Sembrando por el Mañana is a project born out of the community’s dream to lead the way toward greater reforestation in Panama. It is a primary project of the community’s organized environmental group to support the regional and national goal to plant a million trees across Panama. This is a meaningful goal nationwide, but carries even more importance in the region located within the watershed of the Panama Canal, the primary income source for the country. The group has created a tree nursery on a piece of land bordered by the Ciricito River where they plan to grow thousands of native trees per year, including ornamental, wood, and fruit species. Anyone in the community is welcome to participate in the nursery and will receive adequate trainings in tree species, germination and planting, and other leadership and business management skills. The trees will primarily be sold to Panama Ministry of the Environment (MiAmbiente), and the group will also pursue other local markets to sell the seedlings. MiAmbiente will us the tree supply to support regional reforestation events and efforts. Because poverty and lack of income streams are also a pervasive issue in the community, the tree nursery will allow each worker to earn a humble but helpful supplemental income for their families.
Capacity building is an integral aspect of the implementation and sustainability of this project. The most important resource of the tree nursery is the people working in it. While the nursery already has an organized group of men and women committed to the project, they have varying skills and experience levels. In order to adequately prepare everyone involved, the environmental group has already set up a calendar of training days with forestry engineers within the region’s Ministry of the Environment office to build technical capacities. These trainings will build participants’ technical and management skills to successfully maintain production and operations. Additionally, it will provide them the knowledge to apply these practices onto their own land. If they should ever choose to work within similar projects in the future, whether it be a tree nursery or agricultural initiatives, they will be equipped with skills gained from managing the tree nursery. The nursery will function as a micro-business and will provide an opportunity for many to develop various vocational skills- as many have never worked in a formal job setting before. For example, they will learn how to form sales relationships, be accountable to a regular schedule, work within a dynamic group setting, set and measure goals, and stick to an annual budget. In the past, most agency relationships with the community have been managed by Peace Corps volunteers. This formative partnership between Sembrando por el Mañana, MiAmbiente, and other counterparts will help build sustainable relationships that will carry through this project and other environmental projects in the future. It will also help create financial independence for the environmental group to execute necessary conservation projects within the community.
Sustainability is built into the profit-structure and capacity building components of this project. Ideally, the only outside support needed for this project is the initial funding to supply necessities such as tools; a water tank; a shed; and other basic needs to run a tree nursery. All the materials solicited in this grant will sustain the tree nursery to operate for at least seven years. Sembrando por el Mañana will use the income from the plants sold to purchase materials that need to be renewed annually beyond the first grant cycle, such as bags. Additionally, once the initial trainings that are already donated and scheduled take place, participants will have the knowledge necessary to sustain the tree nursery long after Peace Corps’ presence in the project. Lead trainers will be designated within the group, those who demonstrate the most knowledge on the key functions of the nursery, and will train new future members . The environmental group is in the process of obtaining official legal recognition as a group. This, alongside the working relationship developed with MiAmbiente, will aid in the organizational sustainability of the nursery. The owner of the tree nursery land has signed a contract stating that Sembrando por el Mañana has rights to the land for a minimum of seven years. At the end of that period, they can revisit to extend the contract if it is beneficial to both parties. However, the land owner is already open to extending and the group has no plans to dissolve the project after seven years.