Chontaduro chocoano (Bactris gasipaes, of the Arecaceae family) is a palm grown in Quibdó, Colombia, on the banks of the river Atrato. Around 50 different species have been identified along the riverbanks. It can grow up to 20 meters high, with feather-shaped branches. The ovoid, fleshy fruits grow in bunches from the central trunk and each bunch can contain between 80 and 100 fruits that weigh five to seven kilos. In the Chocó region, the fruits are larger than in the rest of the country and the different varieties include: chontaduro colorado, with a high oil content; capón, which is green, does not ripen and has a powdery and dry texture; and amarillo, which needs to be exposed to sunlight to develop a sweet flavor.
All three varieties are eaten after being cooked in water for around 30 minutes and left in the sun. They are eaten with salt or other local seasonings. It is a wholesome product, as it is high in protein, fats and vitamins. It can also be used to make flour for making dough, biscuits and bread. It is sometimes used as feed for animals, such as pigs and chickens.
Chontaduro chocoano is currently at serious risk of extinction, because in 2009 it was struck by an epidemic of a small insect known as “picudo negro”, which attacks plane tree plantations: the insect enters the buds and gets as far as the leaves, destroying the whole plant. A number of organizations are now beginning to restore plantations from seeds kept by several families. The sudden disappearance of this plant has certainly caused many problems in terms of the diet of the community of Quibdó, which considers this product to be a reference point.
For centuries, the historic production areas have been the tropical and subtropical zones of Central America. The indigenous communities lived on the fruit, both the flesh and the seed, which tastes like coconut. In the Chocó region, along the banks of the Tutunendo and Atrato rivers, it has always been a traditional food for families. It is difficult to estimate how much chontaduro chocoano is currently produced from plantations and it is not sold in markets. The product is at serious risk of disappearing because projects to revive old crops with new seeds take time. In addition, a campaign was started after 2009 to disinfect the region, which caused soil fertility problems, so planted seeds rarely bear fruit. Attempts are now being made to establish new crops, managed using organic methods, like in the past.