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Macaúba palm holds energy, food and income promise for Brazilian smallholders

Integrated production of bioenergy and food with Macaúba palm can be both viable and profitable for smallholder farmers in Northeast Brazil, say researchers from the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF) and the Brazilian Agricultural Research Corporation (Embrapa).

According to researchers at ICRAF and Embrapa, integrated bioenergy and food production of the macaw palm can be both viable and profitable for smallholders (photo courtesy Daniela Collares / 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, which is widely used in Brazil, and biojet.

As productive as oil palm

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. Despite being a medium to long-term investment, significant achievements are already visible, said Rodrigo Ciannella, a programme officer at ICRAF.

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.

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