Collection methods and yields

High yields have only been projected from small plots or population data. Mora Urpí (1984) reports 25 T/ha/yr of fresh bunches from non-selected, fertilized germplasm ("mesocarpa" Occidental landrace) growing in good edapho-climatic conditions in Costa Rica. Clement (1987) projected 6-10 T/ha/yr from population data ("microcarpa" Pará landrace) near Manaus, for unselected, unfertilized germplasm on poor soils with three months drought. Moreira Gomes et al. (1987) estimated yields of 24 T/ha/yr from the Fonte Boa ("mesocarpa" Solimões landrace) population for unselected, unfertilized germplasm on poor soils with a favorable climate. Clement & Mora Urpí (1987) state that much higher yields (50 T/ha/yr) can be attained within a cycle or two of any improvement program, although factors causing fruit drop must be eliminated, especially on poor soils.

Given these yields and strong market acceptance where it is well known, there are good prospects for producing good quality fruit for the local and regional markets. Market saturation levels are, however, unknown. Excessive supply would lower prices from the current US$ 0.50 to US$ 1.00 per kilogram range for best quality fruit. This might increase consumption somewhat, but could lower farm income, unless alternative uses are developed.

Potential yields for animal ration should be similar to those for fresh fruit, especially if used in silage. For use in chicken feeds, the fruit would have to be dried, thus reducing the final product to 50% of the initial yield. A breeding program for fruit for animal ration would select for starchy, low oil fruit and should yield in excess of 25-30 T/ha/yr of fresh bunches (Clement 1988).

In many areas of the humid tropics cereals do not yield well without considerable amounts of inputs and know-how. For example, on the nutrient poor oxisols near Manaus, maize small holders rarely obtain more than 800-1000 kg/ha/yr. This suggests that pejibaye might develop a market as a component of animal rations, if it can be produced cheaper than imported maize. Tracy (1985) was able to obtain a small profit when using sun-power to dry second-quality pejibaye for animal ration in a rainy climate. A more efficient, low-cost drying method should improve profits.

As Tracy (1985) pointed out, in regions that do not produce bread cereals, like the humid tropics, even 10% substitution of wheat can have a favorable effect on the local balance of payments, by reducing imports. Yields of 10-12 T/ha/yr of dry flour are thought to be possible, if pests and diseases are controlled (Clement & Mora Urpí 1987) and would probably be economically viable. Phytosanitary quality control would be extremely important [re Piedrahita & Velez's (1982) 30 percent unacceptable fruit quality levels; as this flour would go to human consumption it must be of high quality].

Clement & Arkcoll (1985, 1991) suggest that yields of 2-3 MT/ha/yr of oil are immediately feasible with in vitro cloning and could easily be raised to 5+ MT in an improvement program. The germplasm is available (Clement & Arkcoll 1985) and trial crosses have been made, but long-term financing is required for this breeding program. The problem of fruit drop must also be resolved before this product can become commercially viable.

Current pejibaye collection technology is a long pole with a hook or curved knife on the point to pull or cut the bunch from the stem, with a bag or pad to stop the bunch from shattering on the ground. Needless to say this is extremely inefficient but small holders rarely have the economic resources necessary to develop or buy better technology. Some work has been done at the University of Costa Rica, with mixed results, i.e. the technology looks good in the laboratory but has not been accepted by farmers. During the 1983 US AID-sponsored collecting trips, a farmer was observed in Coari, Amazonas, Brazil, using a basket on his knife-tipped pole; the cut bunch would (generally) fall into the basket, which would slide down the pole. This is a simple, promising technology which deserves further study.

Moreira Gomes & Arkcoll (1988) reported first harvest yields (2 years) of 1.2 MT/ha of export-quality palmito on fertilized oxisols in Manaus, falling to between 600 and 900 kg/ha at subsequent harvests. This decline is probably due to poor plantation management, rather than biological factors, as it has not been reported in Costa Rica. Zamora (1985) reported 3 MT/ha/yr of field harvested palmito in Costa Rica, of which 20 to 30% is export quality. Zamora (1985) also reported on a density trial whose highest yields were above 3.5 MT/ha/yr. With selected germplasm and good agronomic practices it may be possible to attain nearly 2 MT/ha/yr of export-quality palmito. The useable-residues yields are usually calculated at triple export-quality yields.

