Economic Botany

, 39:113

Subsistence benefits from the babassu palm (Orbignya martiana)

  • Peter H. May
  • Anthony B. Anderson
  • Michael J. Balick
  • José Mário F. Frazão

DOI: 10.1007/BF02907831

Cite this article as:
May, P.H., Anderson, A.B., Balick, M.J. et al. Econ Bot (1985) 39: 113. doi:10.1007/BF02907831


Stands of babassu palms (Orbignya martiana) occupy an area of Brazil estimated at nearly 200,000 km2, concentrated in the states of Maranhão, Piauí and Goiás. Babassu’s cryptogeal germination, establishing the apical meristem of the plant below ground for its early growth and development, enables it to survive human disturbance, making the palm an integral part of shifting cultivation and pastoral farming systems. People obtain a multitude of products from babassu throughout the palm’s life cycle: leaves are used widely for thatch, basketry, and construction; trunks for palmito and bridges; the fruit for feed, oil and, charcoal. As many as 450,000 subsistence-level households rely on the sale of babassu kernels, used in a regional vegetable oil industry, for an important share of their cash incomes. Deforestation pressures and technological innovation toward an industry based on mechanical processing of whole babassu fruit threaten to reduce benefits the palm provides to the region’s rural poor. Understanding how babassu is used by rural families who depend upon it will help to make current efforts at “domesticating” the palm and whole-fruit processing more responsive to human needs.

Copyright information

© The New York Botanical Garden 1985

Authors and Affiliations

  • Peter H. May
    • 1
  • Anthony B. Anderson
    • 2
  • Michael J. Balick
    • 3
  • José Mário F. Frazão
    • 4
  1. 1.Department of Agricultural Economics, Warren HallCornell UniversityIthaca
  2. 2.Departamento de Botânica, Museu Paraense Emilio GoeldiAv. Magalhães BarataBrazil
  3. 3.Institute of Economic BotanyThe New York Botanical GardenBronx
  4. 4.EMBRAPAUEPAE-TeresinaTeresinaBrazil

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