A few years ago teak was considered the panacea of solutions for socio economic problems in Panama. But, today, the harsh reality of growing teak is widely known. Recognized in many countries as a weed, Panama is one of the few nations in the world that gives tax incentives for planting Tectona Grandis, teak.
It is thoroughly understood that teak damages the environment. The fall of teak leaves is one of the principal causes of severe erosion and fire throughout the country. The high oil content of the tree and leaves is like tinder or kindling for fires during the dry season. When the leaves fall to the ground, they do not disintegrate rapidly and serve no useful function in the forest either as natural fertilizer or feed for animals.
Today there are huge forests of teak all over Panama. Instead of contributing to the nation’s economy, they are actually depleting the national treasury through tax deductions provided to the wealthy. Globally there are more offers to sell teak than to buy.
Many of these stands of teak are more than twenty years old. Why aren’t they being sold? There are two primary reasons: one the price of teak in Panama is not in synch with the realities of the price of teak on the world market and two, buyers today are more informed and are requesting documentation that most Panamanians cannot provide because they have not made the financial investment necessary for this type of venture, instead their interests have been to hide money from taxation. “Chain of Custody” documents are one of the key requirements for selling lumber in today’s world market. This documentation proves that the producer is not damaging the environment or jungle to extract lumber.
Today, there is a new alternative for agroindustry and multidimensional farming. This new paradigm of agroforestry allows for a mix of the traditional with the nontraditional generating more income for the farm and at the same time restoring the ecology of the nation. A study done by USAID/AED “A FINANCIAL ANALYSIS OF SUSTAINABLE CATTLE FARMING SYSTEMS IN THE WATERSHED OF THE PANAMA CANAL” dated June 2005 proves the economic viability of raising cattle with trees. Although the study mentions some species of trees, it does not mention species with high agricultural value. Selecting the correct species will not only serve as a source of income but also function as an integral and important part of the daily life of the farm.
Paulownia could be that species. Paulownia is recognized as the fastest growing tree in the world, the aluminum of hardwood trees. Grown for hundreds of years on the Pacific Rim, paulownia has a greater value than teak on the world market and offers the opportunity to have three harvests in the time it takes for teak to have one.
The paulownia leaves are used in many parts of the world has feed for animals because of its high nutritive value.
With the price of land in the clouds today, farms are smaller and farmers must maximize the economic utility of every hectare. Different than teak, after two years, the farmer can graze cattle between the paulownia trees without damaging them.
Paulownia increases the fertility of the land. The leaves disintegrate rapidly feeding the natural grasses which control erosion of top soil. Paulownia also functions as a natural firebreak. The ignition temperature of paulownia is approximately 425 degrees centigrade. Teak has a flash point of a little more than 100 degrees centigrade about that of boiling water.