Licuri Palm Nuts – Woman Gathers and 90% of the Lear’s Macaw Diet

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slow food international's turin logoSo many stories, so little time. While reading through the information provided to me by Slow Food International’s press office, I came across the the story of licuri palms. The palms produce a local, traditional food that’s harvested by women gathers grouped together by a local cooperative, and the fruit is essential to the diet of two very beautiful birds, Lear’s macaw, which 90% of it’s diet is from this tree, and the hyacinth macaw. Both birds are threatened by extinction due the habitat destruction of the licuri palm.

I didn’t know about the licuri palm until I read this article by Josenaide de Souza Alves, coordinator of the Brazilian Licuri Slow Food Presidium. (A Slow Food Presidium is a local project that focuses on preserving traditional foods and creating a viable program for local producers to stabilize production, establish stringent production procedures and promote local consumption.) From the linked article;

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.

That date, 1587, is significant. It establishes a baseline of knowledge about this tree in modern history. A lot of exploration of the new world was happening than, and while all of this was new to the Europeans, to the indigenous species of the region, these discoveries were centuries old.

As with any local food source, the licuri nut plays an integral role in the local economy. Here in the United States, a big push is on for people to get back to buying local. For many people in the world, as matter of necessity, it’s always been the local economy  Traditionally, woman would gather the licuri nuts, and process them. Again from the article on the Salone del Gusto Terra Madre website;

In the Piemonte da Diamantina region, in the heart of the Bahian caatinga, the main harvest takes place 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.

The nuts are also part of the traditional Easter meal in the region. Since 2005, a cooperative, Coopes, groups 120 different woman gathers from 30 communities to harvest the nuts, and process them into products for sale.

As with most local food sources, the licuri nut is a food source for all inhabitants of the region, including the hyacinth macaw and Lear’s macaw. From the link;

An amazing 90% of the Lear’s macaw’s diet comes from the Licuri palm. There can therefore be no confusing the fact that the macaws are totally dependant on this palm and their conservation has to ensure the continuation of the Licuri into the future. Unfortunately however, as the human population in this region has expanded the number of small subsistence farms have increased, further reducing the available natural habitat. Perhaps an even greater concern is the grazing of cattle over large ranches. In many case land is cleared by fire and consequently many Licuri palms are lost. Efforts may be made to protect adult palms by the people clearing the land but this is only because their fruit bunches can be fed to cattle.

Think about that, what if your 90% of your diet was from one source and it was disappearing? Scary prospect I would say. As mentioned, the pressure on the licuri plam comes from land being cleared by fire. The fact that one species of life relies on the fruit of this tree for 90% of its diet, should raise the value of this tree above anymore land needed for cattle grazing.

This tree was described in 1587 by an explorer of the new world. The nut of this tree provides 9o% of the diet of the Lear’s Macaw, and is traditional food of the people who live in this region of Brazil. It’s part of their Easter meal, which to the people who are devout, and celebrate Easter, this holiday is most revered. It’s demonstrates of the value of biodiversity, that being the dependence on one tree for one species of a bird.

Brazilian Licuri Slow Food Presidium is a great example of the role of a Slow Food Presidium. To the local populations, the licuri plam is staple in their lives and traditions, and essential to the survival of Lear’s Macaw. To lose the palm and Lear’s Macaw would be tragic. With a local Slow Food Presidium working to ensure the survival of the licuri palm, the chances are much better for survival, and to ensure that part of the inherent biodiversity of our planet doesn’t disappear.

This is one example of the information that will be shared at Salone Del Gusso Terra Madre. Josenaide de Souza Alves, coordinator of the Brazilian Licuri Slow Food Presidium will be there. If I find him, and  some licuri nuts at the Marketplace, I’ll be sure to let you know.

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