I subscribe to the Panamanian agricultural site FrenteProAgroPanama. Why? Well, anyone that knows me knows I have a natural curiosity about almost anything. In the case of this site it’s because I live in an agricultural community that I read it. Yes, it’s in Spanish but what I can’t figure out I can translate and I find out some great information about Panama and the people who produce most of the food that we eat.
While we were driving to yoga yesterday mi amiga, who is fairly new to full-time living in Panama, asked me about the fields that had recently been tilled in the district. I told her that rice planting season will soon be upon us. In fact the rice field behind us had recently been sprayed with herbicide in preparation for planting. Sure enough, further down the road there was a tractor spraying another field. The most common type of herbicide used here is a generic form of Roundup. (This link will give you some information about how Roundup works. If you’re concerned about toxicity skip to that section further down in the information.)
As we drove we talked about wet rice and dry rice and how they are grown. Panama does grow wet rice, which is rice that is planted in wet paddies with irrigation and dry rice, rice which is grown somewhat like wheat. Most of the farmers in our district don’t own their equipment or use irrigation. The producers belong to a Cooperativa (like most of the fishermen), and equipment is shared throughout the area. The machines go from field to field, spraying, tilling, planting and eventually harvesting. This is what the field behind us looks like this morning after being sprayed last week:
946 000 bushels of rice harvested in Panama
Ursula Kiener Ford July 23, 2013
A report released by the United Nations Organization for Agriculture (FAO) estimated rice production for human consumption is expected to be 402.9 million tons, 1.9% more than estimated in 2011-2012. Rice consumption per capita by Panamanians is 150 pounds per year (60.8 kilos), while global consumption is 125.2 pounds (56.8 kilos). Panama is a country that eats more rice than the world average. (Note: I can verify that, every meal is served with rice at most Panameño run establishments and in most homes. It’s not unusual to get French fries and rice on your plate.)
According to the Comptroller General of the Republic in Panama, production of rice is dropping. The rice harvest for the 2012-2013 crop year was 5 million 471 000 900 bushels of paddy, which means a decrease of 946 000 100 bushels compared to the results achieved in the 2011-2012 crop season. The area devoted to rice planting in Panama fell 10.2%. In the 2011-2012 growing cycle 109 000 570 hectares of rice was grown and in 2012-2013, 98 000 380 hectares of rice grown.
60% of Panama’s rice is grown in Chiriqui. According to the Rice Growers Association of Chiriqui (Apache) the main problem faced by rice farmers is the lack of irrigation systems. 80% of rice production in Panama is done by the dry method – which is dependent on rainfall, and 20% use artificial irrigation as a method to ensure the harvest. Climate change has made the rains undependable. Currently, only 12 000 hectares have been planted with a hope of reaching the 17 000 hectares, although the original target was 25 000 hectares.
Agricultural production cost has gone up and produce a hectare of grain is in the order of 2,000 to 2,100 U.S. dollars. Another factor affecting rice production in the country is the price paid for the harvested grain. The mills last year paid between 21 and 23 dollars per bushel. The producers do not know at what price they will be paid this year. In the past, the mills supplied all demand, whether the grain was produced nationally or not. Currently, supermarkets directly import rice.
• 14.7 percentage decreased harvest bushels of rice for 2012-2013.
• 0.41 pounds, or nearly half a pound of rice is consumed by a Panamanian daily.
Ursula Kiener Ford is Director of Agriculture of the Chamber of Commerce, Industries and Agriculture of Panama and VP of the agricultural committee of the Association of Business Executives of Panama. She does marketing in the tourism sector, is a columnist for La Prensa and manages the NGO Urban Gardens Panama.