Sustainable Fruit

Across lowland peat
and flooded woods
you sway,
rounded crowns
piercing canopies
with chestnut orbs
that flicker in the sun.
Juices,
jams,
wines,
ice creams,
roofs and carpets,
lanterns,
dreams.
How many things
connected
with your existence.
We cut you down
with extreme prejudice,
severing the roots
that bind all things
to this land.
Wistfully you whisper
that if we would
only hold
our bodies close,
then your treasures
would be ours
to keep.

An example of the moriche palm from Calanoa Lodge beside the Amazon River in Colombia
(Image Credit: Dick Culbert via Wikimedia Commons).

This poem is inspired by recent research, which has found that changing the ways in which fruit is gathered from palm trees could help to conserve Amazon peatland forests.

The moriche palm (mauritia flexuosa) is a palm tree that is native to South America. It is dioecious (i.e. each palm has either male or female flowers, but not both) with the female palms producing an edible fruit rich in vitamin C that can be eaten raw, fermented, and made into jams, ice cream, and other foodstuffs. Similarly, the palm leaves can be woven into various items and made into roofs for homes, while the stalk is made into carpets, fishing poles, lanterns, and torches. Given their utility, these palms play a significant socio-economic and ecological role in South America and many communities depend on them for their survival. For example, in Peru moriche palm ecosystems represent 1% (approximately 7000 km2) of the Amazonian valley forest and contribute millions of dollars per year to the country’s GDP. Where currently harvested, sale of the palms’ fruit represents up to 22% of the income of families from this region. In addition to this, the tropical peatlands that sustain these palms in north-eastern Peru are one of the most carbon-rich landscapes in the world; keeping these forests intact ensures that this carbon is kept in the ground rather than being emitted into the atmosphere and exasperating the current climate catastrophe. Unfortunately, as the fruits are typically harvested by felling female palms, the unique biodiversity (and high carbon stocks) of these ecosystems is under threat.

In this new study, researchers used data from 93 sites across the palm swamp forests in north-eastern Peru to measure the effect that fruit harvesting was having. They found that cutting down female palm trees to harvest the fruit has halved the total amount that is available to local communities. The researchers also found that in those regions where the fruits were harvested by climbing, there was a much higher number of fruit-bearing female trees. Given that each of these trees takes about 10 years to reach maturity, by switching to tree climbing to collect the fruit, this study found that the overall harvest could increase by 51%, generating an additional $62 million a year for the local economy, as well as helping to keep the high levels of carbon in the ground. These findings therefore demonstrate the high cost of unsustainable resource extraction, whilst also outlining a practical path to conserve and sustainably exploit one of the most carbon-rich landscapes on our planet.

6 thoughts on “Sustainable Fruit”

  1. When you don’t understand
    Your own roots
    When you are blind
    To your connections
    You depend on illusions
    Believing destruction is progress
    – B. Valerie Peckler

    Reply
  2. Hugging
    you close we live:
    our bodies and senses nourished.
    Striking you down is death for you;
    for us.

    Thank you. Your creations inspire me to write. Best regards.

    Reply
  3. As the blog says, the findings demonstrate the high cost of unsustainable resource extraction, whilst also outlining a practical path to conserve and sustainably exploit one of the most carbon-rich landscapes on our planet.

    Reply

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