FAO Investment Centre

Empowering Indigenous coffee farmers in Panama


Coffee is part of the cultural heritage of Indigenous Peoples' communities in Panama and an important source of income.

But with limited access to culturally sensitive technical assistance, markets and financing, these communities are struggling to maintain their traditional production methods.

Recognizing these challenges, the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), with funding from the Japan Special Fund Poverty Reduction Program, teamed up with FAO's technical assistance to launch an initiative in 2022, with the participation of Panama's Ministry of Agricultural Development and coffee company, Café Durán. The FAO Investment Centre has provided key project design and technical support to this effort.

The goal is to boost the incomes of Indigenous coffee producers by improving the production, processing, quality and sales of coffee from sustainable agroforestry systems in ways that respect the specific agricultural practices of each Indigenous territory.

"Coffee is, in a way, a magical product in that it gives people hope for social and economic inclusion," FAO Representative in Panama Adoniram Sanches Peraci said. "International coffee prices are good, there are private sector companies supporting production along the entire supply chain and consumer demand for Indigenous coffee is growing."

Ekaterina Krivonos, Chief of the FAO Investment Centre's Latin America and the Caribbean Service, echoed that sentiment.

"This initiative is ultimately about helping Indigenous coffee producers in Panama build a better life for themselves and their communities," she said. "It is about supporting them to improve the quantity and quality of their coffee production sustainably and to respond to the needs of an ever-evolving market, all without abandoning time-honoured traditions and techniques."

A sustainable future

To date, more than 150 Indigenous Ngäbe, Guna, Emberá and Wounaan coffee farmers have completed a season-long FAO Farmers Field School training programme on sustainable agroecological practices. These schools use a participatory hands-on learning/ approach. Through guided discussion, observation and experimentation, coffee farmers learned techniques and strategies to avoid plant diseases, protect healthy coffee crops and adapt their agricultural practices to a changing climate, all without major disruptions to their agroecosystems.

The farmers received training on ways to improve the quality of their coffee to match market standards, and they even managed to increase coffee production. Activities also focused on increasing the participation of women and on making good business decisions.

In this manner, Indigenous producers are learning and co-developing good practices that draw from the best of local knowledge and the facilitators' experiences, and take into consideration local capacities, traditions, the environment and market needs.

With the participation of Café Durán, a player in the coffee sector in Panama, Indigenous coffee producers are able to access a market that pays a fair price.

According to Ana Grigera, Gender and Diversity Specialist at the IDB, this knowledge is helping to "change past, unfavourable sales dynamics and generate access to new markets, new commercial relationships and more confidence in commercial transactions."

She added that it "empowers producers to know who they are selling to, to understand how to improve the quality of their product to meet market demands, and to identify and seize economic opportunities based on market prices."


Photo credit ©FAO/Cecilia Calatrava