Pilot site Middle Sixaola microwatershed (Paraíso-Las Tablas)
Description of the pilot site
This site is located in the floodplain of the lower Sixaola river with an elevation of aprox. 50 m.a.s.l.. On the Costa Rican side, it expands up to 9.5 km at its widest part, until an area called Puerto Viejo. The floodplain is a very fertile territory, but it suffers from periodic flooding due to the rising levels of the Sixaola River.
Land is used predominantly for extensive banana crops (figure below). Such land is mainly in the hands of a multinational, the Bocas Fruit Company (Chiquita). On the Costa Rican side, CORBANA is a significant banana producer. There are also large areas of land for pasture and for mixed cropping but also for fallow land. This is possibly due to the unpredictability of the Sixaola River.
In this middle zone, with less fertile soil and higher slopes there is less capital investment. In the highest areas of the watershed, plantain cultivation is in the hands of small and medium producers. Most of these farmers use agrochemicals to some extent, but a small percentage produces organic products and is grouped into APPTA.
Still in the highest areas of the watershed, on the Panamanian side, there are secondary forests in good condition. These forests can be considered as altitudinal corridors to connect the highlands of Talamanca to wetlands at the river mouth.
In this area of the watershed, the Sixaola River changes its course permanently. This not only creates problems relating to the border, since the river establishes the border between Costa Rica and Panama, but many farms are also bounded by river, which means that producers gain and lose territory as the river changes its course. This area is highly flood-prone. Floods occur almost every year between December and January. The construction of a highway on the Costa Rican side, which has no drainage system, worsened the conditions of the overflowing of the river for the communities located primarily on the Panamanian side. In response to the increased damages caused by floods, constructions were built out of iron, dirt and stones in Panama to contain the flood (Figure 16). This situation, on both sides of the river, only causes more damage when the floods occur.
Because there has been no territorial delimitation in this area of the lower half of the basin, there is no accurate population estimate. However, it is almost sure that practically none of the communities have a population of more than 500 inhabitants.
An important fact is that most communities in this region initially settled there as banana workers. It was unpredicted that the communities would grow which led to many of their houses to be located in areas with high risks of floods.
The population is mostly mixed, although in smaller communities there is a high representation of the Ngobe
Bugle peoples. However, they do not usually have much communication with grassroots organizations.
In the case of Costa Rica a strong grassroots organization, APPTA, is present. This association brings together an important number of organic producers, mostly small scale, such as the community of Paraiso. Besides marketing, the association promotes research in different varieties of cocoa, for which it has nurseries, in cooperation with CATIE (Tropical Agricultural Research and Education Center). In San Miguel, production relates more to livestock and occasionally to plantain. This production is not fully organic and not intensive as it is the case for small producers. Some farmers in this region are part of ASACODES (the Association for Conservation and Development of San Miguel), which in turn is a member of the Talamanca- Caribbean Biological Corridor, comprised by 17 organizations. The greatest achievements of ASACODES have been the recovery of 151 ha of primary forest, the active participation of women, the recovery of wildlife and forest in the area, the development of scientific studies, the growth of medicinal plantations and ornamental plants, the production of natural insecticides and the conservation of local culture.
The strongest organization for communities on the Panamanian side is Panama Verde, which is a national organization, but which is represented by committees of young people in Las Tablas and La Mesa at the community-level. Panama Verde is an organization made up of young people and for young people. It was created in 1996 by some groups in the country. The organization has grown and defined its area of action, with youth and the environment as their main lines of work.
Part of the Ngobe Bugle population is supported by the association APROTENG-B, based in the city of Changuinola. This organization is part of a recent initiative called UPOT (Transboundary Native Peoples Union, for its Spanish acronym).
As mentioned above, the main economic activity in the region is the production of banana. The attractiveness of the region lies in the fertility of the Sixaola river floodplain, which is, in turn, part of the flooding problem. However, this region remains attractive to foreign investment because of high productivity levels and of the area´s proximity to the port of Limón, through which 80% of the national production is exported.
The economic activity of small producers is also important, and is represented by APPTA on the Costa Rican side. This association is responsible for domestic marketing and for the export of bananas, organic cocoa, chocolate, and some coffee.
