After the collapse of the COOSEMUPAR workers' cooperative over a decade ago, several fruit companies have taken an interest in leasing the land in the Baru province on Panama's Pacific coast. Following several years of negotiations, the proposed investment by Fresh Del Monte has been accepted in late April by the Panamanian government which owns most of the land concerned.
A series of companies have explored replanting the land that had historically been farmed by Chiquita before they abandoned it in the hands of their former employees. Reports indicate interest from Fyffes, now-bankrupt Russian group JFC and Chiquita itself. But now the deal is approved and Del Monte has committed to invest US$100 million over 7 years in planting bananas and pineapples on up to 5,000 hectares of prime land, a small proportion of which now belongs to members of the former cooperative COOSEMUPAR.
The fact that the new Del Monte subsidiary Banapina de Panama S.A. has sought and been granted a series of tax exemptions has raised protests from some of the local landowners who will be contracted to produce fruit for the multinational. Marvin Wilcox, one of the local farmers claimed that the contract was a 'give-away': "The transnational is getting extremely fertile land for 20 years, and an authomatic extension for another 20." Highlighting that banana was for export, Wilcox also told local press that some of this land should be producing food for the local market.
In an area where the local Chamber of Commerce estimates that unemployment reaches 60%, there are others who have been less critical. Alexis Morales, a former member of COOSEMUPAR who had supported the Del Monte investment since the company arrived in the area in 2014 stated: "We haven't won the lottery, but it's the only tangible proposal we have".
Del Monte's investment should generate around 200,000 tonnes of export bananas per year when production is in full swing, taking Panama's annual banana exports back up to around the half a millon tonnes mark.
Source: various Panamanian press, April-May 2017.