The mature palmito is obtained by cutting the stem just under the apical meristem (base of the palmito) with a machete and removing the outer leaves and petioles. Because pejibaye is a caespitose palm (i.e. it suckers from the base) it is not killed by this harvesting and new stems are managed to replace the cut stem.

Propagation and cultivation methods

"Income Forests"


The following simplified propagation and cultivation methodology may be followed by small farmers with little capital (Clement 1989). More elaborate systems are obviously possible.

In areas where pejibaye is indigenous, seed should be obtained from plants selected for desirable fruit characters, high yield and spinelessness. In other areas the local agronomic research institute could obtain selected material from one of the research contacts listed below. The seeds could be germinated in loam or comported sawdust substrate beds; if local soil pathogens are a problem, pure sand, mulched with sawdust, can be used. Germination under these conditions takes 60-120 days. Mora Urpí (1984) gives details for seed germination in plastic bags, where germination percentage is usually higher but practice is required.

At the two-leaf stage, the seedlings should be transplanted to 2 kg black plastic nursery bags or similar containers, because root damage from bare-root planting or other root disturbance at final transplant results in poor field establishment. Fifty percent shade is recommended during germination and early nursery growth. (Palm thatching makes an excellent shade as long as light recommendations are followed.) With a loamy, manured substrate, seedling growth is rapid; the plantlets should be hardened-off when about 40-50 cm tall, 4-6 months after transplanting.

A good planting pit is important for successful field establishment: a minimum size is 40 cm in all dimensions. This should be partially filled with animal manure, organic refuse and about 100 g of phospherous (P) and well mixed with the topsoil from the pit a month or so before planting out. The subsoil can be used to form a catch basin on the downhill side of the planting pit. The seedlings should be planted about 10 cm below the soil surface, without filling the planting pit to bury them, so that adventitious roots can take hold and develop as new primary roots.

Planting out should be done at the start of the rainy season. The pejibaye is extremely hardy, however, and has survived the Manaus dry season with only one month of rainy weather; this is not recommended, however! If the plants have been correctly hardened-off at the end of the nursery stage, little or no growth pause will occur after planting out. Weed control is important during the first two rainy seasons in order to allow the young plants to get above their competitors; the cut weeds can be used as mulch. This should be done without turning the soil, as pejibaye roots are distributed superficially (Ferreira et al. 1980) and easily damaged. Herbicides should be avoided, as these damage root growth also.

The young plants should receive a dressing of nitrogen (N) during the first two seasons after planting out. In poor soils this should be about 25 g of N at the beginning, middle and end of the rainy season. In year-round rain areas, this can be appropriately modified. Mineral N can be substituted by animal manure or well-managed leguminous ground covers. Perez (1987) recommends Pouraria phasealoids and Desmodium ovatifolium as ground covers; the former is a climber which must be adequately managed at all times, the latter is shrubby and must be cut back at the beginning of the dry season to serve as mulch and to avoid competition for water. Poor nutrition leaves the plants weakened and less resistent to pests, such as leaf mites that can reduce growth. The pejibaye is resistant to most leaf herbivores, but even spiny types are avidly consumed by cattle, goats, horses and donkeys.

As the plants attain reproductive age, between 2 and 4 years after field planting (if adequately fertilized and managed), they require more nutrients to yield well. This is because the fruits are mineral-rich and these nutrients are exported during harvest. On the nutrient-poor oxisols near Manaus a single-stemmed plant requires approximately 200 g P. 150 g N and potassium (K) and about 50 g magnesium (Mg) - the P and Mg applied at the beginning of the rainy season and the others applied at intervals of two or three months. Again, manure can supply most of the and leguminous covers the N. Other organic wastes (including bunch waste) can supply more of these and other minerals. Phosphorus must be used, as this is the major limiting element Arkcoll 1982). Micro-nutrient deficiencies are becoming evident in Amazônia, after several years of NPR+Mg fertilization. The use of manures, other organic wastes and leguminous covers should delay micro-nutrient deficiency symptoms in most areas.


