Why order Eco-Palms?
- Approximately 300 million palm fronds are consumed in the United States annually.
- A congregation of 1,250 members orders approximately 700 fronds for Palm Sunday services.
- Eco-palms are purchased directly from harvesters at 5 to 6 times the normal payment per frond.
- Your purchase of eco-palms helps improve standards of living and protect forests.
Environment and indigenous communities at risk
Palm-producing areas tend to be the home of poorer segments of the rural population where people rely heavily on the palm harvest for income. Although purchases of palms in the U.S. may reach as high as $4.5 million each year, the palm harvesters themselves earn very little.
Harvesting palm products is an important source of supplemental income for many indigenous families and communities in Guatemala and Mexico. However, over-harvesting palm can threaten the livelihood of these communities as well as the forests where the palm plants thrive and provide the shade required by the palms.
Typically, palm harvesting is done by community members hired by local contractors, who then sell palms to large floral export firms. Payment is based on volume, so the harvesters are motivated to gather a large number of palms without regard for the quality. As a result, up to 50 percent or more of the palms are later discarded because of poor quality. This method risks the rapid depletion of the forest's rich biodiversity, including the many bird species that migrate to these regions during the winter.
Many palm producing areas in Central America are important biosphere reserves where palms are part of the natural forest.
Good news: a healthier harvest
In Guatemala and Mexico, an effort is underway to develop a new structure for harvesting palms that protects the environment and also provides a fair income for the harvesters of the palms.
Called eco-palms, these palms are harvested in a more sustainable way, whereby the harvesters are paid on the quality of the palms they harvest rather than the quantity, which helps to limit the amount of palms taken from the forest. These communities have taken it upon themselves to learn about harvesting practices that minimize impact on the natural forest where the palm grows, and ways to protect this wild species of palm.
In fact, in Guatemala, the palm harvesters have received SmartWood certification from the Rainforest Alliance, a “seal of approval” that ensures consumers that the wood products they purchase come from forests managed to conserve biodiversity and support local communities. In some areas, where the waste ratio previously reached as high as 50 percent, now the discarded palms account for only 5-7 percent of the harvested volume.
Rather than sending the harvested palms off to a distant warehouse for sorting and packaging, the community members complete those tasks themselves and sell their palms directly rather than relying on middlemen — ensuring that more of the money paid for the palms actually goes to those who worked the hardest to provide them.
When done in a socially and environmentally just way, palm-gathering protects — rather than depletes — valuable natural forests. Steady markets for palm branches prevent the forest from being destroyed for other uses. Eco-palms protect the unique and important biodiversity of the region and maintain and improve the local communities’ standard of living.