Safeguarding the future of a threatened palm species in Brazil

Conservation Problem

The Butiá Palm, Butia eriospatha, is a threatened species existing in heavily fragmented landscapes in Southern Brazil. Due to social instability, the knowledge of its multiple uses as a non-timber forest product are being lost.

Project Goal

To locate remaining sub-populations of the Butiá palm in Paraná state and identify communities with the will and capacity for Butiá conservation.

Why this species?

Brazil’s Atlantic Forest is a global biodiversity hotspot. It is one of the most threatened habitats in the tropics and is highly fragmented due to the expansion of agriculture and forestry. The Butiá palm, listed as Vulnerable by the IUCN Red List, is found only in the southern Brazilian states of Santa Catarina, Rio Grande do Sul and Paraná.

A population of Butia eriospatha in Palmas with a Pine monoculture on the horizon.

This project is focussed in Paraná state, where Butiá sub-populations are scattered sporadically. These sub-populations are threatened by deforestation for crop expansion and competition with quick-growing exotic pine species, which are grown for timber. Furthermore, cattle grazing is common in Butiá groves which impairs regeneration and fire, a pasture management tool, damages mature individuals.

Traditionally, stands of Butiá were managed as an alternative livelihood source with their fruits, seeds and leaves used in juices, jellies, handicrafts and other products. Now, however, many farmers see Butiá as an obstacle to agricultural expansion since they are exceedingly hard to remove, and the fruits are used simply as livestock feed. The framing of Butiá as a problem species with limited use is exacerbated by a high turnover of residents in many settlements within Paraná state and systemic problems regarding land ownership. These two issues contribute to myopic natural resource management and a gradual loss of traditional knowledge regarding the value of this palm.

Recently emerged Butia eriospatha seedlings. Credit: Sociedade Chauá.

What are we doing about it?

The long goal is to reverse the current trend of degradation. GTC’s long-term partner Sociedade Chauá located stands of Butiá and communities with which to promote Butiá conservation and sustainable use. As well as searching for the trees, meetings were held with local people and other stakeholders to assess their knowledge of the species, including the traditional uses of its products and their interest in conserving and restoring it.

Looking forward, Sociedade Chauá is exploring numerous avenues for action, which include building capacity for cooperation and entrepreneurship within communities, incentivising the restoration and protection of Butiá through the promotion of its potential for sustainable economic use and training stakeholders in its propagation and cultivation.

A Butia eriospatha mother tree from which seeds were collected. Credit: Sociedade Chauá.

Key achievements

Work so far has identified four villages with significant stands of Butiá. In two of these villages, São Lourenço and Margem do Iratim, the inhabitants showed a strong level of interest in Butiá conservation and its potential for economic use.

Sociedade Chauá have also identified local partners for future work including the Association of Organic Producers of Palmas (APROPAL) and Palmas Municipal Nursery.

Stakeholder meetings highlighted that disease may be present within Butiá populations. The prevalence and nature of any disease will be investigated in follow-on work, as will the potential occurrence of other threatened trees species around São Lourenço and Margem do Iratim.

Contact details

For more information on this project, please contact globaltrees@fauna-flora.org

Header image: Butia eriospatha population in the state of Rio Grande do Sul. Credit: Victoria Price.

Did you know?

Monkey puzzle wood can be used to reconstruct past climatic conditions.  This is done by measuring growth rings which go back many hundreds of years.