Detailed agronomic instructions and coats for monoculture plantations have been presented (More Urpí 1984, Mora Urpí et al. 1984).

For monoculture fruit plantations, 5 × 5 m spacing is recommended on poor soils and 6 × 6 m on rich soils. Contour planting is recommended and steep slopes should be avoided. Large-scale monocultures are not recommended for Amazônia, because of probable pest and disease attack. Small-scale monoculture (0.5-2 ha) are an appropriate farm component.

Long-term management of the plantation will require occasional plantation renewal, when the plants become too tall for economic harvesting of the fruit (More Urpí 1984). Plants should be managed to have one principal fruiting stem and a single off-shoot for renewal. The off-shoot will grow vigorously during the first years and can be eliminated when its palmito is harvestable. An off-shoot from this off-shoot can then be maintained to replace the' principal stem when it is too tall. Upon cutting the principal stem, generally at 10-15 years, its palmito can be extracted and its wood exploited. This form of management will give periodic harvests of palmito and wood to supplement the farmer's diet and income, and will occur in both monoculture and agroforestry systems. After renewal, the new reproductive stem will take 2-3 years to start fruiting.

Until recently the pejibaye has been relatively free of pests and diseases, principally because it has been a low-density agroforestry component rather than a monoculture. As even small-scale monocultures have spread in Costa Rica and Brazil, "new" pests and diseases are being identified; the "catalog" of economic pests and diseases is expanding rapidly. As pejibaye spreads around the world it will probably enjoy a decade or two of relative freedom from attack in new areas, followed by an increasing pest and disease load.

Several diseases attack the fruit (More Urpí 1984), generally after an initial insect-caused lesion. Phytophtera has been identified as an occasional problem in Costa Rica (E. Vargas, pers. com. 1986) and may be expected to spread, especially in poorly managed and fertilized plantations. Leaf mites attack certain genotypes in some areas (More Urpí 1984). Coleoptera and diptera fruit and seed borers are frequently found, although seldom serious to date (More Urpí 1984). A coleoptera seed borer has recently been found in Rondônia (Brazil) that eliminated nearly 100% of the yield in one area. In Manaus, poor plant nutrition and a prolonged drought weakened the plants and opened the way for several coleoptera, diptera and hemiptera which eliminated 85-90% of the expected harvest in the INPA plantations in 1988.

If pejibaye is intended for palmito production, it should be planted at 2 × 1 m, with the same planting pit and N dressing as used for fruit production. The first harvest should start after 18 months in the field. When ready for harvesting the trunk should have a visible internode. The numerous off-shoots must be managed continuously (More Urpí 1984): for maximum palmito yield in subsequent harvests leave 3-4 shoots after pruning back most of the older leaves to reduce sun-scorch; for maximum palmito size leave only one shoot, also pruned back. All waste from rough palmito extraction should be left in the field and all waste from export-quality extraction should be returned to the field to serve as mulch and to reduce mineral exports.

Further expansion of pejibaye culture can be expected by stimulating popular consumption of palmito, currently considered a luxury export product and mostly consumed on holidays. In Peru, where palmito consumption is more common, this expansion should be easier (INIPA 1987). Small-scale palmito monocultures (0.5-2 ha) are thought to be a viable option in most of Peruvian Amazônia because of this tradition and could easily be introduced in other areas.


The pejibaye is a component of most Amerindian swiddens in western Amazônia and parts of northern South America and southern Central America. There are ethnohistorical reports of near monoculture stands in southern Central America (Patiño 1963), but most reports show that it is a common element at low density. In traditional Amazonian agroforestry, the pejibaye density can probably be raised from the current 3-20 plants/ha to 20-50 plants/ha without much cost or increased risk of pest and disease attack. It can be introduced to new immigrants as components of their home gardens and new perennial plantations. The limiting factor is expansion of human and animal consumption of the fruit, in order to raise demand and justify the increased density.

