Promotion of agrobiodiversity and riparian restoration in the Sixaola binational river basin

IUCN, Mónica Quesada
Published: 17 September 2018
Last edited: 21 February 2023
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The communities of the Sixaola River basin (2,848 km2), shared between Costa Rica and Panama, are mestizo and indigenous, with high rates of poverty and vulnerability. The area evidences an increasing incidence of extreme climatic events, in particular droughts, high temperatures and floods, which put local livelihoods at risk. A comprehensive solution is proposed to increase socio-environmental resilience that consists of combining dialogue, capacities, knowledge, alliances and field work to promote agrobiodiversity and reforest the basin. With producers from 7 communities, local empowerment and inter-institutional coordination, EbA measures are implemented, their impact on food security is monitored and transboundary cooperation is facilitated. EbA is promoted through "action learning" processes aimed at improving and diversifying productive practices, rescuing the use of autochthonous seeds and restoring riparian forests through bi-national actions.


Central America
Scale of implementation
Forest ecosystems
Freshwater ecosystems
River, stream
Tropical evergreen forest
Ecosystem services
Food security
Indigenous people
Local actors
Science and research
Sustainable livelihoods
Other theme
Connectivity /transboundary conservation
Erosion prevention
Genetic diversity
Traditional knowledge
Watershed management
Erratic rainfall
Land and Forest degradation
Loss of Biodiversity
Changes in socio-cultural context
Lack of food security
Sustainable development goals
SDG 2 – Zero hunger
SDG 6 – Clean water and sanitation
SDG 13 – Climate action
SDG 15 – Life on land
Aichi targets
Target 1: Awareness of biodiversity increased
Target 2: Biodiversity values integrated
Target 7: Sustainable agriculture, aquaculture and forestry
Target 10: Ecosystems vulnerable to climate change
Target 13: Safeguarding genetic diversity
Target 14: Ecosystem services
Target 15: Ecosystem restoration and resilience
Target 19: Sharing information and knowledge


Talamanca, Limón, Costa Rica | Changuinola, Bocas del Toro, Panamá


  • Habitat fragmentation, heavy rains and poor agricultural practices increase soil erosion, sedimentation and obstruction of waterways, damaging local livelihoods.
  • Climatic threats, such as droughts, floods and extreme rains that reduce water quality and affect production, are on the rise.
  • In the middle and lower basin, the population is highly dependent on agriculture and faces food insecurity due to crop losses and the degradation of agro-ecosystems.
  • There is growing concern about the loss of genetic diversity and traditional knowledge in agriculture with native species.
  • The area exhibits high socio-economic vulnerability y marginalization (e.g. lack of economic opportunities and high poverty levels).
  • The management capacity of municipalities and indigenous local governments is low and requires greater inter-sectoral coordination and with the central government.


  • 7 communities (~400 people) including Bri Bri y Cabécar indigenes: Yorkín, Shuabb, Catarina, Paraíso (Costa Rica). El Guabo, Washout, Barranco (Panama)
  • Sixaola Binational Commission
  • Municipalities of Talamanca y Changuinola (~33,000 inhab.)

How do the building blocks interact?

The solution integrates 3 building blocks (BB): 1. “Action learning”, 2. Community ownership of adaptation measures and 3. Scaling-up, in order to improve food and water security in 7 local communities of a shared watershed. BB1 is transversal since capacity building and the exchange of experiences concern and nourish all BBs, especially when undertaken through a "learning by doing" approach. The implementation of EbA measures at the farm and forest landscape levels (BB2) was part of this learning process, and permitted the resilience of local ecosystems and livelihoods to increase, achieving - on both sides of the border - improvements in riparian forests, productive diversification and the recovery of criollo (native) seeds. BB2 also provided a channel for valuing traditional knowledge and promoting EbA at different governance levels, using field experiences to enrich watershed management and substantiate EbA up-scaling (BB3). Thus, through EbA and governance actions, it was possible to balance immediate benefits to communities to address daily challenges, with a basin-wide vision that, in the medium/long term, consolidates social capital and local decision-making capacities.


  • The integral farm system was implemented, and later replicated, to increase the provision of food, soil formation and erosion control.
  • Increase in the capacities of: 40 farmers who implement integral farms and agroforestry systems, 20 young people trained in climate change who lead projects in their communities, 3 municipalities and> 200 people trained in EbA, governance for adaptation, and water management.
  • Increased dialogue, exchange, awareness and appreciation of biodiversity thanks to the annual Agrobiodiversity Fair (> 1000 people) with exchange of native seeds among> 100 farmers since 2015.
  • 7,500 native trees planted in annual binational reforestation events to recover riverbank forests.
  • Evidence on the benefits of the EbA for food security, applying a monitoring and evaluation methodology in 9 integrated farms.
  • Social capital strengthened, with communities and producers better organized and informed.
  • Commitments taken on by inter-institutional entities to give sustainability to the actions.
  • Upscaling of EbA actions and lessons learned through a network of resilient producers (40 farms), the Binational Commission of the Sixaola River Basin and the entities responsible for climate change policies at multiple levels of government.



The indigenous and mestizo communities of the Sixaola River basin depend heavily on subsistence agriculture (basic grains) and the cultivation of cocoa, banana and plantain. However, climatic variability is affecting production, due to both extreme events and higher incidence of pests and diseases in crops, and to changes in the flow of the Sixaola River. During droughts, the middle basin becomes unnavigable, hindering the commercialization of products, while, with extreme rainfall, the high amounts of sediment make navigation dangerous and decrease water quality. This, combined with poor agricultural practices, made it necessary to introduce EbA measures in farms and riverbanks to reduce erosion, restore riparian forests and diversify production and thus increase the resilience of agro-ecosystems and food security. The communities value traditional knowledge and wanted to promote the use of native species, adapted to local conditions, so that all EbA measures implemented used native species and/or autochthonous seeds.


Jeimy Carranza (BriBri): "In the context of climate change, the issue of native seeds conservation, integral farms and family farming is very important. It is a matter that has long been demonstrating that it has positive impacts on the environment ...... Integral farms and family agriculture are ways to restore the landscape. So the more initiatives like these we have in the binational basin, [the more] communities will be in better capacity to recover or to resist negative climate change events."


Milton Hernández (Yorkin): “Now I am seeing what is really important, that this has led me to make a change in me, personally. I now arrive at my farm, what a beauty! I see it myself. I have this, I have the other, I have the other, I have ... Before I did not have it. And we do have land to make a very good farm. Now we are seeing it. And I'm very happy about that.”


Miriam Morales (Yorkin): "For us the Fair is very important because that way, we can collect seeds; and the seeds are from here, from the area, and sometimes we don’t grow crops and they get lost, so this way we can rescue the lost seeds ... It's a way that one can also share with other producers, and share seeds, because that's also in our culture. When we have seeds, we are always exchanging them... " 

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Melissa Marín UICN

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