensure a dependable supply of water to operate the canal's locks, generate hydropower and meet drinking water needs. Much of the work is done through CICH, which is an inter-institutional canal watershed organization. A plan was made in 2008 to start payments for ecosystem services in 2010.

Ecosystem service payments are supposed to start in the canal watershed first and then spread to the rest of Panama through ANAM (Panama’s EPA). The model is now set to be developed by the end of 2010. Payments will go to individual land owners for protection of forested areas & areas left for natural regeneration. Three years ago they were talking about paying $70 per hectare per year, but that figure may well change. (The current cost to rent land to grow pineapple is $400 per hectare per year.) They also plan to support reforestation efforts with 90 species of native trees and agro-forestry plots with crops such as fruit trees and coffee. These plots will not be eligible for ecosystem service payments, but farmers will be given the seedlings and allowed to harvest fruit and timber. The plan is to put a contract out to bid for a company or companies to plant the tree seedlings on the farmers’ land for them.

The Walkers and SHI President Florence Reed discussed two possibilities for SHI connected to this. The first is that SHI-Panama could ask Angel if ACP or CICH would consider a proposal from SHI to provide the whole program to selected families instead of paying a company to plant trees on the farmers’ land. This may not be economically viable for them, but it may be possible even if we have to find some matching funds to go with their funding.

The second possibility discussed was for SHI-Panama to set up an earned income venture that could be contracted to monitor the regeneration and reforestation zones for ACP/CICH. SHI-Panama would be in a good position to do this if families in the area were SHI participants and / or graduates. If given the contract, it would be a good way to generate funding for the extension program by doing work that fits in with SHI’s mission.

At this time the market for carbon offsets is minimal. However, if a global carbon market is established, the current grant project would give SHI experience in reforesting land in a way that creates economic benefits for farm communities. The next step is to measure the benefits to the farming families assisted by the grant.

MEET MARIANO NAVARRO GONZÁLEZ - SHI Field Trainer funded by the Walker Foundation
Age 49, of La Pintada, Coclé, Panama

I am married to Bernarda de Navarro and we have two children - one is a college sophomore studying medical technology and the other attends an agricultural high school. My wife has been working at a farm store for five years in Panama City.

I have been working for SHI-Panama for six months. I’m working in two communities, San Juanito and Pagua, with thirty-nine families. I am most motivated to work with SHI-Panama because it is an organization that runs on few resources and identifies with people that have few resources - humble people in rural communities, just like me. Another important thing is that SHI-Panama protects the environment. I’ve always loved nature and have always tried to protect her, so that makes me identify with this job.

Even though I have not worked for SHI-Panama for long yet, I feel really good because I’m winning trust. Families have trusted SHI with their great hopes, and because I work alongside them and get my hands dirty with them, that has helped me gain their trust.

I learned that sustainability is a set methodology - a process where each activity depends on another. This is a good use of our community resources - without the need to bring in outside resources and without causing damage to our environment. In animal husbandry, for example, we obtain several benefits at once, since we can generate income and use the waste (manure) to prepare compost for our gardens; it is an integrated system.

SHI-Panama is a small organization, but we are focused on sustainability. We have qualified, compassionate Field Trainers who teach, prepare and monitor families for long-term success. It will be very important to reach more families, but of course that depends on financial resources, more time, staff and planning. I have confidence in this methodology because it is effective, and it makes SHI different from many other organizations. With SHI, families take an active part in each project. Education plays a major role, helping the individual form an awareness of our mission. I tell donors to have confidence in SHI - their money is well spent - and to visit us, as they are part of this process and should see the changes they make possible."

