Use of Palms in northwestern Bolivia

Master Thesis

The Palm family (Arecaceae) is both ecologically and economically among the most important plant families in the tropics. Palms provide local people with edible fruits, oils, palm-heart, fibers, thatch, housing material and shelter, tools for domestic use and for traditional hunting and fishing, medicines, etc. In fact it is difficult to imagine traditional rural life in the tropics without the numerous products provided by these remarkable multiple-purpose plants.

In Bolivia, there are ca. 84 native species of palms, included in 27 genera that may be found in all parts of the country except the high Andes. Most palms grow scattered in forests or savannah vegetation mixed with many other species, but some form extensive nearly pure stands often under swampy conditions. Overall, the diversity of palms tends to rise with higher rainfall, and the majority of species are found in the lowland Amazon forests, particularly in the very humid forests on adjacent Andean foothills (the Yungas region). This study will be carried out in the Madidi National Park in the Yungas. More than half of Bolivian palm species are known to occur there, and the local people exploit products from many of these species.


The objectives of this study are to:

• Document and quantify the diversity of uses of palms in the Madidi region.

• Investigate the relationship between people’s knowledge regarding the uses of palms and socio-economic factors (gender, age, income, ethnic background, etc.).

• Investigate the relationship between people’s knowledge regarding palms and the diversity and abundance of palms in the vicinity of the individual communities.


The fieldwork will be carried out in the Madidi National Park and Natural Area of Integrated Management (PN-ANMI), located northwest of La Paz, Bolivia. Madidi is one of the largest protected areas in Bolivia, covering about 2 million hectares. Within the park, altitudinal gradients from near sea level to the altiplano at 4000 m, combined with a high variation of soil types, contribute to the existence of numerous types of forests and savannas. Madidi is the home for indigenous groups descending from Amazonian and Andean communities (Tacana, Lecos, Esse ejas, Quechuas, Aymaras). Fieldwork will be done during March–June 2005 in collaboration with informants and co-workers from selected communities.

We will use qualitative and quantitative methods to investigate the uses and knowledge within the different communities about palms including: (1) Semi-structured and structured interviews to evaluate people’s knowledge about palms and their uses; and to evaluate differences in the knowledge related to socio-economic variables (gender, age, income, education, family size, time living in the community, etc.). (2) Transects (5 x 500 m) through the different locally recognized forest formations, to record the abundance of the different palm species. (3) Interviews of selected informants carried out in the transects, to collect information about the uses and common names of palms. (4) Statistical methods will be used to analyse the ethno-botanical and ecological information gathered, to evaluate the relationship between knowledge and palm diversity and abundance in the area.

We expect that the study wil provide information on:

  The diversity of palms species found and used in the area and the relative contribution of each species in the livelihood of the local people.

• The relationships between palm knowledge and socio-economic factors as well as the diversity-density (availability) of palms communities. This has practical importance concerning nature conservation, as it demonstrates which population segments exploit the most natural resources, and help describe the process behind resource exploitation and depletion.

• The results will provide elements to indigenous communities for the definition and implementation of management plants.


Participant Narel Paniagua Zambrana, supervised by Henrik Balslev & Mónica Moraes