National Award for Environmental Excellence

Azuero Earth Project wins national environmental prize 2017 in the category of NGO environmental commitment

We face great challenges in environmental and social matters, that’s why it is important to cooperate and integrate all the components of Panamanian society. The Azuero Earth Project seeks to contribute to this issue through education in rural society, which is primarily the most affected by climate changes, soil erosion, and biodiversity loss.

The Panamanian Ministry of Environment (MiAmbiente) recognizes AEP’s effort and commitment through the award for environmental excellence in the NGO category given to people and organizations that perform good practices in environmental management and that have contributed to the conservation and sustainable use of natural resources. To the Azuero Earth Project, his award means a lot, indicating that our methods of environmental education are becoming known and offers new possibilities for cooperation with governmental and non-governmental organizations.

The Spider Monkey Education Initiative was awarded the excellence award in the NGO commitment category. This initiative is our first front of awareness creation in the communities closest to the remaining habitat of the Azuero spider monkey, a subspecies endemic to the Azuero region, and in critical danger of extinction according to the IUCN red list. Through the initiative, which is active in the communities closest to an ecological corridor that AEP hopes to create between the remaining tropical dry forest near Achotines laboratory and the elbow of La Tronosa Forest Reserve, the children learn about topics such as the importance of the different types of forests, the trees and fruits associated with monkey presence, and the role of the community in the conservation of biodiversity and watersheds.

The school initiative has been active since 2010 and every year the relationship with the 8 participating Los Santos communities is stronger. In these towns, the Azuero Earth Project is recognized as a close collaborator of the communities, the students, and the owners of local farms interested in reforestation. The environmental situation may become worse in the following years but surely there will be more people who will join in this national commitment to care for the environment.

For more information about the national Environmental Excellence Prize 2017, please see MiAmbiente’s webpage:

Vicente Álexander Vasquez Velasquez

Eco-Movil Malls: Tag sales to promote local support for conservation

When we talk about saving the planet, we’re not just talking about recycling plastic, cans, etc, but also thinking carefully about the use we give everything we have in our house that we no longer use or simply don’t like. To that end, our Eco-Movil Mall Initiative, together with Tortugas Pedasi, collects clothing, shoes, home items, and many other second-hand goods, to then sell at yard sales that rotate among rural communities on the peninsula. Every Eco-Movil Mall has an organizer in the local community in charge of inviting us to the community, and inviting their neighbors to the activity, that benefits local community through offering them the chance to buy quality items a low cost without travelling to urban centers, while supporting local environmental initiatives at the same time.

Through this initiative, we hope to promote the reuse of everyday items, giving them a second life, while at the same time supporting environmental NGOs in the region. In each of our two first sales, in December 2016 and May 2017, we have collected over $500.00, a great help to both organizations. Our next Eco-Movil Mall is tentatively planned for August 2017.

Do you have goods you’d like to donate? Would you like to help organize a Eco-Movil mall in your community? Reach out to us at (507) 995-2995 or to support this initiative. You can also deliver items directly to our Pedasi office, in front of Distribuidora LIBADI, during work hours (8 am – 5 pm, Monday-Friday), at your convenience.

Youth Perspective: 1.5 degrees from a post-apocalyptic landscape

 1.5 degrees from a post-apocalyptic landscape

Vicente Vazquez, a former Azuero Earth Project Intern, shares his thoughts about the future of Azuero.

We tend to evaluate all that we can using numbers, quantifying what we need and this gives us pleasure; we count the amount of forests, water, and animals in order to show statistics of how our habitat is being destroyed and to create awareness of the harm that will keep continuing with our actual lifestyles. 1.5 didn’t look like a very exorbitant number and thus, it lacks importance for many; it seems paranoid to think that our lifestyle could be affected by a numerically small increase in the temperature, but nature doesn’t know numbers, it only knows thresholds where the equilibrium is maintained, and others, where the system collapses. The ecosystems found ways to mitigate the imbalance induced by human activity, but a long time ago we passed this capacity and from that moment on, the temperature began to increase gradually. We can handle the consequences through adaptation, but this would just be to postpone the inevitable.

Panama is a country with relatively low CO2 emissions. For a moment, we can feel free of blame, we can blame other nations for the effects of climate change, but we are omitting the fact that the entire economy is based on carbon. Every product, food, and service that we acquire generates CO2 emissions, and it does not stop there; they continue on to solid waste that accumulates day after day.