Field Report – May 2010

Field Visit Goals:
• Set up study attempt to determine amount of carbon sequestration that occurs in bio-intensive gardens in Panama
• Train SHI staff and farmers to increase general knowledge about soils and their properties, & teach field methods for testing various soil health characteristics
• Train staff and farmers in soil sampling/testing methods for laboratory analysis of macro and micro nutrients, pH, soil organic matter and soil carbon
• Select sites for bio-intensive garden plots
• Sample soils and document characteristics of soil health on 10 farms located in two different communities
• Train staff and farmers in use of BRIX refractometer
• Measure BRIX levels of fruits as an indicator of soil nutrient quality and nutritional value of crops

Methods: Class room presentation and soils resources for SHI staff and hands-on field training with SHI staff and farmers during the sampling process

Results/Implications: Soils samples were sent to the lab in Chiriqui for analysis. Results were received and are summarized below (original included in excel spreadsheet).

• 80% of the test plots were characterized as sandy loam with an average sand content of 62.7%.
• Average pH of plots was 4.9, high acidity, with the lowest being 4.4 and greatest 6.0.
• Nutrients mosts commonly in the poor / low category include:
o Potassium (low in 80% of samples)
o Iodine (very low in all samples)
o Manganese (low in 70%)
o Zinc (low in 90%)

Recommendations/Next Steps:

• SHI staff will work with the farmers throughout 2010 to implement the biointensive farming methods
• Place emphasis on training farmers in the value of incorporating all leaf litter and organic matter into their soils, rather than burning it
• Investigate locally available soil amendments that could address the severe nutrient deficiencies should occur and tested
• Use participatory methods to brainstorm the most appropriate, affordable methods of enhancing the nutritional value of crops through improved soil nutrient management
• Continue using BRIX testing to verify if soil amendments are improving crop nutrient and BRIX levels
• Work with local experts to evaluate the microfaunal soil communities found in the soil test plots and surrounding soils

2011 Steps

o Soils plots will be re-sampled to see if any noticeable differences in soil carbon accumulation or nutrient levels have occurred
o Soil plots and neighboring areas will be sampled on a limited basis for microorganism content (Soil Food Web)


1. Disclosure Project - The extension agent of SHI-Panama made home visits to talk with family members and explain all the details of the project and also the benefits they will receive and the commitment made with their participation. The visits were extended to agricultural land where the conditions are evaluated the same in terms of ease of obtaining water for irrigation, accessibility, use and soil types, etc.

2. Selection of families and land - The families selected were those that best met the conditions of land to establish gardens and also those who were willing to work and meet the technical recommendations of the extension agent and other officials of SHI-Panama.

List of selected families in the communities of San Juanito and Pagua for the biointensive gardening project:

1. Austin Soto
2. Victor Martinez
3. Eraclio Soto
4. Encarnacion Rojas
5. Melva Soto
6. Leovigildo Soto
7. Eligio Soto
8. Dimas Soto
9. Ricardo Guardado
10. Araya Uviberto
11. Jacinto Martinez
12. Isidro Gonzalez
13. Lorenzo Santos
14. Encarnación Martínez
15. Clemente Hernandez
16. Saturnino Rojas
17. Esteban Rojas
18. Juan Vega
19. Anselmo Hernandez
20. José Dimas Guardado

3. Meetings with participants - In February an initial meeting was held with participating members of the Walker Foundation, SHI President Florence Reed, Panama Country Director Rodrigo Rodriquez, and extension agent Mariano Navarro. Ongoing meetings have been held for members of beneficiary families with the extension agent to schedule training and work in the field.

4. Training of SHI-Panama - SHI-Panama staff had been trained earlier in bio-intensive agriculture because the extension agent Maribel Eye participated in a seminar workshop organized by the Organic Producers Association of Chiriqui (APOCHI) in October 2008. On his return, Maribel presented the topic to the rest of the team, and in January 2009 this item was submitted as part of the training component of the technical teams SHI affiliates in Central America in the annual event held in Panama.

During the visit to Panama in March 2010, SHI Program Director, Justin Trezza, and Intern Mary Johnson held a training in technical and administrative team of SHI-Panama, where he explained the procedure for sampling of soils, tools, packaging, labeling and other matters of interest.

