News & Updates
Harvesting a Natural Resource to Save it: BARCA and the Comarca Embera Wounann in the Darian Province of the Republic of Panama
By Rigoberto Dagaiza
Since 2008 BARCA Panama has supported and worked for the Embera Wounaan People in the Darien Gap. NeDrua, (Land of Richness in Embera language), was created back in September 2009 as an economic development arm of the Congreso General Embera Wounaan, the traditional governing body of the Comarca Embera Wounaan of Darien Province. The initial concept was to modeled from Brinkman’s understanding of the intricacies and for building indigenous partnerships from experience with working with First Nations in Canada.The Embera and Wounaan people are the third largest indigenous group in the Republic of Panamá, located in the eastern part of the country border with Colombia. Ne-drua Wounaan territory, called Comarca, has some 430,000 hectares, where more than 95% is pristine rain forest jungle; this is the most valuable asset the Embera and Wounaan possess today.
The Comarca is rich in natural resources that can be used for any business development idea, from forest to non-forest products, agriculture products, livestock, etc. The great challenge is to find financial resources for pre-investment on specific business ideas projected to mid and long-term investment plans that support the socio-economic development goals of the Embera Wounaan.
BARCA supports and directs the business development company Ne-drua. Ne-Drua as a business entity is called to implement business activities that utilize the resources available in the Comarca.
BARCA and Ne-drua have the vision to empower the Embera Wounaan through sustainable economic development, from being self-subsistence farmers to becoming independent business minded people with their own authority, productively and actively participating in the national economy.
BARCA works with Ne-drua and the Embera Wounaan people to move away from selling raw resources toward developing a processing and value added sector that utilizes the resources the Embera Wounaan have available. Through the development of economic opportunities now and in the future we empower higher value and sustainable economic development over simply resource extraction.
Sustainable Forest management
The Traditional Authorities have implemented Sustainable Forest Management Plans where local communities take the responsibility to manage and take care of the forest as they have for centuries. The communities have developed and implemented 4 forest management plans (68,762.48 hectares) that are approved by ANAM (government office responsible for natural resources in Panama).
Since 2010 BARCA and Ne-drua have supported the communities in the development and FSC certification of 6 additional forest management plans currently in the approval process of ANAM, representing another 106,573.60 hectares.
The total of 175,336.08 hectares of forest land, soon to be under management of the communities, will provide the resources needed for the envisioned value added processing industry developed and run by Ne-drua.
Currently there are 4 forest management plans approved by ANAM (government office responsible for all natural resources in Panama), which adds up to 68,762.48 hectares all together. There are also 6 forest management plans in process in ANAM representing another 106,573.60 hectares, for a total of 175,336.08 hectares of forest land soon to be under management.
Ne-Drua as a business entity is called to implement business activities utilizing the resources available in the Comarca to do business from a sustainable point of view. This means forest products coming from a well-managed forest land owned by the Embera and Wounaan in the Comarca. So, the vision is to be able in integrate Forest Product (raw material) + Industry (added value, processing) + Market (national, international). This way the communities will be responsible for the raw material, Ne-Drua will do the processing aspect and the market, which will support economic activities in the Comarca.
Leading and supporting
Twenty-five years ago there were very few people from the Comarca Embera Wounaan that had the chance to finish higher education. A transition from the jungle to city life was necessary to go after a dream of getting educated, something new to the people at that time.
My own journey began in 1970 by attending first grade at the first school created in one of the remotest areas in the Comarca. From an indigenous community to a Latin community (as it was called), it meant drastic changes the second year of school, seemingly because my parents were interested that I would learn to speak good Spanish. After ninth grade another transition was necessary at this time from a village to the city to be able to finish High School and then from the city overseas, another major decision and a big step to take.
That is how in 1989 I received a Business Administration Degree from a university in the United States. After 18 years of experience working for NGOs and government agencies, in 2010 I was called to become part of BARCA, S.A. to work directly with Ne-drua, primarily for business ideas development and also administrative responsibilities.
Since 2010, myself and many others in BARCA and Ne-drua have developed several business ideas that are currently at different stages of development. The development of our wood processing plant, important to maximize the value of all wood species currently planned for harvesting in the Comarca, will see its final stages in 2014.
The agriculture products processing plant has been operational since 2013, and hopes to create benefits to our communities in 2014.
Since 2010 we have also worked on several tourism initiatives that will see further development in the years to come.
Ne Drua, BARCA and Brinkman Earth Systems are working together in 2014, to support the Traditional Authorities of the Embera Wounaan with their decision making, on how to potentially benefit from Forest conservation and carbon stock protection through carbon credit projects using both national and project level approaches.
Ne-Drua, as a business entity, is always looking for support and new business development ideas, through investment, partnerships and/or joint ventures.