Day 50 - Service Training - Teak and Cattle

We’ve had a relatively normal week. Technical for half a day and Language for the other. My Technical class visited a ranch one day with chickens and cattle. The cows for dairy products here are ideally ¾ Holstein and ¼ Spaniard. They look really strange. They are taller and thinner than Holsteins with big horns and black and white spots. I didn’t bring my camera with me that day, but here’s a picture of the cattle they raise for beef from when we were in The Darien. Imagine this cow crossed with a Holstein.

*In the next part the name of the company has been changed to protect me because not everything I have to say is nice. I don´t want it to come back and haunt me.

Another day we visited a local business called Eco Trees*. Their name is kind of a misnomer. They rent land from the government and plant hectares and hectares of Teca (Teak). It sells for a lot as an export to the US and India. It was amazing to drive a curvy gravel path and both sides are just covered in Teak. Our guide insisted that everything was done in a very sustainable manner. They use an organic herbicide called Round-Up. I almost fell off my hard metal folding chair. Considering there are not many regulations on what pesticides you can use in Panama, it is surprising they don’t use something stronger. However, I would hesitate to call Round-Up organic. They also put 2 kilos of agriculture lime per tree because the pH of the soil is so low. I believe he said it is around a pH of 2. I should point out the teak grows in terrible soil and sucks any remaining nutrients out leaving the soil much worse than before.

When I walked into the teak plantation it was surprising how dark it was. Here´s a picture of a teak plantation that I stole from another website. See how the only weeds are near the base where they don´t spray herbicide? Imagine these trees taller with bigger canopies. The teak trees have huge lush green leaves. All the plants under the trees were dead or dying. It is a complete monoculture. Eco Trees* boasts that it is a corridor for wild animals to go between two preserved forest areas of land. We saw not a single animal during our hour hike and even the usual escort of mosquitoes was missing. It was strange and sterile feeling. One can’t even argue Eco Trees* creates lots of jobs helping the local economy. The land they are using used to be cattle land and sustenance farmers. No one lives on this land now and they hire very few to maintain their trees and often they bring the labor in from outside the community.
The really strange part is Eco Trees* is actually listed as a NGO (Non Governmental Organization) kind of like a Not For Profit in the US. They get special tax breaks and they are allowed to rent land from the government because they are “stewarding” it, under the argument that it is better to have teak than cattle and wild animals can live in the trees. What is the most disturbing is the people working for Eco Trees* seem to believe what they are doing is beneficial for the environment and the community.

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