Publication Date

Spring 2013

Program Name

Panama: Tropical Ecology, Marine Ecosystems, and Biodiversity Conservation


This study aimed to discover how external organizations, teachers, and parents impact primary student health in rural and urban areas in the Chiriquí Province of Panama. The objectives were to analyze the role of the stated variables in student nutrition and to evaluate the effectiveness of the food programs implemented at the schools. With permission and help from MEDUCA I chose two urban and two rural schools in the David, Chiriquí area. I conducted semi-structured interview with four parents and five teachers in the rural area; three parents and five teachers in the urban area; and one government official. Panama suffers from widespread malnutrition. In Chiriquí one in three children suffers from chronic malnutrition (MPPE 14). Adequate primary school nutrition is vital because without it the mental and physical capacities of children decline during development. Australian and American schools have found school gardens to be successful in combating malnutrition. The external organizations involved are The Ministry of Education (MEDUCA), The Ministry of Health (MINSA), MIDA, FECE, PAN, and the Caja de Ahorros. All of these provide financial and material support for the school kitchens, school gardens, and school chicken coops. There is a communication gap between the schools and parents that is detrimental to the children`s health but overall the programs succeed. Teachers hold the responsibility for initiating school gardens and chicken coops. They monitor student health and provide solutions when needed. Parents offer physical labor and material (money, seeds, etc) support for these projects, although there is dissonance on how much help they actually provide. The main problems found were Panamanian culinary traditions. Schools traditionally have a shop where students can buy junk food. The MEDUCA program that sends enriched food to the schools is making parents lax about their children’s eating habits. Rural areas reported they do not have cases of malnutrition because the children eat the farm produce, while the urban schools said they do have cases of malnutrition because parents are too busy to provide nutritious meals. Panama is losing its agricultural heritage in both areas. People are discouraged from an agricultural livelihood because of the low income in the rural areas. Home gardens have fallen out of fashion in the urban setting. Schools are using school gardens to help rectify this problem. School gardens are a form of active protest in the fight for cultural conservation and against rising food prices. When taught to love the earth and given the tools to produce at home, children become the vehicle of change to make better decisions for the future.


Agricultural and Resource Economics | Agricultural Education | Family, Life Course, and Society | International and Community Nutrition


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