Addressing Deforestation and Other Land-Based Conflicts in the Frontier Forests of Eastern Panama: The case of REDD+

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Mar 04, 2016
Javier Mateo-Vega, Ana Spalding, Gordon Hickey

This case explores the complexities of tropical deforestation and considers the potential role of the proposed climate change mitigation mechanism, Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation in Developing Countries (REDD+) in developing countries.  Using the highly contested forest landscapes of eastern Panama as a stage, this case confronts students with the challenges of implementing ambitious, international, and often prescriptive natural resource policies at local levels. Eastern Panama, encompassing the Bayano and Darien regions, is home to vast and highly diverse forest ecosystems, and is considered one of the most important frontier forests in the Americas (dubbed by some the “Amazon of Central America”). It is also home to three indigenous groups (Kuna, Embera and Wounaan), populations of African descent (Afro-Darienitas) and mestizo migrant farmers (colonos), all with different histories, traditions and worldviews concerning forests and land management resulting in, often violent, territorial conflicts. A major social-ecological issue facing the region is deforestation, which is driving biodiversity loss and landscape change, threatening traditional livelihoods and cultures and challenging the government to effectively respond.  One relatively recent mechanism designed to stem climate change, but which can potentially also reverse tropical forest degradation in eastern Panama is REDD+, led by the government of Panama with support from the World Bank and United Nations.  REDD+ is a technocratic and controversial global mechanism that requires intricate local-based technical, social, cultural, ethical, political, financial, and governance requirements to be met – a significant challenge in developing areas. This case is built through the experience of a public hearing on the potential implementation of REDD+ in the upper Bayano Watershed, raising discussions about access to land, biodiversity conservation, poverty reduction, and social justice. Combining role-playing and problem-based learning, this case is designed to take place in a classroom setting, requiring preparatory readings, viewing videos, and group work.

Estimated time frame: 
Multiple class periods
SES learning goals: 
  • Understand the structure and behavior of socio-environmental systems
  • Consider the importance of scale and context in addressing socio-environmental problems
  • Co-develop research questions and conceptual models in inter- or trans-disciplinary teams
  • Find, analyze, and synthesize existing data, concepts, or methods
Course and class size: 
Foundations of Environmental Policy; Graduate level
Does this case have an answer key: 
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