I live in Herrera province in Panama; we are part of the dry arc, an area that is affected every year by the El Niño phenomenon. Many senior citizens comment how in their youth, this region was a cooler place; actually the estimates for the region say that by 2050, precipitation will decrease from 23% to 1.5% and the temperature would be increasing by 2 degrees or more. Every summer we see that our streams are completely dry and our main river has lowered in height such that the concentration of dirt and waste again becomes more evident. It has been years since the rain came in quantities sufficient to alleviate heat and the evaporation of rivers. Furthermore, our forests have been replaced by farmland and extensive cattle raising. It is this scenario that I pose to my country, if the mean temperature rises by 1.5 degrees, not only will we encounter lower rainfall and higher temperatures, we will also find their causes in trying to adapt to the adverse conditions.

The effects of the scarce rainfall would start to affect our diet based on grains, like corn and rice. The harvests will be less and less profitable over time and in order to continue supplying the population’s demand that keeps dizzily increasing, we will have to employ GMOs in order to deal with the heat and the absence of water. We will have to increase the hectares of land we use to cultivate crops and raise animals, which is the other component of our diet; the meat of cows, pigs, and poultry, animals that will be affected by the droughts and the heat; the production of meat with an extensive model like the one being used now will be much more costly, but one will need to invest many scarce resources like water and hectares of pasture in order to keep obtaining meat. All of this will only make the price of food increase, and we will have to import more, and the forests will have to be destroyed, leaving us without any defense to deal with the increase of 1.5 degrees. Without trees that protect the watersheds, the water will simply become vapor.

Biodiversity will suffer a hard hit, the wild animals, unlike us, don’t have the capacity to adapt to the change of temperature in a short time, their population will be drastically reduced by the shortages of water, habitats, and food. Previously, we have already brought various species in the Azuero region to the verge of extinction, the indiscriminate hunting and the destruction of their habitats have been sufficient, the question is: How much more can the wild animals of Panama endure?

The lack of water in the rivers will reduce the hydroelectric energy production, thus the prices of energy will increasingly fluctuate; furthermore, one must consider the negative effects that the Panama Canal will suffer. Depending on the level of the reservoirs, which can supply the demand of the maritime trade and be the spearhead of a country dedicated to services, their poor functioning will bring a recession that will impede a healthy public investment and will make difficult the possibility of adapting to the temperature increase. The economy will become unstable because we will have to increase our national debt in order for us to successfully adapt and survive.

With a country without water, with food shortages, deforested forests, low biodiversity, and an unstable economy, social problems will become inevitable. Our primitive drive for survival will emerge, and without cooperation, the system will simply collapse.

Written by:

Vicente Vásquez Velásquez

Student and environmental activist.


The Ministry of Environment and the Alliance for 1 Million Hectares named the 29 of August, 2015 as the National Day of Reforestation. The community of Pedasí celebrated this day by completing a community reforestation project lining the entrance to Pedasí. The project included a variety of native tree species, donated by the Azuero Earth Project, the mayor of Pedasí, and Ms. Yarineth Gomez, judicial facilitator. Mr. Eliezer Vera donated the organic compost. After all trees were planted, the students of Colegio Plinio Mosoco led a group to collect the trash and clean the road where the trees had been planted.

Such an event was possible because of a grand effort by Miss Gladys Díaz de Batista, and the Muncipial Judge of Pedasi, Lic. Nelson Morales. Miss Gladys was the person who motivated and organized the community of Pedasí, and petitioned groups such as AEP, the mayorship of Pedasí, Tortugas PEdasí, BDA, IDIAP, the local banks, the health center, the Ministry of the Environment, the firemen, the local high school, different religious groups, the fishermens coop, members of the Maritime Authory and the National Police.

AEP is inspired by how many people, both young and old, and how many groups and individuals came out to support the reforestation efforts. The union and efforts of local groups, working together, is what will ultimately lead to a healthy environment for the community of Pedasí.

Reforestación Entrada Pedasí

Conference on Options for Sustainable and Productive Landscapes in the Azuero


Sustainable Land Use
Attendees listen in on sustainable land use presentation

On May 21st, the Azuero Earth Project facilitated a conference exploring ideas and strategies for sustainable and environmentally friendly land use.  This conference presented the audience with an overview of alternatives in sustainably managing their land to improve both profits and the productivity of their properties. The audience heard from experts like Andreas Ekes, Director of Futuro Forestal, who spoke about the profitability of reforestation with native species and explained how this activity can be more profitable than ranching. The conference also featured Mr. Jacob Slusser, Panama Coordinator for the Yale School of Forestry’s  Environmental Leadership Training Intiative (ELTI). Slusser shared some of the knowledge he has gained from years of experience working in the Azuero implementing and promoting intensive silvopastoral systems. The Azuero Earth Project’s Director of Agroecology, Dr. Carlos Navarro, delivered a talk on the use of biodiversity in agricultural production and environmental conservation, using the native tree species Berba (Brosimum alicastrum), a particularly useful example for its multiple environmental and utilitarian benefits.

