In Panama, land deeds help farmers protect forests

Farmers in Panama hold land deeds
Farmers in Panama finally are able to hold the deeds to their land. (Photo: UNDP in Panama)

Melquiades Jaén, a farmer in the Capira district of Panama, has spent 45 years living and working on his 130 hectares: cultivating the land, taking care of it, grazing cattle there. But has hasn’t been able to hold in his own hands the title deeds for his farm – until now.

The Capira district west of Panama is a partially mountainous region,  forming part of the Panama Canal’s river basin. It was once endowed with lush vegetation, but due to poor agricultural and farming practices, it now lacks vegetation coverage.


  • 31,182 hectares have been registered via the project, financed by about US $2.8 million from the Panama Canal Authority.
  • 4,387 certificates of land ownership have been delivered to the farmers.
  • The project, which began in 2007, is set to run through 2015.

Just like Jaén, around 480 other farmers now own certificates of land ownership for their farms, thanks a project the Panama Canal Authority (ACP) is implementing in collaboration with UNDP. The project aims to ensure legal certainty about land ownership for people in the Panama Canal River Basin, areas that are mostly rural or semi-rural.

“The certificates of ownership are the guarantee we producers have that we are the absolute owners of our land that we have been working on for so many years. This desire has been expressed by every producer, and by every farmer, to be the legitimate owner of the land on which we toil,” Jaén said.

Just like Jaén, many other farmers and small farmers — for the most part migrants from the central provinces in search of fertile land — settled many decades ago in this virgin mountainous region, whose forests have been used for the past century as a source for the Panama Canal’s main resource, freshwater from rivers and lakes.

This source is also used to supply drinking-water production plants, providing water to the two largest and most densely populated cities in Panama.

Upon completion of the project, it is hoped that the population benefiting from the initiative will recognize the economic value of the environmental and biodiversity protection programs being introduced. The project is also expected to help identify opportunities for expert climate-change assistance, as well as development policies promoting the sustainable use of the region’s natural resources.

“We have been supporting our neighbors, planting trees in various communities in order to preserve this forest that is constantly dwindling.  Thanks to the community councils, we have been replenishing the sources of water, in addition to helping to improve the communities,” explained Jaén, who also presides over his community’s council.

Residents of 12 communities received land ownership certificates during the last delivery.

One of nearly 500 farmers invited to come to the community school to receive certificates of land ownership was María Clementina Cedeño. She said the ACP’s land registry personnel traveled to the region themselves.

“And I didn’t have to pay much, as I had to on other occasions when they said that the total amount would be higher than the area of land measured,” she said. “The process was quick, and they took good care of us.”

Bartolo Pérez Rodríguez is 72 years old, the last 40 years of which has been spent living in the Canal River Basin in the district of Nuevo Paraíso.

“The surveyor came to my house, measured my land in a flash, and then I went to (the National Land Authority) to pay for it — six balboas per hectare,” he said. “Having a certificate of land ownership is an asset, as this way you are sure the land belongs to you.”

 — Alejandra Araúz

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