The value of a volcano
Progress assessment on the environmental services valuation programme in Volcán Barú, Panama
The project is part of the Spain-UNEP partnership for the LifeWeb Initiative, with support from ANAM and the ANCON-FUNDICCEP alliance
Panama, November 25, 2011. A dormant volcano surrounded by life. The Volcán Barú National Park (PNVB) is the protected area with the highest point in Panama, and it recorded the last flow of lava in this Central American country. This is where the area known as the Volcano Plains developed, with its own ecosystem consisting of a mixture of grasses, orchids and volcanic soil unique to Panama. It is located along the continental divide of the central cordillera, which is part of the Pacific Ring of Fire.
An ambitious joint project between several organizations and institutions has taken up the challenge of advancing the sustainability of this very special place. The first step is to valuate the environmental services provided by the protected area. Then, depending on the environmental services and their valuation, a system of compensation for the residents shall be established in order to avoid unsustainable uses of the park, and promote its conservation. The initiative involves specialists in project management, conservation biology, protected areas management, environmental economics, community work and communication.
Workshop in Cerro Punta, Panama
A workshop of key stakeholders on the importance and progress of the environmental services valuation of Volcán Barú National Park took place yesterday at Hotel Bambito, in Cerro Punta, in the Panamanian province of Chiriquí. On the first day of the workshops, which will conclude today with a tour of the project area, some of the experts involved in the assessment tasks presented the status and prospects of a project that seeks to facilitate the conservation of the environment while improving the welfare of the communities.
The project “Support to Mesoamerican Terrestrial Protected Areas: Development of economic and legal instruments and mechanisms to improve the management of protected areas, including agricultural practices as a strategy to prevent fire” is the result of the government of Spain-UNEP LifeWeb initiative platform to the Convention of Biological Diversity (CBD) to strengthen protected areas.
Furthermore, the project is conjointly implemented with ANAM (National Environmental Authority of Panama) and with the partnership between ANCON (National Association for the Conservation of Nature) and FUNDICCEP (Foundation for Integral Community Development and Conservation of Ecosystems in Panama) as implementing organizations.
Part of a Global Initiative.
The project in Panama forms part of a broader global initiative for the conservation of protected areas, financed by the Government of Spain. In Latin America there is also a sister project in La Montañona Conservation Area, El Salvador.
The workshop permitted the key stakeholders (local, provincial and national) to share advances on the progress to identify the most relevant ecosystem services that PNVB offers society and the environment, as well as the costs associated with the loss of those services.
Edgar Chacón, Director of Protected Areas and Wildlife for the National Environmental Authority of Panama, stated that the project would contribute to the administrative management of this protected area of particular and relevant connotations in the environmental field, such as having the highest geographic point in the country, as well as being part of La Amistad Biosphere Reserve, of great ecological and cultural complexity due to the ecosystems and social groups located in the area. He stressed that one of the benefits of having protected areas like Volcán Barú National Park lied in its contribution to climate change mitigation and conserving the resources located within it. Hence, —he added— after its completion, this project will have helped the population achieve a greater understanding of the sustainable use of resources, as well as of the environmental value of this important park at a national and international level.
Ricardo Montenegro, Panama Coordinator for the Spain-UNEP partnership for the LifeWeb initiative, explained that one of the activities undertaken within the framework of the project was the “Participatory identification and the prioritization of the ecosystem services in Volcán Barú National Park.” With the active participation of the communities, they have identified relevant services such as water, the formation of agricultural soils and landscape beauty, which in recent years has led to the development of ecotourism.
Alex Pires, UNEP Programme Officer responsible for the project, noted that these services generate significant economic and social benefits to local communities. Other ecosystem services generated by the national park benefit the nation and the world, he said, adding that these benefits should be measured and have adequate protection and compensation to ensure the preservation of the ecosystems that provide them. Citing the UNEP Executive Director and Under-Secretary General of the United Nations, Achim Steiner, Mr. Pires noted that, “nature should never be appreciated only for its economic value. But, in a world of great demands and limited resources, economic considerations can help tilt the decision in favour of conservation rather than degradation.”
The executive director of ANCON, Alida Spadafora, pointed out that the experience from this project can serve as an example for other protected areas at a global level, because it is part of a pilot initiative of the United Nations that, with an innovative methodology, seeks to valuate and maintain the environmental services of the ecosystems. In this regard, she highlighted the importance of creating schemes in recognition of the ecosystem values and a connection between those services and those who benefit from them. She stated that this activity is expected to publicize the progress of the project to the public and to key stakeholders in the region that have impact on the environmental services of the protected area, seeking to improve the way in which the natural resources are used for the benefit of the environment, and considering the effects of climate change.
The coordinator of the project on behalf of FUNDICCEP, Damaris Sánchez, assessed the role of the workshop as a space for knowledge and the exchange of ideas about the project.
“As a local organization, we have the expectation that those who have funded this project, those involved in its implementation, and the actors involved in the Park, get to know more in-depth the reality of the threats and the services offered; and that the studies carried out become tools to support community work, that has been taking place on a permanent basis,” she said. She advocated strengthening the links between actors and adding the support of the local and regional authorities in order to promote the ownership of the results generated by the project.
Photographs can be downloaded from:
Luis Alberto Sierra G.
Media Coordinator for FUNDICCEP-ANCON
3140060 / 60040027
Information Officer UNEP
Regional Office for Latin Americal and the Caribbean
Focal Point for ANAM
500-0855 Ext. 3119