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How an Edible Larva is Putting Palm Trees in Danger

Updated: Jan 4, 2022

In the Amazon region, the larva of a beetle known as picudo is considered a delicacy among indigenous people, and are eaten raw, fried or roasted.

The beetle lays its eggs in the trunk of the chonta tree where, after growing to the right size, the famous mayones or chontacuros can be harvested (by cutting down the tree).

As you may know if you’ve been following us, Omar Tello has made it his life's mission to restore his piece of the Amazon rainforest and to rescue as many native tree samples as he can. He has rescued several varieties of the chonta palm and has planted them on his land.

The Chontaduro, (Bactris gasipaes) also known as beach palm, is endemic to the southwestern Amazon region. It can be found from Honduras in the north, to Bolivia in the south, from sea level to up to 1200 meters above sea level.

This historically important tree is the only palm tree that was domesticated in the Americas by the indigenous people. The Amazon region of Ecuador has the greatest genetic variety. The cultivation patterns created before the westernization of agriculture (monocultures, chemical pesticides and fertilizers) maintained the rainforest’s biodiversity.

The agricultural method the native people developed is known as an anthropogenic forest system: the forest’s natural composition is slowly altered by its inhabitants, by introducing useful species, and managing the vegetation and the animal populations. The end result is an ecosystem very similar to the original forest, but with many resources useful for humans. The chonta thrives in precisely this type of agriculture.

The chonta tree was domesticated due to its many different uses. The young stem, known as heart of palm, can be eaten as a vegetable; it can also be pickled and used in ceviches and salads. The fruit is also edible; from its fermented dough, the indigenous people make chicha and a type of bread. The cooked fruit is also eaten directly: grilled or baked and served with salt. Also, an oil used in cooking is collected from the water in which the fruit is boiled.

Both the heart of palm and the fruit can be harvested without cutting down the tree.

Unfortunately, to obtain the chontacuro, the tree has to be cut down. Due to this practice, it’s now rarely found in the wild. Furthermore, there are enormous agro-industrial plantations, where there is no interest in the entire fruit, but only in the palm hearts. Also, in these monocultures, all of the trees are often plagued by the picudo beetle, due to not being part of a biodiverse ecosystem. Ironically, the larvae are not harvested in these plantations: the trees are infested and eventually die.

In a biodiverse forest, however, the picudo beetle will only target a few trees. In this case, the local people will wait for the trees to have ripe fruits and palm hearts ready for harvesting, before cutting them down. In this way, they take advantage of all the resources the tree provides.

Humans for Abundance has come up with a way of helping families secure a reliable source of income and for protecting these trees, at the same time. By purchasing one of our ecoservices —with just a tiny fraction of your income— you can protect these very useful trees.

If you wish to help, please click on this link.


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