Also developed were the themes of Biointensive Agriculture and its principles, and the use of a refractometer to measure sugar content in juices of agricultural products and GPS, as a tool to determine the geographic location of a given site. Visits were made to the farms of participant families to begin the application of topics covered in the lecture phase. Surveys were also conducted of the farms to discover the health status of the soil. A system of soil classification by colorimetry was used.

4. Soil Sampling - Field Program Director Justin Trezza and Intern Mary Johnson performed the sampling of soils on five selected farms in the community of Pagua and five in the community of San Juanito. These samples were labeled and packaged to be sent to laboratory for analysis.

The samples corresponded to the following families:

1. Eligio Soto
2. Austin Soto
3. Victor Martinez
4. Dimas Soto
5. Melva Soto
6. Jacinto Martinez
7. Lorenzo Santos
8. Encarnación Martínez
9. José Dimas Guardado
10. Isidro Gonzalez

5. Laboratory analysis - The 10 soil samples were sent to the laboratory of the Faculty of Agricultural Sciences at the University of Panama, which is located in the province of Chiriqui and subsequently received the results of the data in digital format and in print.

6. Group Workshops and Trainings - In April, SHI-Panama held two training events with families in Pagua and San Juanito, which consisted of seminars and workshops on biointensive vegetable gardens. The seminar for the San Juanito group was conducted in a classroom at the school and took 8 of the 10 families, while Pagua group was conducted in a shop located in the community of La Pintada, where they were transferred to 10 families.

The training was equal for both groups and included a power point presentation to introduce biointensive agriculture with very convincing pictures on the implementation of the 8 principles: crops, calories, carbon, double digging, compost, close planting, association, rotation, open pollination seed, and integrity of the method. The theme was developed by the extension agent Mariano Navarro. Following this theoretical event, Mariano developed several practical activities on the farms of producers, collectively and individually.

Upon completion of these activities, each family received the manual, "Biointensive Gardens," which was published by the Agroecology Center (www.bosquedeniebla.com.mx).

7. Purchase of tools and supplies - To facilitate the work of families assisted, there was a purchase of tools, which include those listed in the Manual of Biointensive Gardens as straight shovels, rakes, hoes, pitchforks in D handle, fork and shovel transplant manual.

Inputs: Because the results of laboratory tests showed that soils are acidic and low in organic matter, SHI-Panama purchased agricultural lime to correct the pH of the soil. Organic fertilizer was also purchased.

7. Preparation of land - SHI-Panama measured the size of the plots of 1.20m wide by 8.20m long. In most cases the families preferred to cultivate two plots. To do the double digging, SHI-Panama organized collective work in the communities called "boards" because that way, this activity is accomplished in less time than if it were done individually.

In the community of Pagua, there is far greater progress in production and therefore, both organic fertilizer and lime have been transported to the farms of each of the beneficiaries, to proceed with its implementation.

The community of San Juanito has begun laying the groundwork for double digging and soon SHI-Panama will deliver the organic fertilizer and agricultural lime.

8. Main problems encountered during the period

a. The occurrence of the dry season in Panama in December through May each year has negatively impacted the delivery of water for both human consumption and for agricultural irrigation in these communities. This shortage also affects the state of the vegetation, making it difficult to obtain biomass for the preparation of compost or other organic fertilizers. Although some producers have irrigation, we prefer to wait for the rainy season.

b. Poor road conditions in the community of San Juanito has caused delay in the transport of tools and inputs.

c. The lack of moisture in the soil, usually clay and the existence of some stony ground, has hampered their preparation. In some cases, farmers had to await the first rains for breakage, and in others it will be necessary to build a landfill on the bedrock, to obtain a bed of loose soil.

d. The work consists of the introduction of a new method of cultivation and although the producers have shown interest in learning, the process of establishment develops slowly. The extension agent has to travel to all the farms in the two communities, monitoring work and indicating the next steps in each garden.

e. The program only has one vehicle that provides the service of hauling materials, tools and supplies to the seven communities and this causes delays in shipments in general.

