The Upper Mamoní Valley is a sparsely populated mountainous region with close proximity to Panama City. There are four villages: San Jose de Madroño, El Valle, La Zahina, and Mamoní Arriba (listed east to west). Total population of the Valley is estimated below 500 people, enough to support three small rural schools and one understaffed health center, all of which are located along the Mamoni River and its major tributary, the San Jose. Smaller ranching outposts are interspersed throughout the Valley – mostly along the main road that runs along the river and connects the four villages.
The Valley’s economy is largely based on agricultural and ranching. Goods and livestock are brought in on one of the two main unpaved access roads, the eastern road from Chepo and the western road from San Miguel. Valley families typically have a base in one or the other of the two towns, which themselves have pavement access to the Panamerican Highway. Due to high unemployment, there is an ongoing trend of emigration from the Valley to nearby towns and onwards to Metropolitan Panama in search of wage labor, education and services.
There are many absentee landowners who run beef cattle on extensive pasture lands. The past years have seen an upswing in Valley employment related to the land management efforts of both The Mamoní 100 and Forest Finance – providing over 20 full-time and dozens more part-time contract labor jobs throughout the Valley.
The MVP serves as an umbrella non-profit organization to an NGO conducting big-cat research in the Valley. It has plans to obtain grants to support ongoing community activities related to:
- wildlife conservation – attracting additional research
- eco-tourism – focusing on guide training.
- public health – in support of efforts to treat and reduce impacts of leishmaniasis and other tropical diseases.
- watershed protection – ongoing land use mapping to improve watershed management.
- employment – providing jobs for Valley residents.
- K-12 education – enhancing access to and performance in public schools.