The plenary session of the Supreme Court of Justice declared that the seventh, eighth, eleventh, twentieth, twenty-first, twenty-sixth, and twenty-eighth clauses of contract law No. 36-2017 between the state and the Banapiña de Panama SA company -which was approved by Law No. 28 of May 25, 2017, and was sued by producers from Baru- are constitutional.
Specifically, the seventh clause gives the Banapiña company the right to operate, rehabilitate, and condition the entire irrigation system used by the previous operator (Chiquita) in Baru. This clause also states that, for the first 20 years of the contract, Banapiña will pay one dollar per hectare per year for the supply of water and irrigation of the plantations.
The contract gives the company the right to extract this water from the Chiriqui Viejo, Palo Blanco, and Canal Colorado rivers, in the Baru sector, and the Chiriqui Viejo and Gariche rivers in the Divala sector. This includes drilling wells for the extraction of groundwater. The contract indicates that the State recognizes that, to develop its activities, the company requires an estimated 4.2 m³ of water per hour per hectare to carry out irrigation tasks in the dry season, and 150 gallons for agricultural use per minute throughout the year in each of the packing facilities.
“It is a lot of water. That's 4.2 cubic meters of water per hour per hectare 365 days a year,” Martin Wilcox, the president of the Protierra de Barú Peasant Association, told Prensa Panama. This lawsuit was filed by landowners as established by Article 150 of Law 55 of the Agrarian Code of 2011, he added. These producers continue to work on the 1,951 hectares located in the township of Rodolfo Aguilar Delgado, Baru, which they claim they have cultivated since 1998 with bananas, papaya, and other products. However, the last administration decided to take this land away from them and give it as a concession to the Banapiña company.
In November 2018, after the signing of the contract with the company, some 200 hectares of plantations of bananas, papayas, and avocadoes from the producers were destroyed following a court order to transfer the land to the companies, Wilcox said.
However, they rebuilt the land and continue working to supply products to the national market, he added.
This contract was awarded to Banapiña in order to reactivate the banana activity in the area of Baru to promote economic and social development. Following the agreement, the company cultivates bananas in the 1,770 hectares owned by individual owners in Baru. This required an investment of $ 100 million and was expected would generate jobs in the area.