In the semi-arid state of Bahia, licuri palms (Syagrus coronata), with their hanging bunches of thousands of green fruits, are easy to spot from a distance. The imposing licuri palm is also called the solitary palm of the Brazilian caatinga, the characteristic biome of the northeast of the country, running from northern Minas Gerais to southern Pernambuco, through the states of Bahia, Sergipe and Alagoas. The palm was once an integral part of the landscape and its fruits a common food. Even O Tratado Descritivo do Brasil, published in 1587 by the Portuguese explorer Gabriel Soares de Sousa, contains a description of the flavor and quality of the licuri palm fruits.
In the Piemonte da Diamantina region, in the heart of the Bahian caatinga, the main harvest takes place between January and May. The bunches are cut using a knife or a scythe, collected in a typical basket made from woven lianas called a balaio and transported on the backs of mules or on women’s heads. The women both pick and process the fruit. Sitting at home or in the shade of a tree, they use a stone to break the shells of the small nuts.
Birds love to eat the outer flesh of the licuri palm fruits. The flesh surrounds a shell which in turn hides a kernel with a very intense coconut-like flavor.
Also known as ouricuri, aricuri, nicuri, alicuri and coquinho-cabeçudo, the licuri plays a fundamental role in the local economy, and for many families it represents the only source of income. The fruits can be eaten unripe or ripe, raw or toasted, or they can be pressed into milk or oil.
Children use them to make necklaces that they wear while playing, so that they can have a snack whenever they like. They are still an essential ingredient in traditional Easter dishes, served with fish or chicken, while the milk is used to flavor rice.
In 2005, the creation of Coopes (a production cooperative in Piemonte da Diamantina, based in Capim Grosso) brought together a number of licuri harvesters and established rules about the harvesting and processing of the fruits. The cooperative unites 120 women from 30 different communities. They harvest and break the fruit and use them to make different products like cookies, sweets, milk, bars and oil, and they also make palm straw crafts.
As well as identifying possible new markets, the cooperative is fighting against deforestation and for the protection of the palms from fires. Many local communities depend on the palm tree for their livelihoods, and they are essential to the survival of two of the region’s most beautiful birds, the hyacinth macaw and Lear’s macaw. Both feed on licuri fruits and are at risk of extinction.
For the last five years, Coopes has been organizing a licuri festival, held under the palm trees, with typical foods, a shell-breaking competition, live music and dancing. The Presidium, in collaboration with Coopes, is promoting the product on the local and national market. One of its first activities will be training and awareness raising for the Coopes producers and administrative staff.
Piemonte da Diamantina region, Bahia state, northeastern Brazil
120 women from 30 different communities
Josenaide de Souza Alves
Tel. +55 74 36510225 - 91998569