Clement (1986b) discussed the Costa Rican agroforestry uses of pejibaye and the Brazilian institutional experimentation with this species. The Executive Commission for the Promotion of Cacao (CEPLAC) now recommends pejibaye as a productive shade for cacao (Theobroma cacao) in Amazônia, (P.T. Alvim, pers. com. 1988). Use of pejibaye as a productive shade should be considered throughout the humid tropics as an alternative to coconut shade in cacao and coffee plantations. In these areas it can be planted in a uniform lattice or in single or multiple rows running with or across the sun's path, depending upon the light requirements of the associated species. When planted in rows, pejibaye can be a border for any field or fruit crop, although it should not be considered as a wind break if high yields are desired.

In multistrata systems, the pejibaye should be considered as a component of the upper stratum, as it will not produce well if shaded by taller trees. Having been domesticated in an agroforestry environment, the pejibaye appears to be tolerant of competition from shorter statured plants, except Graminae. Several experiments have been conducted that show that pejibaye monocultures can be economically initiated with understories of rice, beans, maize or cassava; some experiments have been conducted with semi-perennial fruits species, such as pineapple (Ananas comusus), papaya (Carica papaya) and passionfruit (Passiflora edulis).

Agro-silvi-pastoral systems have been suggested for pejibaye, but may not yield well if large animals are allowed to disturb the root system. Cattle trample and destroy the superficial root mat, which accounts for 60-70% of the root absorptive surface; they, are also avid consumers of pejibaye leaves from the off-shoots and even of the adventitious roots that develop from the first few internodes. Swine are also destructive of the root system and should not be turned loose, except if abundant fruit bunches are available on the ground. Pejibaye should, however, be considered as a component of agro-silvi-pastoral systems where the fruit, preferably ensiled, are taken to animals in another part of the farm and the manure returned to the plants.

"Income Forests"

The pejibaye cannot be considered a climax component of an income forest because it would not fruit in the shade of taller dicots. It could be used, however, as a successional component in an agroforestry system designed to mature into an income forest.

Salvador Paitán (Univ. Amazônia, Peruana, pers. com., 1991) has used pejibaye in this way, although his agroforestry systems are designed to mature into tree lots destined for export-quality timber. This follows from its widespread Amerindian use in swidden-fallow systems, where it provides fruit until shaded by returning secondary or primary forest species.

Research contacts

Dr. Jorge Mora Urpí Escuela de Biologia, Universidad de Costa Rica, San Jose, Costa Rica. Dr. Mora Urpí i. the world specialist on the species.

Dr. Mario Murillo, Facultad de Agronomia, Universidad de Costa Rica. Dr. Murillo coordinates studies on pejibaye for animal feeds.

Dr. Jose Ciccío, Centro de Investigación en Productos Naturales CIPRONA, Universidad de Costa Rica. Dr. Ciccío coordinates studies on composition and uses.

Dr. Victor Patiño, Apdo Aereo 21-54, Cali, Colombia. Dr. Patiño is Colombia's specialist on the species and has done the most detailed ethnohistorical surveys.

Dr. Marilene L. A. Bovi, Seçao de Plantas Tropicais, Instituto Agronômico de Campinas, 13100 Campinas, SP, Brazil.

Jorge Perez, INIAA/NCSU, Est. Exp. Agric. "San Ramon", Yurimaguas, Loreto, Peru.

Mario B. Pinedo P., INIAA, Est. Exp. Agric. "San Roque", Iquitos, Loreto, Peru.

Charles Clement, INPA Cx. Postal 478, 69.011 Manaus, AM, Brazil.

Commercial contacts

Sr. Antonio Vieira Neto; Gerente Técnico; Borracha Natural BONAL S.A.; Rua Rio Grande do Sul, 3200; 69.900 Rio Branco, AC, Brazil.