9. Main Achievements

a. Visits by members of the Walker Foundation to communities, in the company of SHI President Florence Reed, helped to generate much enthusiasm among the assisted families involved in the project and encouraged an atmosphere of cooperation in tasks.

b. Significant reduction of non-organic practices by participants, such as burning and use of synthetic pesticides, has been accomplished. Families are taking advantage of organic and vegetable discards which are used in the family compost. The families are improving the handling of discarded synthetic solids and liquids to reduce environmental contamination. Another important aspect is that the families are using the wood-conserving stoves that were built during the previous quarter. Firewood use has been reduced by more than 60% in more than 20 homes.

c. The regular visits by the extension agent assigned to the area and support of the Director of SHI-Panama in the field work, have allowed the project to be initiated with a prominent level of care because we believe that bio-intensive agriculture is a viable agroecological alternative for rural farming communities.

d. Training activities and study materials have been provided to each participant.

10. Projections - As of June 2010, SHI-Panama will continue the process of implementing agricultural lime and organic fertilizer in each of the gardens, considering the conditions identified in the soil analysis. When this process is complete, the planting of different crops begins by implementing the recommendations of the 'Manual of Biointensive Gardens' and other documents obtained by SHI-Panama, while providing a high level of technical assistance. Another activity that occupies much time is the preparation of organic fertilizers, mainly compost, to rely solely on local resources and achieve sustainable production.


"My name is Mariela Chirú, I am 38 years old and I live in Paguá, a community of the county of Llano Grande, district of La Pintada. I am a single parent and I have three children. Two are boys and one is a girl. My oldest son is 15 and, with great difficulties, is doing 9th grade of general basic education in school. To earn a living and to help my children, I have been taking on many jobs including domestic work, such as cleaning, doing laundry, cooking, caring for other families’ children and creating handicrafts. Of the crafts, the main products are hats made of natural fibers. I would sell them to the local stores, I would exchange them for food, or I would sell them to intermediaries.

Doing all kinds of work, I was not earning enough to support my family. My parents were helping with the education of my oldest son. Due to the difficult situation in which I live, I joined the group of families that worked in the community with Sustainable Harvest International (SHI), since my plot of land is so small and not very fertile. I could tell because my son could see that our neighbors with similar pieces of land could grow several kinds of vegetables, so he tried planting ours, but our plants did not develop. My son did not fertilize the land and it was too close to the dry season when he planted.

As a member of the group of families being assisted by SHI, I participated in the group work being done at each of the members’ farms. This is a system that was traditional in the fields in which we all work. We have conversations, we prepare meals and we eat together. This brought to the attention of other families the difficult situation in which I was and they came to my help. Of course, this has been influenced by the orientation by the field extensionist. This person talks about agriculture but also about other subjects such as cooperation.

I am very excited because SHI helped me install a water system all the way to my farm. They also built a wood-conserving stove that never in my life I thought I would have. Our contribution has been of materials such as sand, rock, wood and unskilled labor, because that is all we could give.

Recently, thanks to some of the families and members of the group, I was able to get a better paid household job in an urban community that is nearby. With some of my income I will be able to pay the Administrative Team (Junta Administrativa) for the water system installation and for the monthly bill for the service. I will also be able to buy food and clothing for my children and to invest in their education. My oldest child will be participating for our family in a biointensive agricultural project that SHI is running with the Walker Foundation. He will take care of the plot during his free time. My daughters will be staying with their grandparents, who will also participate with SHI.

The group has planned to work on a collective project on my farm. This project will consist of an “embarra.” The objective is to build and cover up the walls of my home. For this, some fundraising has been taking place and with the money we will buy some of the materials and SHI will provide others.

Due to all of this that I have just told you, I can positively say that the quality of life of our family has improved considerably. Since we joined to work with the SHI program, we see a light of hope where before, our situation was of terrible poverty. For this reason I will continue to work in my field during my free time. I am thinking of saving money to see if I can buy some land in the future which I could use to grow a garden with vegetables, basic grains and fruit trees. Then my children and I can live in a more dignified way, next to neighbors who have given us a hand during hard times.

