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close this bookAmazonia: Resiliency and Dynamism of the Land and Its People (UNU, 1995, 253 pages)
close this folder6. Agro-forestry and perennial cropping systems
View the document(introductory text...)
View the documentDiversity in space
View the documentDiversity in time
View the documentAgro-forestry integration with aquaculture and livestock
View the documentLaissez-faire biocontrol
View the documentInnovation at Tomé-Açu
View the documentRevival in the Bragantina zone
View the documentThe pioneer experience: Transamazon and Rondônia
View the documentThe emergence of nurseries for perennial crops
View the documentComparisons with the Old World tropics
View the documentCash crops on the horizon
View the documentConstraints on further intensification

Cash crops on the horizon

Two palm species offer the potential for heart-of-palm (palmito) production in Amazonia and other parts of the humid tropics: peach-palm and açai. Peachpalm has been cultivated in Amazonia and other parts of lowland tropical America for thousands of years for its vitamin D rich fruits. Costa Ricans have pioneered the use of peachpalm for palmito, particularly around Guapiles, and now export significant quantities of heart-of-palm, particularly to Europe. Selections have been made that can be harvested for palmito within 18 months.

Entrepreneurs in Amazonia are also exploring the potential of peach-palm for palmito production. Both small and large landholders could benefit from growing peach-palm for the canning industry. The owner of Fazenda Carapana, at km 86 of the Manaus-Itacoatiara Highway in Amazonas, has established an experimental plot of 0.5 ha of peach-palm for palmito production. At the moment, he is test-marketing jars of palmito in restaurants in Manaus, but plans to expand his peach-palm orchard to 30 ha, all for heartof-palm. Palmito is prepared manually at the ranch, and by-products are fed to pigs and cattle. Cattle are also fed leaves of peach-palm, because spineless forms are used for heart-of-palm. Heart-of-palm production thus fits well with livestock production on the 150 ha ranch.

The owner of Fazenda Carapanã obtained 400 spineless seedlings of peachpalm from the National Institute for Amazonian Research (INPA - Instituto Nacional de Pesquisas da Amazonia) in Manaus. INPA in turn received some of its peach-palm germ plasm from Yurimaguas in the Peruvian Amazon. At a nearby property, Fazenda Baxica, the same owner has established 250 ha of peach-palm, much of it for seed production. The owner hopes to obtain financing for a small palmito factory on the Carapanã ranch to process his own production and eventually for neighbours. He also anticipates generating income from the sale of peach-palm seedlings from the Baxica ranch. Both ranches were established exclusively for cattle-raising but, as pastures have become more difficult to maintain, the owner has diversified into perennial crops.

In addition to cattle, pig, and palmito production, Fazenda Carapanã is also expected to produce coconut, açaí, cupuaçu Barbados cherry, and "Sunrise Solo" papaya for the Manaus market in the near future. Over the long term, the ranch may diversify further with Brazil nut and timber trees, such as mahogany and cedar (Cedrela odorata).

The largest plantation of peach-palm in the Brazilian Amazon is managed by Fazenda Bonal at km 70 of the Rio Branco-Porto Velho Highway (BR 364). Approximately 400,000 peach-palms have been planted on 275 ha, all for palmito production. Peach-palm seedlings are given 100 g of P205 at planting; thereafter no further fertilizer is applied except for groves set aside for seed production. A thick ground cover of Pueraria fixes nitrogen and helps reduce soil erosion. The red-yellow ultisols on the ranch are relatively fertile for Amazonian uplands, but some top dressing with phosphorus will likely be needed in the future. Fazenda Bonal has a small plant to bottle the heart-of-palm, which is sold mainly in São Paulo. An old wood-burning boiler from England is used to sterilize the jars, thereby reducing energy costs.

The 10,247 ha Fazenda Bonal was originally purchased to set up a rubber plantation. Rubber was first planted on the property in 1976, and now 900 ha are planted to the tree crop. But the need to doublegraft for high latex production and resistance to South American leaf blight, combined with the virtual elimination of subsidies for rubber in Brazil, has signalled a need to diversify. Fazenda Bonal still plans to stay in rubber production by specializing in high-quality rubber (folha clara brasileira) for medical purposes, but some of the rubber trees are being cut down to make room for peach-palm. Most of the property remains in forest.

In flood-plain environments, açaí (Euterpe oleracea) could be planted for palmito production. Native stands of this graceful, waterloving palm produce much procured purple fruits from February to September, which are mashed and mixed with manioc, flour or made into thick, carbohydrate-rich drinks and savoury ice-cream. Within the past two decades, açaí stands have been felled for palmito production, particularly north of Marajó Island. As in the case of peach-palm, açaí coppices readily if cut from the base. Plantations using rapid-growing selections might be economically feasible in some flood-plain areas near palmito factories.

Another potential cash crop for small- and medium-scale growers is superior mangoes. Several farmers in the vicinity of Tomé-Açu and Castanhal, Pará, have experimental plantings of "Keitt" mango, a selection from Florida (Smith and Popenoe 1992; Smith et al. 1992). Consumers in large Amazon cities, such as Belém and Porto Velho, pay high prices for premium mangoes, such as pear-sized "Haden" and giant "Keitt," which are trucked from southern Brazil, particularly São Paulo. Some farmers in the Brazilian Amazon have noted the large price discrepancy between locally grown mangoes, which tend to be small and fibrous, and the generally larger, less stringy commercial cultivars.