Food and Agriculture in Panama
Agriculture is big business in Panama. Not only does it account for much of the country's exports (over 50%), but subsistence farming still employs many Panamanians who only grow enough food to feed their families (nationalencyclopedia.com). The main crop in Panama is bananas by a large margin, and is also one of the countries largest exports. Besides bananas, the other main exports are sugar and coffee beans, while the largest domestic crops are corn, rice, cocoanuts, tobacco and the exotic root vegetable yucca (Bennett 78). In spite of the fact that agriculture employs a large portion of the population and uses approximately half of the land, agriculture in Panama is in trouble. Panama’s tropical maritime climate poses some restrictions to the growth of crops, but the troubling issue at hand is the erosion of soils. As Panama’s population grows rapidly and the rainforest is cleared, overuse of soils and improper agricultural methods are threatening the growth of crops and draining Panamanian soils. As much of Panama’s political history and current economy is tied to agriculture, this is an issue that will raise many questions for the future of Panama.
Bananas have a long history in Panama. Bananas are grown best in humid lowland regions, and in Panama, this means on the Atlantic side of the country (Bennett 70). Production does, however, extend to the Pacific side of Panama with successful irrigation methods (Bennett 71). United Fruit, an American company, moved into Panama in 1899, and owned as much as 70% of the Panamanian banana industry up until the 1970’s (country-studies.com). As bananas can count for as much as 33% of Panama’s total exports, very little of this lucrative production was Panamanian owned. In the 1970’s, the “banana wars” broke out as a disagreement between the government and United Fruit erupted over export taxes on bananas (country-studies.com). An agreement was reached when United Fruit sold back the land on which they grew their bananas in exchange for banana tax credits.
Panama is surrounded by a lot of water as the Atlantic Ocean lies on the eastern side of Panama and the Pacific Ocean lays to the west. The country is divided down the middle from Costa Rica to the canal by the Cordillera Central mountain range. The shadow effect of the mountains causes the Pacific side of the mountains to have a dry season as well as a rainy season, whereas the Atlantic side of the country is rainy for most of the year. Many of Panama’s crops (besides bananas) are grown in this Pacific side. Sugar cane is the main west coast product, as well as Panama’s second largest agricultural export (Bennett 76). Sugar cane benefits from the western coasts dry season that runs from around December to April. Panama’s third largest agricultural export, coffee, is a crop of the highlands, which in Panama are known for their exceptionally good volcanic...