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“Pifá, Bananas, Oranges Are Our Forests”: Agroforestry and Development among Smallholder Farmers in Panama
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Deforestation and forest fragmentation continue unabated in many parts of the world. Scholars point to the expansion of the agricultural frontier as a driver of forest and biodiversity loss. Government agencies and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) often promote agroforestry as a sustainable development strategy for combating deforestation while improving the livelihoods of smallholder farmers. Yet agroforestry projects designed by outsiders who have technical expertise but relatively little local or traditional knowledge can bring negative outcomes for farmers, local communities, and farmer associations. Prescriptive ideas from governments and NGOs may clash with or even contradict local understandings and practices of how forests, fields, and resources should be managed. Though farmers may participate in state and outsider projects, their decisions to embrace, ignore, or negotiate on their own terms how resources are managed ultimately determine the contents and contours of agricultural and forest landscapes. The Panamanian government’s Ministry of Environment, national institutions, and NGOs are promoting agroforestry projects among smallholder farmer association members. I compare the perspectives of farmer association members, non-members, and NGO and government staff to examine how farmers practice agroforestry, the reported benefits of agroforestry, the value of being part of a farmer association, and how agroforestry is supporting (or not) conservation in the Santa Maria River watershed and in the outskirts of Santa Fe National Park in Panama. Results of the research show how micro-level natural resource management of smallholder farmers and livelihood strategies is linked with macro-level projects and discourse about agroforestry. Methods include semi-structured interviews, participatory mapping, and participant observation among smallholder farmers and NGO and government staff as well as the placement of camera traps on farms and in SFNP. The twenty-month ethnographic study reveals how farmers respond to the messages of environmental NGOs, government, and other outside actors. The significance of the project is in increasing knowledge about the complexities of managing natural resources for conservation while improving livelihoods.
Dennis, Katherine Anne (2016). “Pifá, Bananas, Oranges Are Our Forests”: Agroforestry and Development among Smallholder Farmers in Panama. Doctoral dissertation, Texas A & M University. Available electronically from