Governance for adaptation in the shared Sixaola River basin.

IUCN @ Mónica Quesada
Published: 02 May 2019
Last edited: 01 October 2020
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Sixaola binational river basin, shared by Costa Rica and Panama, flows into the Caribbean sea. The area has a ​​high biodiversity and cultural richness with a mixed afro-descendant and indigenous population. 

Communities face social vulnerability and lack adaptation capacities. The area is threathened by an increasing habitat fragmentation, changes in rainfall patterns and rising incidences of extreme weather events, particularly floods, all affecting local livelihoods. 

The solution aims to strengthen transboundary governance and improve institutional adaptation capacities. By working with the Binational Commission of the Sixaola River Basin (CBCRS), promoting public participation, while achieving greater binational cooperation and up-scaling solutions to basin scale. 

A governance model was used that was multidimensional, participatory, flexible and ecosystemic, in order to foster adaptation actions that enhance local livelihoods and healthy ecosystems.


Central America
Scale of implementation
Forest ecosystems
Freshwater ecosystems
River, stream
Tropical evergreen forest
Connectivity / transboundary conservation
Ecosystem services
Indigenous people
Legal & policy frameworks
Local actors
Outreach & communications
Watershed management
Other theme
Erosion prevention
Habitat fragmentation
Water provision and management
Erratic rainfall
Shift of seasons
Conflicting uses / cumulative impacts
Pollution (incl. eutrophication and litter)
Inefficient management of financial resources
Changes in socio-cultural context
Lack of technical capacity
Lack of infrastructure
Poor governance and participation
Unemployment / poverty
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 2: Biodiversity values integrated
Target 7: Sustainable agriculture, aquaculture and forestry
Target 10: Ecosystems vulnerable to climate change
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


  •  Due to climate change related impacts changes in rainfall patterns and seasons are expected, which would affect crop flowering and lead to increasing crop losses, occurrence of pests and diseases, and risk of floods.
  • Sixaola River basin suffers from socio-environmental problems derived from unsustainable agricultural practices, degraded riparian ecosystems and its population’s high marginalization and poverty levels.
  • Lack of knowledge among local actors about EbA benefits 
  • Although there is Binational Commission for the Sixaola River Basin (CBCRS), bringing together national and municipal government actors and various sectors from both countries, its management was weakened by lack of a binational territorial planning tool. Tool would allow to articulate efforts on both sides of the border. Its main governance challenge was to improve multi-level and multi-sectoral coordination, in order to work with a basin-wide territorial approach and clear priorities.


  • Binational Commission for the Sixaola River Basin (CBCRS)
  • Communities (~400 people): farmers, indigenous representatives (Bribri, Cabécar, Naso and Gnäbe), youth, women and educators
  • Municipalities of Talamanca and Changuinola (~33,000 inhab.)

How do the building blocks interact?

At the local level an EbA plan is designed. This is the vehicle for up-scaling results and discuss lessons learnt within the Binational Sixaola Comission. This solution promotes a governance for adaptation model that uses an ecosystem approach (BB1), is multidimensional (BB2), and participatory (BB3).


  • BB1. Implement EbA measures with farmers to diversify agricultural production with the use of agrobiodiversity and watershed restoration actions.
  • BB2. Binational cooperation has been strengthened through the implementation of binational activities of shared governance of water resources and EbA measures. The binational cooperation facilitated the implementation of joint actions and learning, such as: binational reforestation days, binational efforts to promote agrobiodiversity and risk management, etc.
  • BB3. Stakeholder participation has been motivated at various levels (community, municipal and national), including groups traditionally marginalized from the watershed’s management. Municipalities have been involved in EbA actions seeeking for sustainability and ownership. 


Strengthening of CBCRS representation through: 

  • Integration and awareness of involved communities, farmers, public institutions and civil society organizations.
  • Integration of new actors (e.g. Municipality of Bocas del Toro, Panama)

Improved management, advocacy and coordination capacities of CBCRS through:

  • Adoption of the Strategic Plan for Transboundary Territorial Development (2017-2021), as a key multidimensional governance achievement.
  • Enhanced binational learning and cooperation (e.g. through the organization of joint activities, such as the Agrobiodiversity Fair and binational reforestation events).
  • Synergies with alike projects and initiatives: IUCN BRIDGE project on transboundary water resource governance; Rural Development Central American Strategy (ECADERT). 

Scaling up and mobilizing funds for EbA:

  • Promoting EbA measures, such agro diversification through a resilient farmers network (> 40 farms).
  • Close coordination with Ministries of Agriculture and agricultural agencies of both countries, and dialogues informed by learning about EbA for its integration into public policies
  • Commitments to EbA and "Nature-based Solutions" by municipalities of both countries and Bribri Indigenous Peoples Development Association, upon signing the Declaration of Local Governments on Climate Change.


IUCN @ Paul Aragón

pMr. Juan Carlos Barrantes, Director of the ACBTC:

One of the most important contributions of the AVE Project was the strengthening of governance structures. Facilitating the undertaking of the CBCRS’s assemblies helped to develop instruments, such as the Rules of Procedure that sets the work of the CBCRS with a shared vision of sustainable development.

In addition, there were training processes in topics such as shared waters and environmental law, in particular, the diploma course in water governance and climate change with a basin approach, which was done using a virtual platform and was taken advantage of by several members of the CBCRS. Being in a process of constant learning has benefited the CBCRS.

Being constant was important in the operational process that led to the design of the Strategic Plan (2017-2021), as was combing support from other projects in order to produce a portfolio of projects that underpins the territorial investment plan.

During this time, there has been a greater appropriation by CBCRS stakeholders of the decision-making space that this platform offers and of its operational processes. This strengthens binational action, which is the result of greater coordination and collaboration between the two countries. This is having positive effects on the CBCRS’s financial management too, since it has facilitated access to new funding, including broader issues (eg. public health) and not only environmental ones.

On the other hand, there were specific actions in the agricultural arena, carried out in integral farms and through the organization of the Agrobiodiversity Fair. Bringing together farmers from the basin, and from either side of the border, has permitted a unified discussion on sustainable development actions and the search for environmentally-friendly production measures. The commission that organizes the Fair also includes public institutions from both countries, so these actors are also part of the discussion.

In 2016, the Municipality of Bocas del Toro (Panama) joined the CBCRS, which marked a milestone. In 2018, the Governor attended the Fair, and together with Panamanian producers, made the commitment to hold a similar fair in Panama. With all of the Governor’s convening power, two months later the first agrobiodiversity fair was taking place in Bocas del Toro. This demonstrates how far the collaboration between Costa Rica and Panama can reach, thanks to the work of the CBCRS and the organization of locally-driven activities

Contributed by

MARTACLAUDIA.PEREZ_36296's picture

Marta Pérez de Madrid