In Search Of An Equitable Palm Market
Non-oil palm plants are used in many facets of life, including religious ceremonies, party decorations, and food and household products. Palm fronds, plants, and seeds, which are harvested in areas of Mexico and Guatemala, are exported to North American distributors for use as ornamental indoor plants and decoration in floral arrangements.
Did you know?
- Approximately 308 million palm fronds were consumed in the United States in 1998.
- A congregation of 1100 to 1500 members will order approximately 700 palm fronds for Palm Sunday services.
- At least half of the farmers in the Central Peten of Guatemala earn an additional income from harvesting fronds, and more than a quarter of household heads support themselves exclusively by collecting fronds.
- Each palm plant produces 2 to 5 harvestable leaves over a 2 to 4 month period.
- Palm purchases for Palm Sunday may be worth up to 4.5 million dollars/year.
- Palm gathering can actually protect valuable natural forests.
How Can You Help Create A Sustainable Livelihood In The Tropics?
Harvesting palm products is an important source of supplemental income for many individuals and communities. Unfortunately, over harvesting palm can threaten the livelihood of these communities as well as the shaded forests where the palm plants thrive. Uncontrolled exploitation of these forest products will lead to the rapid depletion of their rich biodiversity, including the many bird species that migrate to these regions during the winter. On the other hand, decreased harvesting caused by reduced market demand could have the same detrimental effect because forests that no longer provide a source of palm income are at risk of destructive conversion to large agricultural fields for other crops or grazing.
Protecting these forests and local jobs requires a delicate balance between retaining a market for palm and encouraging sustainable harvesting practices. Markets for palm must remain steady to prevent the forest from being destroyed for other uses. At the same time, those markets must be supplied with sustainably harvested palm to protect the unique and important biodiversity of the region and maintain the local communities’ standard of living.
There is currently an effort to certify palms from communities practicing sustainable forestry and fair trade. These communities have taken upon themselves to learn about harvesting practices that minimize impact on the natural forest where the palm grows, and ways to protect this wild species of palm. By certifying these operations, communities that engage in good management practices have the opportunity to benefit directly by receiving a higher price for their palms.
You can help to launch this initiative by participating in this pilot program. We are currently attempting to make a first transaction between a certified palm operation and congregations in the United States. By ordering palms through this program for the upcoming Easter Celebration, you will show forest communities in Guatemala and Mexico that people are willing to pay for a better environment and a more just distribution of benefits from non-timber forest products (NTFPs).
How To Work With Your Retailer/Distributor
Talk to your current palm distributor(s) and ask if they are aware of the source of their palm fronds. Let them know about your environmental and social justice concerns. Ask them if they would be willing to participate in distributing Chamaedorea palm fronds from certified operations.
How To Work With Your Congregation
Inform your parishioners about the opportunity to improve the conservation of the forests and forest species by improving the livelihoods of people living within and near the forests. Instruct them about the value of their consumer choices and how these choices have direct impacts on the environment and social justice.
Other Ways You Can Help
Promote the use of Chamaedorea beyond Easter: Encourage parishioners to use certified palms in their wedding or funeral floral arrangements.
Support market impetus at home: Get involved and informed about the many ways you can improve people’s livelihoods through market efforts here at home. Organize informational seminars and invite your local florist suppliers to gain their interest and inform them how they can benefit from participating in these efforts.
Sponsor a forest community: Find a forest community in either Mexico or Guatemala where efforts are underway that are consistent with your congregation’s social and environmental justice initiatives.
What Can Parishioners Do?
Encourage parishes to purchase sustainable palm for Palm Sunday services, weddings and funeral floral arrangements. Environmental certification of palm and floral products is not yet commonplace in North America, so it's a good idea for consumers to ask about the source of the palm they purchase. Persistent inquires will let vendors know that consumers care about environmentally sustainable products.
MONTREAL, 2 April 2004: As Christians prepare to celebrate Palm Sunday this weekend, the Commission for Environmental Cooperation (CEC) and Rainforest Alliance are reminding parishioners about the unsustainable practices often used to harvest the 30 million Chamaedorea palm fronds delivered to Canadian and United States churches.
Harvested in Mexico and Guatemala, Chamaedorea palm fronds are often used as ornamental indoor plants and decoration in floral arrangements, but Palm Sunday services account for up to US$4.5 million-or close to 10 percent of the total demand-of Chamaedorea palm sales in the United States alone.
Unfortunately, many palms are unsustainably harvested. Peasant workers often harvest the entire plant, leading to the over- harvesting of the species, the potential destruction of rain forests, and the depletion of many bird species that migrate to these regions in the winter.
"It's a situation similar to fair trade, organic and shade-grown coffee," says Chantal Line Carpentier, head of the Environment, Economy and Trade program at the CEC. "Environmental certification, or eco-labeling, could be used to stimulate a sustainable palm market that would benefit the consumers, the producers and the environment."
Rebecca Butterfield, director of the TREES program of Rainforest Alliance, says: "Our goal is to develop best management practices and added value for sustainable forest management practices. The market offered by Canadian and US churches provides an additional outlet for forest products and an opportunity for communities to earn a decent living while protecting their forest."
A survey commissioned by the CEC last year showed the majority of Christian congregations would be willing to pay nearly double the current price they pay for certified palm. In fact, 10 percent of the 300 Christian congregations surveyed indicated they were already engaged in some kind of fair trade effort.
The CEC and Rainforest Alliance, a pioneer in forest certification, are engaged in a pilot project to link Chamaedorea suppliers in Mexico and Guatemala with Canadian and US churches. They hope to engage producers, wholesalers, and church buyers to create a more environmentally sustainable Palm Sunday celebration.