Solitary palm

28 Aug 2012

 width=In the semi-arid state of Bahia, licuri palms (Syagrus coronata), with their hanging bunches of thousands of green fruits, are easy to spot from a distance. The imposing licuri palm is also called the solitary palm of the Brazilian caatinga, the characteristic biome of the northeast of the country, running from northern Minas Gerais to southern Pernambuco, through the states of Bahia, Sergipe and Alagoas. The palm was once an integral part of the landscape and its fruits a common food. Even O Tratado Descritivo do Brasil, published in 1587 by the Portuguese explorer Gabriel Soares de Sousa, contains a description of the flavor and quality of the licuri palm fruits.

A women’s matter
In the Piemonte da Diamantina region, in the heart of the Bahian caatinga, the main harvest takes place  width=
between January and May. The bunches are cut using a knife or a scythe, collected in a typical basket made from woven lianas called a balaio and transported on the backs of mules or on women’s heads. The women both pick and process the fruit. Sitting at home or in the shade of a tree, they use a stone to break the shells of the small nuts. Birds love to eat the outer flesh of the licuri palm fruits. The flesh surrounds a shell which in turn hides a kernel with a very intense coconut-like flavor. Also known as ouricuri, aricuri, nicuri, alicuri and coquinho-cabeçudo, the licuri plays a fundamental role in the local economy, and for many families it represents the only source of income. The fruits can be eaten unripe or ripe, raw or toasted, or they can be pressed into milk or oil. Children use them to make necklaces that they wear while playing, so that they can have a snack whenever they like. They are still an essential ingredient in traditional Easter dishes, served with fish or chicken, while the milk is used to flavor rice. Since 2005 Coopes, (a production cooperative in Piemonte da Diamantina, based in Capim Grosso) groups the licuri gatherers: 120 women from 30 different communities. They harvest and break the fruit and use them to make different products like cookies, sweets, milk, bars and oil, and they also make palm straw crafts.

The forest celebrates
As well as identifying possible new markets, the


 cooperative is fighting against deforestation and for the protection of the palms from fires. Many local communities depend on the palm tree for their livelihoods, and they are essential to the survival of two of the region’s most beautiful birds, the hyacinth macaw and Lear’s macaw. Both feed on licuri fruits and are at risk of extinction. For the last five years, Coopes has been organizing a licuri festival, held under the palm trees, with typical foods, a shell-breaking competition, live music and dancing: “We involve women gatherers and their families, universities, local institutions, schools, the church, trade unions… everyone, really” explains Josenaide de Souza Alves, Presidium coordinator and leader of the licuri convivium. “We organize many different activities: readings, poetry, workshops, cooking courses. Stalls sell licuri-based processed products and we set up exhibition stands where we explain about our research work, how we are committed to safeguarding our region and how licuri helps saving the forest”. The next festival is scheduled in May 2013: “The organization of the event has already started, we have launched new projects and involved NGOs and institutions”. The festival always takes place at the end of the harvesting season and is based on expectations which «so far, to our great satisfaction, have always been overcome! This is an extremely important occasion to spread information on our activity and especially to bring the community together». A pleasant way to think together, stop uncontrolled deforestation and protect endangered communities and species. “Next year, one of the key topics will be the protection of native Brazilian bees, which do not have a sting. They, too, are an endangered species”.



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