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Conservation and Society
An interdisciplinary journal exploring linkages between society, environment and development
Conservation and Society
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Year : 2004  |  Volume : 2  |  Issue : 2  |  Page : 251-272

The Ecology and Harvest of Andiroba Seeds for Oil Production in the Brazilian Amazon

Forest Resources Cooperative Extension, 7 Ferguson Building, Penn State University, University Park, PA 16802, USA

Correspondence Address:
Campbell Plowden
Forest Resources Cooperative Extension, 7 Ferguson Building, Penn State University, University Park, PA 16802
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

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Andiroba (Carapa guianensis Aubl.: Meliaceae) is a canopy tree found in moist tropical forests in Amazon, Central America and Africa. Manual and mechanical methods have been used to extract oil from its seeds for use in insect repellent and traditional medicine, and as an ingredient in mosquito repellent candles and medicinal soap. Forest communities need a better understanding of the ecological and economic aspects of andiroba seed and oil production to decide if and how collecting more of these seeds can be done sustainably and profitably. I worked with Tembe Indians in the eastern Brazilian Amazon in 1998-99 to investigate the ecology and economics of andiroba seed production. We found that andiroba tree (?10 cm DBH) density in mostly intact forest near Tekohaw village averaged 6.5 trees ha-1. While some trees started reproducing in the 10-20 cm DBH class, 46-63 per cent of trees ? 30 cm DBH had flowers or fruits in the two seasons observed. Trees reached peak flowering in the mid-rainy season in March, and most fruit fell in the early dry season in June and July. In 1999 a group of forty­six reproducing trees yielded an average of 0.8 kg of seeds tree-1. Up to 29 per cent of these seeds had been infested by moth and fly larvae, partially consumed by mammals or germinated. Each tree produced an estimated average of 1.2 kg seeds with 33 per cent being removed by mammals. This production is much less than the 50-300 kg seeds per tree averages cited in other accounts. The study's one measurement of seed transformation to oil (14.4 kg seed to a litre oil yield) was less efficient than the 3.4-9 kg seed to oil (litre) ratio reported in other accounts. Given the extensive time needed to collect and process seeds, this enterprise would provide minimal financial reward with the typical selling price of $3 per litre. It may be worthwhile for some communities to collect seeds from the most productive trees for sale to dealers or buy a seed press to increase processing efficiency. Andiroba density could be readily planted in forest gaps and secondary forests to increase seed supply for human harvesters and wildlife.

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