|Amazonia: Resiliency and Dynamism of the Land and Its People (UNU, 1995, 253 pages)|
|5. Silviculture and plantation crops|
Another exotic palm, coconut, has emerged as a viable cash crop in eastern Amazonia, for both small- and large-scale producers. Fresh coconuts from smallholdings sell briskly at local markets, whereas coconuts from commercial plantations are sent to Belém and northeastern Brazil to be processed for the confectionery trade.
A Brazilian firm based in Maceio, Sócôco, is establishing a 5,000 ha coconut plantation near Belém and has planted 3,600 ha of coconut south of Belém at Acará. The plantation at Acará began in 1981 with support from the International Finance Corporation and SUDAM. Sócôco's plantations at Acará are relatively homogeneous since they contain only a few, high-yielding selections, dominated by PB 121 and PB 111, with 70 and 15 per cent of the planted area, respectively. Genetic homogeneity at Acará has not led to any serious pest or disease problems thus far. Selections planted by Sócôco contain Malayan Dwarf germ plasm, so lethal yellowing - which has ravaged coconut plantations in parts of Central America and the Caribbean - is not a threat. Marchitez, caused by a protozoan, is the main disease problem. After marchitez, the second most important cause of coconut tree mortality is lightening. An unidentified fungal disease of the leaves, called queima de folha, can also be a problem.
Yields at Acará on eight-year-old plantings with a density of 160 trees/ha are in the order of 10,000 coconuts/ha/yr. Fertilizer is needed because the yellow oxisols are infertile. Leaf analysis is performed in Montpellier once a year to calibrate fertilizer doses; seedlings are given 200 g urea, 300 g K, 15 g Borax, and 800 g super-phosphate when planted. Salt is added to the fertilizer mix after the third year to facilitate the uptake of nutrients. Nitrogen fertilizers are no longer applied after the third year as the Pueraria javanica ground cover, which was introduced from Cote d'Ivoire, becomes well established. Pueraria also suppresses weeds, an important consideration in an area receiving around 3,000 mm of rain a year.
Only a small fraction of Sócôco's 17,000 ha property at Acará has been cleared. The vicinity of the plantation is not densely settled, but neighbouring communities benefit from the 600 jobs generated by the Acará coconut operation. A pasture of Brachiaria humidicola is maintained to supply milk for some of the employees; this pasture, already 12 years old in 1991, also supports some 50 mules, which are used to take coconuts to waiting trucks (fig. 5.5).
A 500 ha coconut plantation, operated by TABA, a regional airline, was established near Mosqueiro on the Bragantina coast without fiscal incentives. The TABA plantation contains approximately 50,000 trees and produces some 30,000 coconuts a month. The plantation is genetically heterogeneous, since most of the trees originated from seedlings collected from villages in widely scattered locations in the Bragantina zone and on Marajó. The TABA plantation is gradually becoming more homogeneous, however, as dead trees are replaced by selections made at the plantation.
The only significant pests thus far are beetles, particularly Rinco-pharum palmarum. A well-established ground cover of pueraria protects the soil and provides nitrogen to the palms (fig. 5.6). TABA is diversifying its coconut operation by experimenting with intercrops, such as lime, soursop, and guava (fig. 5.7). Also, several small reservoirs have been created to raise pirarucu, a highly valued fish in local markets.