Palm Sunday special: Global demand for xaté palm threatens Belize’s forest

As it’s Palm Sunday, we thought it a highly pertinent day to highlight the overexploitation of palms in Central America. Many people don’t realise the impact that global demand for palm leaves is having on some of the world’s most pristine rainforests.

Xaté is a type of palm that is commonly used in flower arrangements across the USA and Holland, among other countries. Church flower arrangements on Palm Sunday make up as much as 15% of global demand for this leaf.

Wild xaté is currently overharvested across its range (Mexico, Guatemala, and Belize and other Central American countries), which is directly threatening the stability and security of its rainforest ecosystem.

FFI and our Belizean partner Ya’axché Conservation Trust (Ya’axché) have been working to reduce the pressure illegal xateros (xaté harvesters) are having on Belize’s precious natural parks to ensure a future in the wild for this beautiful yet slow growing palm.

In fact, only last week Ya’axché rangers apprehended 16 Guatemalan xateros illegally harvesting xaté from Bladen Nature Reserve. You can find out more about the incident in Ya’axché’s blog.

Ya’axché had also been involved in joint patrols of Columbia River Forest Reserve but following an armed confrontation with xateros while patrolling the reserve, Ya’axché made the executive decision to withdraw its rangers from areas of the reserve that are high-risk. It is considered too dangerous to put their unarmed rangers at risk.

In addition to protecting the reserves, Ya’axché is also piloting sustainable shade-grown xaté under small-scale cacao farms which the organisation also helped to establish.

The growing problem of xaté harvesting in Belize’s reserves has brought to light Ya’axché Conservation Trust’s need for better communications equipment. For just $12,000, the organisation could buy everything they need to be able to respond rapidly to situations as they arise in the field.