Thank you very much to all the donors to Sustainable Harvest International, especially to the Walker Foundation."

Farmer showing off fruit trees
Farmer Don Isabel, showing off fruit trees he planted under the advice of SHI extension agents. His small farm now produces a variety of crops, providing a more nutritious and dependable diet for his family while reducing erosion and rebuilding fertility of the soil. The Walker Foundation trustees hope that data collected under this grant will help in quantifying the value of ecosystem services provided by sustainably managed farms.


SHI’s development efforts have a focus on helping rural households earn income from local and global food markets. The implementation and investigation of biointensive farming techniques will help rural enterprises develop their entrepreneurial capacities in order to compete in markets at all levels.

Economic imbalances are addressed with SHI participants by providing education on supply and demand, pricing, quality standards and other issues related to market dynamics. Since most of the entrepreneurial activities in rural areas are based on agricultural products, farm families may broaden their income strategies by including value-added products. Therefore market-oriented diversification occurs both on and off the farms.

In order to further promote food security and economic stability, this grant will also allow SHI to examine the ecological services provided by SHI participants and how they might benefit from the local and global markets that exist for these services.


Food security is linked to U.S. national security. By empowering farmers to meet the world’s growing food and market demands, SHI reduces the risk of financial instability and threats to national security.

There are many ways this grant will impact the farming sector and all other people on this planet. Statistics provided by the Rodale Institute that help support the importance of this work include:
• For every pound of food eaten, 6 to 24 lbs. of soil are lost due to water and wind erosion, due to current agricultural practices.
• Conventional agriculture—heavily dependent on natural resources—is becoming more expensive, raising food prices.

It is imperative that the farming sector explore sustainable practices such as the biointensive techniques outlined in this proposal. By investigating the results, SHI will be able to publish an analysis of their potential for helping farmers obtain the highest benefit with the lowest environmental and economic costs.

Amount Approved
$20,000.00 on 6/24/2009 (Check sent: 7/24/2009)

Boy & carrot thumbnail
Photo by SHI.

Volunteers working on community nursery project in San Juanito

Rojas Family
Esteban Rojas and family with their new wood-conserving stove in San Juanito

San Juanito School Garden
Harvesting tomatoes at the San Juanito School Garden

Field cleared by burning.
Field cleared by burning. Traditional slash and burn cultivation results in soil loss and drying of water sources such as springs. Globally, the loss of tropical forests contributes to climate change.

SHI Panama Office
Demonedes (SHI extension agent) & Rodrigo Rodriguez (Panama director)

SHI extension agent meeting farmer
SHI extension agent greeting Panamanian farmer with an offer to help him cut his need for firewood in half by constructing an improved cooking stove. Reducing the need for firewood is an important step in reducing deforestation.

Existing open wood stove
Existing open wood stove prior to the construction of a new stove.

New wood stove
Improved wood stove being constructed with the help of SHI from inexpensive materials. The stove cooks better with half the wood and cuts smoky emissions.

Hand irrigation pump installed with the help of SHI
Hand irrigation pump installed with the help of SHI. Small, efficient irrigation systems like this one constructed from inexpensive materials allow farmers to increase crop yields and insure the survival of planted trees that will later yield, fruit, nuts, and lumber.

Composting & organic pesticides
Farmer & SHI extension agents demonstrating organic composting & pest control sprays (in yellow containers) made from marigolds & other plants. After several years of slash and burn agriculture, Don Isabel's soil was depleted and he feared buying chemical fertilizers would put him in debt. SHI showed him how to restore his land and feed his family using organic agriculture.

Preparing the Garden Plot
Farmers removing large stones from the land to prepare for a biointensive gardening plot

Doña Mariela Soto
Mariela drives a stake in the ground to mark the layout of her biointensive garden plot in Pagua

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