MONTREAL - April 2 - As Christians prepare to celebrate Palm Sunday this weekend, the Commission for Environmental Cooperation (CEC) and Rainforest Alliance are reminding parishioners about the unsustainable practices often used to harvest the 30 million chamaedorea palm fronds delivered to Canadian and United States churches.
Harvested in Mexico and Guatemala, chamaedorea palm fronds are often used as ornamental indoor plants and decoration in floral arrangements, but Palm Sunday services account for up to US$4.5 million-or close to 10 percent of the total demand-of chamaedorea palm sales in the United States alone.
Unfortunately, many palms are unsustainably harvested. Peasant workers often harvest the entire plant, leading to the over- harvesting of the species, the potential destruction of rain forests, and the depletion of many bird species that migrate to these regions in the winter.
"It's a situation similar to fair trade, organic and shade- grown coffee," says Chantal Line Carpentier, head of the Environment, Economy and Trade program at the CEC. "Environmental certification, or eco-labeling, could be used to stimulate a sustainable palm market that would benefit the consumers, the producers and the environment."
Rebecca Butterfield, director of the TREES program of Rainforest Alliance, says: "Our goal is to develop best management practices and added value for sustainable forest management practices. The market offered by Canadian and US churches provides an additional outlet for forest products and an opportunity for communities to earn a decent living while protecting their forest."
A survey commissioned by the CEC last year showed the majority of Christian congregations would be willing to pay nearly double the current price they pay for certified palm. In fact, 10 percent of the 300 Christian congregations surveyed indicated they were already engaged in some kind of fair trade effort.
The CEC and Rainforest Alliance, a pioneer in forest certification, are engaged in a pilot project to link chamaedorea suppliers in Mexico and Guatemala with Canadian and US churches. They hope to engage producers, wholesalers, and church buyers to create a more environmentally sustainable Palm Sunday celebration.
What can parishioners do?
Encourage parishes to purchase sustainable palm for Palm Sunday services, weddings and funeral floral arrangements. Environmental certification of palm and floral products is not yet commonplace in North America, so it's a good idea for consumers to ask about the source of the palm they purchase. Persistent inquires will let vendors know that consumers care about environmentally sustainable products.