Country Listing

Panama Table of Contents


Land Use

Panama's land area totals approximately 7.7 million hectares, of which forests account for 4.1 million hectares, followed by pasture land (1.2 million hectares), and permanently cultivated fields (582,000 hectares). About 2 percent of the land was used for roads and urban areas. Nearly all of the cultivated and pasture land was originally forested. A large amount of virgin land has been opened up for cultivation by the Pan-American Highway.

Panama's climate and geology impose major constraints on the development of agriculture. Heavy rainfall throughout the year prevents cultivation of most crops on the Atlantic side of the continental divide (see Regions of Settlement , ch. 2). The Pacific side has a dry season (December to April) and accounts for most of the cultivated land (see fig. 9). The mountainous terrain also restricts cropping. In addition, the country does not have highquality soils. Most of the areas classified as cultivable are so considered on the assumption that farmers will practice conservation measures, but many do not. The topsoil is thin in most areas, and erosion is a serious problem. Most of the nearly level areas conducive to cultivation are in the provinces of Los Santos, Coclé, Veraguas, and Chiriquí.

A further constraint on production is the practice of slash-and-burn cultivation, in which trees, brush, and weeds are cut and then burned on the patch of ground selected for cultivation. Indians utilized the slash-and-burn method for centuries, and the Spanish made few changes in techniques. In the 1980s, most farmers practiced a slash-and-burn type of shifting cultivation. The thin and poor-quality topsoil yielded an initially good harvest, followed by a smaller harvest the second year. Typically, the land was cultivated for only two years, and then the farmer repeated the process on another plot, allowing the first plot to rest ten years before refarming.

Much of the farming was of a subsistence nature and accomplished with a minimum of equipment. Plowing was generally not practiced on subsistence farms; the seeds were placed in holes made by a stick. Tree cutting, land clearing, weeding, and harvesting were accomplished with a few kinds of knives, principally the machete and the axe, which comprised the major farm implements.

Data as of December 1987