Unlocking a new value chain for heart of palm that protects Colombia’s forests and forest communities.
The Colombian Pacific is largely occupied by Afro-Colombian and indigenous communities in collectively owned territories. In post-conflict Colombia, these communities, which have traditionally been highly isolated, have felt an upsurge in external pressures. The Pacific has subsequently become one of the country’s most important deforestation hotspots.
Most of its deforestation is driven by communities illegally logging, either for subsistence use or for commercialisation through intermediaries. Given better options for sustainable use of forest resources, local people could instead be supported to protect and increase the value of an intact forest.
Flooded forests along the Atrato river are rich in the native tree species Euterpe oleracea, known in the region as Naidí. The palm is perhaps better known for giving us the açaí berry, and from it Planeta SAS is harvesting heart of palm, or palmito.
Owned, managed and staffed by local communities in the department of Antioquia, Planeta brings together people from community councils in communal lands and indigenous populations. Representatives from these different communities make up the company’s nine partners, plus an elected president.
Planeta buys harvested palm hearts from associated local collectors to process at a plant in the small village of Vigia del Fuerte, where it directly employs staff members. The company trains and supports the collectors to sustainably harvest the hearts (inner cores from a growing tip of the palm) and pays them per kilo.
From the plant, processed palmito is sold to outlets in Bogota and Medellin where the vegetable’s high quality and social and environmental story commands premium prices. Planeta has successfully secured a partnership with Crepes & Waffles – one of the largest restaurant chains in Colombia – to supply its heart of palm.
Early assessments indicate that Planeta’s heart of palm is profitable and P4F is supporting Planeta to expand. The support will help improve product quality, streamline operations to reduce costs, as well as diversify Planeta’s client-base and product portfolio. Importantly, it will also strengthen forest protection via improved Territorial Management Plans, zero-deforestation agreements and a Payment for Ecosystem Services scheme.
In order to unlock further growth, amplify supply and reach more hectares and people, P4F’s intervention is focused on strengthening the environmental link: tying forest protection and social benefits directly to a premium price.
Planeta has grown significantly over the past two years, mostly driven by the expansion of its supply to its largest buyer: Crepes & Waffles. The restaurant recently announced it will launch a new salad dish that exclusively features Planeta’s palmito.
Planeta has also set up Euterpe oleracea nurseries to expand and diversify its portfolio and 80 families are keen to join the scheme. Committed smallholders will be able to use the trees to begin açaí-based agroforestry on their farms in exchange for zero-deforestation commitments. Planeta can then purchase and process the açaí berries.
Palmito collection is twice as profitable for the community as engaging with illegal timber activities, as well as more secure; as a legal activity, collectors can be trained and granted full certification.
So far the only successful SME in the municipality, Planeta is leading the way in forest protection that brings together both Afro and Indigenous Colombians.
- Vigia del Fuerte, Chocó & Antioquia
- Planeta, BioInnova, C&W, Alsec, Universidal Distridal
- Commodity focus
- Heart of Palm
- Hectares under sustainable land use
- 29,300 (by 2020)
- Private investment mobilised
- £1,000,000 (by 2020)