Saving an Endangered Palm: The Case of Carpoxylon
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 Paama
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
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
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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