Food Grown and Traded in Panama City

  • Isabel Maria Madaleno
Keywords: Qualitative Research, Food, Panama City, Social Sciences.


During the 1992 Rio Summit a new trend in urban development has been set, the Agenda 21, based on the concept of sustainability established in the 1987 Brundtland report titled “Our Common Future”. The process was continued at the 1996 UN City Summit in Istanbul with the Habitat Agenda. Concomitantly the United Nations Development Programme conducted a series of surveys in Latin America, and elsewhere around the world. References to urban farming in Panama City were scarce, but a special report about the existence of various forms of “aquaculture” within a publication series for Habitat II gave grounds to the expectation that in 2017 there should be some urban agriculture practises inside the urban agglomeration. Of course the production of staples, spices, medicinal species, as well as fruits is the most common form of gardening in urban areas, and that was exactly what the University of Lisbon (UL) survey found in Panama. Following a scientific mission to Panama, the UL conducted a survey to 50 informants, resident in the capital city, three of them urban gardeners and the remainder plant traders. Results from the in-depth interviews, applied by the author with an open questionnaire, gathered a total of 166 vernaculars, corresponding to 171 different species, 96 of which had medicinal or cosmetic applications, 61 were consumed as food and 14 as spices. The research was part of an extensive project aimed at presenting study cases of sustainable practices gathered in urban environments. A second objective was to build a database about the evolution in flora consumption, focused mainly on food plant species in this contribution. Therefore, archival research was fundamental to make a qualitative evaluation of local flora sustainability, providing the possibility to compare plant species mentioned in a 1526 manuscript of Gonzalo Fernández de Oviedo, with the ones consumed in our days. The vernacular names of plants mentioned in the 16th century manuscript authored by the Spanish traveller and Panama colonizer totalled 55, thirty-five of which were native American or Asian fruits. Less than a half were consumed as food (22), and only four were used as medicine. Previous work cross-examined the top-ranking flora, their therapeutic applications and other uses in the 16th century and in our days. Current paper will further results and conclusions using temporal and spatial comparisons, in order to make both the assessment of the evolution of urban gardening and farming in Panama City, founded in 1519, and the evaluation of food plants traded and consumed, vis a vis other Latin American urban agglomerations. Hope is to contribute with a new insight on the activities developed and flora grown and traded in the capital city of this Central American country.