Nonetheless, on both sides of the border, the most important economic activity for its inhabitants is to work in the banana plantations.
Threats - In ecological terms, the most relevant threats are related to extreme events of rainfall and the largest impacts result in overflowing of the river, flooding in plantain fields, landslides on the margins and changes in the course of the Sixaola River, as shown in the following figure. According to testimonies of the elders living in these communities, the same rainfall did not cause such large floods thirty years ago. The elders link this flooding to the sediments accumulated at the bottom of the river bed as a result of erosion in the higher parts of the watershed. Another impact of the flooding is the increased sigatoka yielding, which in turn, affects banana and plantain crops.
On the Panamanian side, excessive rainfall also caused landslides and sedimentation in the areas with drinking water. This is because in the margin of Panama, the land rises and forms a small mountain range with steep slopes
In terms of social organization, vulnerability is relatively low, since this site has been selected giving priority to the existence of grassroots organizations in the communities of Catarina, San Miguel, Paraiso (Costa Rica), Barranco Adentro and Las Tablas (Panama). Some organizations in Panama form a network called Alianza Bocas. In Costa Rica they group in the Talamanca Caribbean Biological Corridor and the Union for the Development of Talamanca (UDT). However, these organizations have not yet made joint decisions on both sides of river.
Impact of climate scenarios on livelihoods
Due to the physiographic characteristics of the floodplain in the lower half of Sixaola, the high level of sedimentation in the river bed and the frequency of at least one season of heavy rainfall a year (November- December), the environment in this section of the basin is highly vulnerable to floods. It includes plantain and banana managed ecosystems on which many communities depend. The occurrence of extreme rainfall results in the loss of farmland (there are records of farmers who have lost ½ hectare in a single rain). In addition to this, changes in the river create conflicts between farms and uncertainties surrounding the demarcation of the boundary between Costa Rica and Panama. Unlike the production systems of the Lower Yorkin, the livelihoods of the communities in the Mid Sixaola are dependent almost entirely of small banana plantations which are highly dependent on agricultural inputs. There is very little diversification in production, so their livelihoods are very much conditioned by the impact of floods on the bananas.
The slopes and creeks in this area are also conditioned by alternating wet and dry periods, as well as by the management of ecosystems. In Costa Rica, floods cause the clogging of aquifers with contaminated water, mainly because of the lack of protective vegetation in water recharge areas and watersheds. In Panama, the watersheds are at the top of the mountain range that runs behind Las Tablas and Barranco Adentro. In this area there is a high rate of deforestation due to corn fields and areas for livestock. The degradation of buffer ecosystems leads to the greater vulnerability of drinking water, excessive rainfall and periods of drought.
From the climate change scenarios developed by the CRRH in 2011 for the cultivation of bananas, it can be said that the optimal conditions for the incidence of Sigatoka, as well as sudden changes in the course of the river, will be accentuated in the next 20 to 30 years because of increased rainfall, and very distinct periods of drought and excessive rain. According to this study, there are no banana varieties able to withstand an increase in the optimum conditions for the Sigatoka fungus, but the communities of this area of the basin have expressed interest in strengthening agricultural diversification incorporating fruit trees, forest and grains, without completely abandoning the cultivation of plantains. The incorporation of agro-forestry systems could to a certain extent, help prevent losses in banana cultivation and could slow down the destructive effects of floods by diminishing the water´s flow when the river overflows.
An increase in precipitation would also bring about greater vulnerability for drinking water springs, on the Panamanian side because of sedimentation and runoff from cattle feces, and in Costa Rica by the clogging of aquifers with sewage during floods. These conditions could be improved with the restoration of buffer ecosystems in areas of water recharge.
Adaptation measures and implementation strategy
Through a joint effort with “ejidos” from outside the Conservation Area Gancho Murillo, and with the support of institutions such as Pronatura Sur and SEMAHN, GLASS tool was applied to analyze and establish the most optimal strategies that allow adaptation Climate Change:
- Strengthening local governance structure;
- Recoveries of forest cover in slopes with creeks and in areas; vulnerable to flooding;
- Diversification of production in plantain fields, with the incorporation of staple grains, timber, cocoa and other fruit.