Saving an Endangered Palm: The Case of Carpoxylon

(page 3)

As a first step to determine the likely success of an enterprise founded on the sales of Carpoxylon seeds, market research was undertaken. This research revealed that there was an interest from overseas palm collectors to purchase seeds of the Carpoxylon palm from the endemic source in Vanuatu. This was the basis of the economic strategy for a conservation enterprise. Next, the three-fold objective of the conservation enterprise was established:
(1) through the sale of Carpoxylon macrospermum seeds, to create local economic incentives and awareness that will promote the conservation and replanting of Carpoxylon palms;
(2) to earn profits that could subsidise in-situ conservation activities for the palm; and
(3) to distribute Carpoxylon seeds throughout the world, thus increasing its chance for survival.

Additional research had to be undertaken before the first sales could begin. A palm specialist was engaged to advise on suitability of seed collection and local nursery establishment. He recommended collection only from cultivated trees in order not to jeopardise chances of regeneration of the natural stands. In order to effectively control this restriction, it was determined to collect seeds only from the islands of Malekula and Pa’ama where no natural stands were known to exist.

A nurseryman dealing in palms was engaged to advise on seed collection, storage, packaging and export. He also advised on seed germination, pricing of the seeds and suitable overseas agents to contact. It was important that reliable retailers be identified who would not undercut the market.

A trial run was made of seed collection, appointment of a local supply agent to purchase from villagers, packing, and exporting. The seeds were exported to retailers in Australia and the USA. Feedback from these retailers was very useful in guiding the project on improving services such as the selection of fresh seeds, husking of seeds, packaging for shipment, and methods of shipment.

Germination trials were run to be able to predict viability of seeds related to shelf life. Germination rates were found to be variable for the different sources. The rate from the main source for export seeds, however, was found to be high at 80% and more. This gave a measure of confidence in the reliability of the export seeds.

Based on the preliminary enterprise and scientific research, FSP felt there was enough evidence that both economic and conservation mandates could be successfully combined for a start-up enterprise, and a registered company, Island Palm Products (IPP), was established under an FSP trading arm known as Island Conservation Initiatives.

IPP was capitalised with a total of about US$50,000 from a USAID grant in October 1995. A business manager was hired from overseas in April 1996, but because of the restricted growing season of the Carpoxylon palm, full business activities did not initiate until about August 1996, when the first seed shipments went overseas. Thus, Island Palm Products has been effectively trading for just two years.

Because of the seasonality of the Carpoxylon seeds, product lines have been added to include the marketing of other palm and horticulture products. IPP currently exports seeds of Pelagodoxa henryana, Caryota ophiopellis, Veitchia montgomeryana, Cycas seemannii, and Metroxylon warburgii in addition to the seeds of Carpoxylon macrospermum. IPP also sells seedlings and small plants of Carpoxylon and the Pelagodoxa on the local market. In addition, IPP offers novelty items such as T-shirts; thus, the conservation component is marketed as well as the resource itself.
There is potential to investigate and test markets for more value-added products or a wider variety of seeds, including non-palm seeds. However, to expand into some of these markets will require an investment in long term plant endurance trials and marketing promotion.

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