Cooperativa de Servicios Múltiples Bananera del Atlántico, R.L. (COOBANA)

In addition to providing economic and social benefits to their community, COOBANA's farmers are preserving the biodiversity of fragile wetlands through reforestation, education and more.


Country: Panama

Founded: 1991

Fairtrade certified in: 2010

Main products: Bananas

Number of members: 250

Preserving the biodiversity of fragile wetlands in the heart of Panama’s banana production enclave

COOBANA reforestation 870
COOBANA members plant trees as part of reforestation project in Panama

Bocas del Toro province in Panama is best known for its lush tropical landscape, sandy beaches and diversity of animal and plant species. It also provides perfect conditions for growing bananas. The region of Changuinola, in particular, has historically been known as the 'banana production enclave' of Panama. However, faced with economic crisis and labour conflicts between workers and employers in the 1990s, many banana companies ceased operations in the area during that time. Some, however, remain and thrive.

This is the case with the Cooperativa de Servicios Múltiples Bananera del Atlántico (COOBANA). The organization was initially founded in 1991 by a group of 74 workers, previously employed in plantations, who joined forces to maintain employment in the area.

COOBANA became Fairtrade certified in 2010. They began that process in collaboration with Agrofair, which would later become a partner and key supporter in the development of Fairtrade within the organization.

Since then, a lot has happened at COOBANA. Nowadays, the cooperative has 250 members and exported 962,000 boxes of bananas 2019. As a result of better prices and the Fairtrade Premium, the organization has been able to invest in projects to improve the productivity of farmers, as well as access to education, healthcare, housing and development projects that benefit the community.

Preserving a unique wetland habitat, thanks to Fairtrade Premium

But besides being an important economic driver for the local area, COOBANA has also played a hugely important conservation role in the region. Eager to preserve the unique ecosystem in which it operates, COOBANA has channeled Premium funds to support projects that contribute to environmental protection and biodiversity in Changuinola. Of particular importance is the San San Pond Sack River Basin Conservation Programme (Programa de conservación de la cuenca del Río San San Pond Sack).

The geographical span of the terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems of this wetland covers approximately 20,025 hectares in the west of Bocas del Toro province, including parts of Changuinola and Guabito regions. This wetland is a habitat of significant importance for waterfowl and various wildlife species that are in danger of extinction, notably manatees and sea turtles. The site also contains a representative variety of plant species characteristic of the area, such as mangroves and gray forests. The wetland itself replenishes the aquifer that provides water to many inhabitants of the region.

In order to protect this unique natural jewel, COOBANA focused on three main interventions:

  • Reforestation Programme: In 2013, the cooperative acquired a property of 22 hectares on the river bank where it began a reforestation programme. COOBANA signed an agreement with Panama’s Ministry of Environment to carry out the project and secured a contribution of $18,300 by the World Bank. The cooperative gave an additional $6,000 to finance the project.
  • Environmental education and community involvement: Targeted programmes to develop and improve the quality of life of the inhabitants of the area, awareness raising to change attitudes regarding the protection of species in the area, provision of environmental education to producers and workers of the cooperative.
  • Sea turtle monitoring programme: Launched in 2018, this programme started with the construction of the breeding zoo, which involved cleaning the roots of the trees so that the turtle nests aren’t damaged.
COOBANA woman planting 870
COOBANA member planting as part of biodiversity protection projects in Panama

"Our main objective is to produce environmentally friendly bananas and preserve the biological diversity of our region, which is why we have invested in the reforestation programme," says Chito Quintero, one of the banana producers of COOBANA who has been closely involved in the project.

"Besides the financial investment, we mobilized volunteer students, parents and teachers from different nearby educational centres. With their support, it was possible to plant 13,000 trees of a native species of the region. This area is now returning to its natural state, contributing to the preservation of our environment and our planet."