Reviving Brazil’s Babassu: A Sustainable Alternative to Imported Palm Oil for a Greener Future

Katie BrennanKatie Brennan
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January 23rd, 2024

Following the Amazon Cooperation Treaty Summit, Brazil's 20×20 initiative, in collaboration with the Race to Resilience, is spearheading the adoption of the babassu palm tree as a sustainable alternative to imported palm oil, promoting environmental responsibility and empowering local communities.

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In the wake of the Amazon Cooperation Treaty Summit (ACTO), a pioneering initiative is gaining traction in Brazil's rural landscapes, illuminating a sustainable path forward. Partnering with the Race to Resilience, the 20×20 initiative is championing a native resource—the babassu palm tree—as a sustainable alternative to imported palm oil, fostering environmental responsibility and economic empowerment in local communities.

Brazil's shift away from imported palm oil is not merely an environmental choice but a commitment to cultivating a locally sustainable alternative. Initiative 20×20, in collaboration with local communities, is spearheading transformative agroforestry practices that benefit 1,500 rural families, nurturing a future where thriving babassu palms symbolize both flourishing ecosystems and communities.

 

A Vital Ecosystem Player and Economic Resource in Brazil

The babassu (Attalea Speciosa) is a resilient palm species flourishing on the peripheries of Brazil's major forests—the Amazon, the Caatinga, and the Cerrado. These unique babassu forests, known as Babaçuais, span approximately 20 million hectares, primarily in Maranhão, Tocantins, and Piauí. The babassu palm not only thrives in dense closed forests but also acts as a pioneer species capable of rejuvenating degraded and deforested areas, facilitating the growth of other species. Beyond its ecological benefits, the babassu is a valuable economic asset, producing oil-rich coconuts and robust plant fibers.

Despite its potential, babassu oil production faced a decline since the late 1980s, attributed to the expansion of intensive agriculture and livestock production. The invasion of cheap, imported palm oil from Asia further exacerbated the situation, jeopardizing the livelihoods of over 200,000 people dependent on the babassu industry.

In response to this challenge, Tobasa Bioindustrial de Babaçu, a certified B Corporation founded in the late 1960s, emerged with a mission to enhance babassu coconut production efficiency through technological innovation. Tobasa has become the sole industrial complex of its kind in Brazil, utilizing every component of the babassu coconut to minimize waste, increase profit, and reduce environmental impact.

 

 

Tobasa's Innovative Partnerships and Technological Advances

Through strategic partnerships with local communities, Tobasa ensures a consistent and high-quality supply of babassu palms. Technological advancements now allow Tobasa to utilize the entire coconut, maximizing the economic benefits for farmers. Kaeté Investimentos, an Initiative 20×20 financial partner, joined forces with Tobasa in 2016, investing R$8 million (US$2.2 million) to enhance industrial processes and increase production capacity.

As of 2018, Tobasa purchases babassu coconuts from over 120,000 hectares, benefiting thousands of local producers and expanding its reach by 60 percent since 2016. The collaboration has also led to the involvement of an additional 1,500 families, indirectly incentivizing tree planting and land restoration.

Tobasa-affiliated communities manage an area that stores over 19 million tons of CO2, sequestering an additional 1 million tons annually. As the demand for plant oils grows domestically, the restoration of more land holds the potential to store more carbon and benefit even more communities. In the quest for a sustainable and greener future, Brazil is sowing the seeds of change, one babassu palm at a time.