Socioeconomic Research in Panama

Posted: April 24, 2013

This past week marked the start of our Directed Research projects, one of which entails a socioeconomic study on human-environment interactions of two indigenous Ngöbe populations in Bocas del Toro—one here on Isla Solarte, and the other in Bahía Honda of Bastimentos. The purpose of this investigation is three-fold.

Firstly, we would like to better understand the way of life of a people who live off the land and ocean, and what resources they rely on for increasing resiliency by building assets as different forms of capital. Second, because not all conservation laws legislated by the government work in favor of people who partake in subsistence-based livelihood strategies, we hope to determine the limitations that harvest restrictions and other development projects impose on the people of the region. Lastly, we hope to supply the communities and local policy-makers with documentation for demonstrating land-use and information about the many resources on which the indigenous people depend so that regional legislation can more effectively reflect the goals of all its inhabitants and not simply the majority.

Through semi-structured and informal interviews, primarily conducted in Spanish, others with a field-assistant that translates the indigenous Ngöbe dialect into Spanish, we have already compiled a large database for our analysis. This is an exciting and nerve-wracking assignment as my first language is obviously English; however, I have found it very rewarding to be pushed out of my comfort zone and learn both a new language and the inner-workings of an island culture.

The week has been replete with tear-jerking stories, hearty laughter, and a couple of awkward moments. I look forward to the second half of the data collection as I am becoming more comfortable with the interview process with the passing of each day. Not only are we planning to give a presentation to each community upon the completion of the project, we hope to publish our findings in an open-access academic journal on the internet—stay on the look out for that in the comings months!