On a High Note: Sustainable Palm Fruit Harvesting Offers Economic Alternatives and Conserves the Amazon Peatland Forests
A recent study conducted in the northeastern region of Peru found that the sustainable harvest of the palm tree Mauritia flexuosa could simultaneously conserve Amazon peatland forests and bring vast economic benefits to the local communities. The palm tree was nicknamed the “tree of life” by the 19th-century ecologist Alexander von Humboldt because it produces a fruit called aguaje that is an important food source for humans, birds, fish, and other mammals. Currently, aguaje harvesting makes up 15-22% of family incomes in Peru. Mauritia flexuosa is also one of the most abundant palm species in South America, absorbing and holding the highest concentration of carbon in the entire Amazon region.
The current, most popular method of aguaje harvesting involves cutting down the palm tree to retrieve the fruit. The study found that this method also halves fruit production and compromises its availability to local communities. However, in places that harvest by climbing the trees to access the fruit, the number of fruit-bearing trees is significantly higher. Researchers estimate that local communities could increase their harvest by 51% and generate $62 million per year by switching to tree climbing. Sustainable palm fruit harvesting could provide a viable economic alternative to local communities while also reducing deforestation and mitigating climate change in the area.