UMCOR / News Room / News & Features / Archives 2009 / 0120 - Raise an Eco-Palm Branch

Raise an Eco-Palm Branch

January 20, 2009— Anna Sentana lives in the town of Carmelita, Guatemala where she and her community rely on the harvesting, processing, and selling of palms for their livelihood. Much of what Anna's community harvests will eventually be used in churches across the US for Palm Sunday celebrations.

Though US palm sales total more than $4.5 million every year, harvesting communities like Anna's rarely share in this bounty. Fortunately, through the Eco-Palm Project, harvesters in Guatemala and Mexico are receiving fair wages for their labor. The work empowers women in the cooperatives by providing jobs, increased income to help send their children to school and provides opportunities for leadership positions. Palm harvesters also incorporate environmentally sound harvesting techniques for a better ecosystem.

UMCOR is partnering with the University of Minnesota to build support in the US for the Eco-Palm Project which is an effort of the North American Commission for Environmental Cooperation and the University of Minnesota Center for Integrated Natural Resources and Agricultural Management. The project helps to sustain forestry, protect local jobs and helps preserve the livelihoods of small-scale farmers by ensuring fair wages.

Last year, a total of 582,900 palm stems were purchased from 2,123 congregations nationwide. More than 36,800 were orders from United Methodists. Raise an Eco-Palm branch on Palm Sunday, April 5 and support this social and environmental justice project through the purchase of Eco-Palms. The deadline for submitting Eco-Palm orders is March 2, 2009.

Conventional Palm Harvesting

More than 300 million palm fronds are harvested each year for the US alone— most of them for Palm Sunday or church-related events. Families in Guatemala and Mexico rely heavily on the palm harvest for income, but if they are not engaged in a fair trade exchange, they earn very little.

In conventional palm harvesting, community members are hired by local contactors who then sell palms to large floral export firms. Payment to workers is based on volume, so harvesters are encouraged to gather a large number of palms without regard for the quality. As a result, up to 50 percent or more of the palms are later discarded because of poor quality—threatening the rainforest as more fronds than necessary are cut.

Sustainable Harvesting

In Guatemala and Mexico, an effort is underway to develop a new harvesting practice that protects the environment and minimizes direct impact on the natural forest, while providing a fair income for the workers.

The Eco-Palms, as they are called, are harvested in a more sustainable way. Harvesters are trained to gather fronds in a way that allows the palm to continue to grow. The harvesters are also paid on the quality of the palms they harvest rather than the quantity, which helps to limit the amount of palms taken from the forest. Community members then sort and package their own palms rather than relying on middlemen for the job. This ensures that more of the money paid for the palms actually goes to those who harvested them.

UMCOR supports fair prices for farmers and the investment in communities, people, and environmental sustainability. Consider purchasing Eco-Palms for your worship service on Palm Sunday and on behalf of fair trade practices.

How You Can Help

Your purchase of Eco-Palms will ensure that palm harvesters are earning a fair income for their labor, and that palms are being harvested in an environmentally sustainable way. You are also helping to send young girls to school, employ women, and build community centers.

Visit www.ecopalms.org or call the University of Minnesota at 612-624-7418 to place your order by March 2. You may also download the available resources on this web page to share with your congregation, or give to Sustainable Agriculture and Development, UMCOR Advance #982188 which supports small-scale farmers. Online Giving