After enjoying our somewhat familiar American breakfast at the restaurant (orders ranged from French toast to shrimp omelets) Jose took the time to prep us for our visits for the day. Our first stop would be a local secondary school that provided an agriculture curriculum to its students. We were welcomed at the school by many students, local farmers, as well as the media, which was our first surprise of the day. It was almost overwhelming the amount of welcoming faces surrounding us. From this point on our day would be full of media interviews on local radio and TV. Throughout the day we joined by the media groups as well as some local famous baseball players. We attended a presentation that presented local farmers with enriched rice. Each I-CAL participant had a chance to present a bag of rice to a local farmer as part of the ceremony. Lots of pictures and video were taken at this event that was well cover by the media. Then, we were given a tour of the school. The setup of the school is similar to a land grant institution in America in that they are incorporating the working the classroom learning with research and hands on learning outside on the farm. The school owned about 200 hectares of land and had 120 students in their agriculture program. The students ranged from 12 to 18 years old and each student had to apply to be a part of this school. After completing school, they are able to work for the Ministry of Agriculture in Panama to earn enough money and potentially go to post-secondary school. The school costs $40 a semester and school is in session from April to December, which is the wet season in Panama. At the school students make decisions regarding the health, management, and feeding of the animals. While in school, students maintain individual projects, similar to an FFA supervised agriculture experience (SAE). On our farm tour, we learned about the genetics program they were undertaking to improve the genetics of their dual purpose cattle herd. This included modern practices like embryo transfers. Also on our tour we were able to see their pig, sheep, and chicken operations. Unfortunately, we did not get to see the buffalo they had in the nearby mountain region.
Upon completion of our tour, we ate lunch in the school cafeteria. We were served spaghetti noodles, chicken, and sweet plantains. The students visited us and gave us mementos to take home with us that included the official hat of Panama. After our lunch, we attended a presentation by COPEG, which is a government funded partnership between the U.S. and Panama dedicated to creating a barrier against foot and mouth disease and screw worms within livestock. This program is funded 90% by the U.S. and the rest by the Panamanian government.
After completing our visit to the school we loaded the bus and headed off to our next destination. Originally we had planned on visiting a coffee processing plant and then a citrus processing plant but plans changed when there was a miscommunication between our local representatives and the owner of the coffee plant. At the citrus plant we met Alex, the manager of the plant who was born and raised in Arkansas. Alex was stationed in Panama when with the Navy and liked it so much he stayed. He came from a cattle farm in Arkansas and was also an FFA member while in school. The citrus plant was in the process of squeezing oranges for orange juice, but we learned that the business included so much more. The business owned about 1,700 acres of lemons, oranges, livestock, and specialty vegetables. The processing plant has 120 employees during the busy season and harvests oranges from October to June. At full capacity the plant has the ability to produce 12,000 gallons a day, but Alex informed us that the market is only bearing about 12,000 gallons a week. While at the processing plant we had the opportunity to sample some of their 100% fresh orange juice which was truly an enjoyable experience for the group.
Our final destination was potentially one of the most memorable of our trip and also a surprise to many of us. We visited a small iguana producer. The iguanas were produced to sell as pets and for breeding stock. As a group we learned that iguanas lay up to 90 eggs in January and their life span is up to twelve years. We also learned they eat chicken feed, which is why they tasted so much like chicken. Just kidding we really didn’t get to eat any of the iguana’s, but instead had to settle for holding them in our hands. It was a short but memorable experience for the group, and provided many of us with an excellent photo opportunity with the iguanas.
Overall it was an excellent day that provided us with a look at the young agriculturists that will make up Panama’s future as well as the breadth of the unique and diverse agriculture that make up the country of Panama. The media coverage made this a far more interesting day than many of us had expected, but hey Mom and Dad you can’t say we never made it big now, it just wasn’t in the states. At this point you need to quit reading so you can tune into your local Panamanian TV station this tumultuous twelve all over the telly.
Dakota Hoben – Iowa State University
Sarah Marten – Kansas State University