Macaúba palm: energy, food and income for smallholder farmers in Northeast Brazil

Farmer extracting oil from macaúba kernels at the Sítio Boa Esperança association in Barbalha, with equipment and training provided by the Programme for the Development of Alternative Biofuel Crops. Photo: World Agroforestry Centre

Integrated production of bioenergy and food can be viable and profitable for smallholder farmers in Northeast Brazil, say researchers from the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF) and the Brazilian Agricultural Research Corporation (Embrapa). Studies initiated in 2014 show that macaúba (Acrocomia aculeata), also known as macaw palm, can be cultivated alongside grains and legumes for food, animal feed and biofuels such as biodiesel and aviation biokerosene. Biodiesel is widely used in Brazil. The macaw palm can be as productive as oil palm, but is still in the process of being domesticated and adapted to the region’s mostly semi-arid conditions.

Experiments were carried out in the two states of Piauí and Ceará, as part of the Programme for the Development of Alternative Biofuel Crops, led by ICRAF and financed by the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD). Studies and pilots in Brazil, India and Kenya demonstrated that biofuels can be sustainably produced, improve livelihoods and contribute to rural development.

“We are pleased with the progress made so far,” says Rodrigo Ciannella, a programme officer at ICRAF. “Despite being a medium

Biodisel Macaúba. Photo courtesy of Secretaria de Agricultura e Abastecimento

to long-term investment, significant achievements are already visible,” he adds. The Boa Esperança Community in Ceará State, for instance, is now benefitting from training and access to new and modern equipment designed to improve the processing of macaúba fruits. Community members are dryland subsistence farmers, mostly women, who have few livelihood options. While they traditionally collect and sell oil-rich fruits from macaúba and other native palms found in the region, they are now able to add value to the fruits through more efficient methods. Farmers can make an additional three dollars for each litre of extracted oil, and produce nutritious seedcake that can be used for both animal feed and human consumption.

Read the full article published by Embrapa in Portuguese here

Also see a recent article that discusses the opportunities and challenges for sustainable macaúba production through agroforestry systems

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Susan Onyango

Susan Onyango

Susan Onyango is the communications specialist for climate change for the World Agroforestry Centre and is based at the headquarters in Nairobi, Kenya. With over 12 year’s experience in communication, she promotes the World Agroforestry Centre’s work on climate change, writes blogs and provides communication advice and support to scientists. Susan holds a MA communication studies and a BA in English.

Twitter: @susanonyango

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