Learn sustainable agriculture at Finca El Roblecito, Darien

Nicolas Bravo is an older man who lives with his family in Finca El Roblecito located in Pinogana, Darien. If you are going to visit it, you must drive along the Pan-American Highway for about four hours until you reach the town of Metetí. Then you will cross three bridges and the farm will be on your right side. A huge sign will let you know that you arrived at your destination.

He is a native of Herrera but he had nothing, so 30 years ago he decided to try his luck in Darien where he could get land easily. Many people migrated from central provinces with the same idea, including his friend Baudilio de Leon, who was there the day we arrived. He told us “we are dedicated to agriculture but if we did not have land, how are we going to work?”

The lands of Baudilio are a little after a hydrological reserve called Filo de Tallo. Next to the reserve there are two hotels, Canopy Camp Darien and Filo del Tallo Lodge, both of which specialize in bird watching. I saved his cell phone and promised to return with more time.

Subsistence farming

Finca El Roblecito has five hectares. When we passed the family area we entered the farm and passed by a pond where he breeds tilapia and has birds like ducks and chickens.

His granddaughter was our companion during the tour.

They make sure what they produce can feed them and then sell if possible. We arrived at an area where there were several soursop trees and the fruits were rotten on the floor. He told me to take all I wanted. I asked him why he did not sell them and he told me they barely gave him .50 for one while in the market they sell them between $6-10. I thought the price difference was absurd and I understood that I had no option to get the product out at a better price.

It has many fruit and vegetables including orange, avocado, mango, cacao, Chinese cherry, 7 varieties of yam, yucca, ñampi, pineapple, pumpkin, guandu, borojo, among others.

I also ate ñampi on my trip to La Palma in Darien and it is a difficult tuber to get in Panama. It has its planting plots with small posters that explain what they are.

He also has panels of bees that says that the Ministry of Agricultural Development of Panama (MIDA) helps him, sometimes and sometimes not, with that project.

Darien is known for its trees before overharvesting it was the densest jungle in the world. Finca El Roblecito has native timber species such as oak, mahogany, tachuelo, hawthorn and bitter cedar.

Fruit trees are interlaced with timber. For maintenance Nicolas uses “pure guira y machete, la champa, as we say.”

He has one hectare and 3/4 divided into 7 corrals to raise animals such as cows, rams, chicken, guinea fowl, pigs and others.

A place for learning

In Darien there is a lot of burning and logging which are bad practices. Nicolas is very different and wants to educate people. That is why he certified himself as a agro tourist farm to be able to share his vision with others.

He receives his visitors in a ranch next to his house that shows all his certificates of courses that he has taken with the authorities and recognitions that he has been given.

You will see signs with names of many countries as decoration. When I asked Nicolas people from what countries visited him, he says “they are from all those countries that are there on the boards … they have come from 43 countries.” Among those we can mention Germany, Peru, India, Taiwan, Chile, Venezuela, Korea, United States United, Canada, Colombia, Switzerland and Mexico. They are mostly school and university groups.

They usually stay a month in Panama. They spend the first two days with him and then go to the capital city until they return to their countries to support their thesis. They stay at the Darien Foundation or hotels in Meteti since he does not have accommodation. They go to Finca El Roblecito in chiva (bus) they only say the name of Nicolas and people already know him.

It teaches visitors his ideas and techniques, including how to make a dike; level curves; live and dead barriers; controls and soil management with plants. Practices sustainable agriculture without using chemicals. Nicolas says that he also learns from tourists since it is an exchange.

Visits to Finca El Roblecito

Those who wish to visit this farm in Meteti should book at least a week before. He prefers morning visits because of the weather. We went from Panama City for the day, which is a bit tiring. We left at 6 a.m. and we arrived at 10 a.m. We had lunch on site a delicious sancocho soup made with vegetables from the farm and chicken from the yard.

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