Furthermore, panelists from different regions of Panama interactively discussed their experiences including reforestation with native and exotic species as an option for developing ecotourism, reinvestment of revenue in the establishment of native plantations, and “reforestation tourism,” which involves the tourist in planting activities. Other experiences included organic hydroponic gardening in the town of Limón and the conversion of traditional production systems to silvopastoral systems in Guararé.IMG_3821

The event was well attended and AEP hopes to continue to conversation and promote the adoption of these alternative land use systems.

To read the entire press release, click here.


AEP Presents to ELTI on the Creation of a Biological Corridor

Map of AEP proposed biological corridor, c. Guillermo Duran

On January 31, AEP Director of Programs Ruth Metzel presented to an Environmental Leadership Training Initiative (ELTI) seminar on AEP´s use of geographic information systems (GIS) to create a wildlife habitat corridor in Los Santos. The presentation, titled “The Creation of a Conservation Corridor in Azuero”, explained AEP’s project to find a route to connect the dry forest in Los Santos where the endemic subspecies, the Azuero spider monkey (Ateles geoffroyi azurensis) is known to live. AEP created the potential route using biophysical and socioeconomic variables to select the properties optimal for inclusion in this biological corridor. The final route is 80 kilometers long, stretching from Cerro Hoya National Park to the Achotines Forest. This information will help to inform AEP’s programs to conserve the Azuero dry forest and to protect the native habitat of the spider monkey and other species that live on the Azuero Peninsula.

This presentation formed only part of ELTI’s seminar, titled ¨Environmental Services and Rainforest Restoration¨, that focused on training professionals and technical experts basic techniques for conservation and restoration projects through presentations, discussions and fieldwork. The course took place from January 28 to February 2 at the Achotines Laboratory to give participants the opportunity to explore the local dry forest on the Azuero Peninsula.

Course Objectives*:

1. Understand the fundamentals affecting the ecological functioning of forests, land use planning and the provision of environmental services in tropical regions.

2. Analyze the causes and consequences of environmental degradation have on natural regeneration and restoration of tropical forest to local and regional scale.

3. Recognize the different strategies, tools and technologies available to guide decision-making in land and forest landscape restoration.

4. Learn techniques to evaluate the properties of the tropical forest ecosystem and the progress of the restoration and management strategies, at both local and landscape.

*Taken from ELTI “Course Summary” document

The Environmental Leadership Training Initiative (ELTI) is a joint program through the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies (F&ES) and the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI) to provide individuals with the tools to conserve tropical forests in Latin America and Asia.

View the Powerpoint presentation ¨Creation of a Conservation Corridor in Azuero¨ (in Spanish)

Written by Sophie M. Fuchs

Guardians of the Forest promote Eco-tourism in Cerro Hoya

The eco-guides of Cerro Hoya National Park with Peace Corps volunteers Jessica Fort and Abigail Borst, c. Guillermo Duran

Cerro Hoya National Park has a new group of eco-guides called “The Guardians of the Forest.” The group is composed of neighbors from El Cortezo and La Tronosa communities who, with the support of Peace Corps Volunteers, have decided to share part of their knowledge about the flora and fauna of the region.

Cerro Hoya National Park protects more than 33,000 hectares of ocean and land that span from the coast up to 1500 m in elevation. The park forms part of the largest remnant natural forest patch in all of Azuero and also protects the forest with the highest elevation in all the peninsula, Cerro Hoya itself (1478 m in elevation).

Cerro Hoya National Park, c. Guillermo Duran

One of the biggest attractions of the park is the “carato parakeet,” (Pyrrhura eisenmanni), a species of parakeet that only exists in this national park, and depending on the time of year is easily spotted. In the high elevations of the park you’ll also find “monterillo” trees (Quercus sp.), a type of tree that within Panama can only be found within Cerro Hoya and in the highlands of Chiriquí and Veraguas. In Cerro Hoya’s forests, you can also observe large groups of spider monkeys and other species that due to the deforestation and hunting are now very scarce in other regions of Azuero.

