Finca Madroño, a Model of Land Stewardship
The Monteza family first purchased lands in the south central Mamoní Valley in February of 1965 – establishing a rural family outpost based on forest conservation and experimentation on a 450ha site comprised of five adjoining “derecho posesorio” fincas. The lands stretched from the Mamoní River’s edge to the mountains along the Mamoní/ Corpus Christi watershed boundary, and given the abundance of Madroño trees (Calcophyllum candidissimum), they named the farm, FInca Madroño. The Monteza Family originally hails from Chiriquí, in the mountain highlands on the slopes of Volcan Barú – and they were drawn to Mamoní by its similarity in terms of plants and climate, in a location far closer to Panama City and at a much lower elevation.
At this time the Valley was filled with many nispero (Manilkara chicle) trees, and the US Army was actively purchasing the sticky latex (savia cocida) in 100-pound balls for use as a natural latex. This industry was a major employer and driver of immigration at the time, and in the Valley one can still find some of the trees with the scars.
The Montezas cleared some of the lower portions of their land for cattle production, but preserved more than 75% of their lands in forest to maintain a good water supply and to act as a reserve of wildlife. As there were no serviceable roads in this time, all production had to be able to “walk itself out” either on horseback, or in the case of cattle, under their own power. Oscar Monteza, the family’s patriarch, is a world-renown agriculturalist, with decades working for the UN Food and Agricultural Organization, and the Montezas’ farm was a pioneering place for the introduction of many improved grasses and fodder crops within the valley. Based on their example, many Valley residents began to adopt the use of specific grasses (eg. ratana), large pasture trees and rotating pasture management to reduce impacts on their farms.
The family has operated its farm as an experimental research center, planting a variety of species to determine what is most appropriate for the Valley. Their farm is a model of forest conservation and sustainable agriculture. In Oscar’s words, “We have found a balance between protecting the forest and developing sustainable options for land use.
The Montezas maintain 50 or so cattle on their farm, and in keeping with Don Oscar’s agricultural background, are actively experimenting with the production of cilantro, bok choy and mustard greens for the country’s large Asian populations. They have additionally reforested several hectares with Mahogany, Tachuelo, Guayacan, Teak and Laurel trees in both plantations and as pasture trees. The plantations have helped as a valuable source of timber for construction and furniture, as well as to protect their farms and fences from floods.
The family is deeply committed to the dual goals of conservation and landscape productivity. It is the stated mission of Finca Madroño to protect the Mamoní Watershed as a vitally important water source for the people of the Panama Province as its commitment and “compromiso” with society at large – providing clean, quality wáter to all downstream neighbors through the protection of the forests and water sources on their lands.
The farm currently protects over 300ha of late successional forest, with five perennial springs and abundant wildlife, including recent evidence of both jaguars and many of their preferred prey species.