Monday, August 22, 2011

Biofuel production: A threat to livelihoods

Biofuels are an alternative energy source that can drive local development by generating jobs, know-how and technology. But they can also cause social damage, as locals fear in the case of industrial-scale exploitation of babassu palm trees, which grow abundantly in the wild in central and northern Brazil.

Some 400,000 women and their families living on the eastern edge of the Amazon jungle depend on the babassu palm (Orbignya phalerata) for a livelihood. The women are known as quebradeiras ["breakers"] because they collect and break the coconuts.

These subsistence-level households sell the coconut kernels, from which the oil is extracted and used as vegetable oil and in the soap and cosmetic industries, for cash. They also use the starch-rich fruit to produce a kind of flour, and the rest of the coconut is used for animal feed and charcoal.

The traditional quebradeira communities also use the leaves of the tall babassu palm tree for roof thatch, woven house walls, and basket-making, while the trunks can be used as building materials.

The Interstate Movement of Babassu Coconut Quebradeiras (MIQCB) has warned of the threats to the members' livelihood from the pig iron and ceramics industries, which use the coconut shells and husks to make charcoal on a larger-scale, and pose unfair competition by hiring poorly-paid coconut breakers, said MIQCB adviser Luciene Figueiredo. more