Carato Parakeet, c. Guillermo Duran

The members of Guardians of the Forest have served for many years as guides in scientific expeditions within Cerro Hoya National Park as well as the La Tronosa Forest Reserve. In 2011, they decided to undertake ecotourism training with the support of the Peace Corps and in this way better organize themselves to serve national and international tourist groups. Depending on the amount of time that you would like to stay in the region, they can plan short day trips in La Tronosa Forest Reserve or multiday trips to summit Cerro Hoya itself. All tours leave El Cortezo community, located 40 minutes from the town of Tonosí.

Cerro Hoya National Park, c. Guillermo Duran

Groups interested in contacting Guardians of the Forest can leave them a message with their info at the number 6440-9751 or write to the email

This article appeared in El Pedasieño, the local town newspaper. Click here for a copy of the article.




Our first ever benefit, Azuero on the Harbor – a Huge Success

An enthusiastic crowd of more than 300 AEP supporters gathered on September first for a live concert and picnic at the East Hampton home of renowned artist Cindy Sherman.

The sold-out fundraiser was chaired by AEP Board Member Alexander Vreeland and featured performances by music legends Lou Reed, Laurie Anderson, Rufus Wainwright, and Suzanne Vega. Actor Bob Balaban, our superb Master of Ceremonies, was assisted by the event’s effervescent Music Producer Jenni Muldaur. Panama’s salsa superstar and former Minister of Tourism Rubén Blades, who was scheduled to perform with his wife Luba Mason, had to cancel at the last moment due to a travel conflict, but sent a message of support. Prominent figures from the worlds of design, architecture, philanthropy, publishing, the arts, and environmental conservation enjoyed the fabulous setting, great food, and uniquely special performances. Among these guests were luminaries from the world of fashion, Calvin Klein, Isaac Mizrahi, Nicole Miller, Rogan Gregory, Julie Gilhart, Bruce Weber, Stefano Tonchi and Katherine Ross; acting, Gina Gershon and Gaby Hoffmann; art, Eric Fischl, Ross Bleckner, Mary Heilmann, Teresita Fernandez, David Maupin and Lisa Phillips; and lifestyle, Martha Stewart.

Every guest received a Loomstate T shirt, an embroidered woolen throw made especially for the event by Sabine for Maharem, and a bracelet from “made with love.” Both were limited editions made especially for the Azuero on the Harbor event, where we also premiered our new video by Red Bucket Films.

The AEP also commissioned a set of six bone china plates for the benefit with images by celebrated artists Richard Prince, Ed Ruscha, April Gornik, Teresita Fernandez, Mary Heilmann, and Maya Lin which appeared in the New York Times on August 30, were produced by Lenox, and are available on our website or stores at the New Museum and Gagosian Gallery.

Funds raised at this event will have a major impact on AEP’s momentum, outreach, and organizational capacity as we head into our third program year on our base on the Azuero Peninsula of Panamá, a “living laboratory” and microcosm of the first-world problems assaulting rapidly emerging tropics that will serve to illuminate innovative solutions to complex problems that are occurring elsewhere. “The solutions we develop in Panama,” said AEP President and co-founder, Edwina von Gal, will work in communities throughout the world.” AEP’s newly redesigned website also features advanced mapping technologies and community organization tools to identify challenges and generate impact.

The event raised over $375,000, exceeding expectations. Contributions from our guests and sponsors will be used to:

• Bring talented scientists and students to the Azuero Peninsula to undertake research associated with core AEP programs;

• Design and construct a model recycling facility and education center using sustainable materials and energy efficient design that will serve as a replicable model for communities worldwide. An instruction manual will be available on our website;

• Create a network of gardens in schools and communities to test heat-tolerant and disease-resistant vegetable varieties and to provide training in eco agriculture;

• Advance our goal of creating a biological corridor across the Azuero, connecting remnant forest patches through experimental reforestation methods, providing innovative income potential to landowners, and habitat for endangered species;

• Continue to grow our field station-library-office in Pedasí as a center for research, training, and education.

• Continue to build a world-wide culture of environmentally sound behavior: the Red Verde (the green network)

To read more and see photos of the event, check out our press coverage at New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, Art Info, La Prensa, La Prensa, Revista K, East Hampton Press, and the New York Observer, and BFA photos. Our sponsors included Maharam textiles, Dedon furniture, Loomstate, Lenox, W Magazine, Bedell Vineyard, Ron Abuelo Panamá, Organic Avenue, Luca Bosco Ice Cream, Bai 5, and Steinway & Sons.