Located in the transition between the caatinga and the Amazonian domain, Mata dos Cocais occupies land in the northeastern subregion called Meio-Norte, in the states of Maranhão and Piauí. The vegetation is associated both with the equatorial climate that appears in the west of Maranhão, and with the tropical semiarid climate of Piauí.
This forest is made up exclusively of palm species, such as carnauba , babassu , oiticica and buriti , which is the largest palm tree in Brazil. On the drier east face, there is a predominance of carnauba, and on the wetter one, to the west, babassu reigns.
Palm trees provide livelihoods for a number of communities that engage in plant extraction. It is estimated that three hundred thousand people live off the babassu collection, of which 90% are women. Babassu can reach 15 m in height and its bunches reach up to three hundred coconuts.
From this fruit is extracted an oil that is widely used in the manufacture of soap and even in the production of margarine; its leaves serve as coverings for houses. However, the expansion of cattle ranches in the area has caused the replacement of babassu by pasture. In addition, some farmers charge women so that they can extract coconuts from palm trees on their properties.
These women, called quebradeiras , conquered, with the support of social movements, the approval of some laws to protect babassu palm trees, as well as the freedom to extract the fruits without paying for it. Many regional cooperatives in Mata dos Cocais have managed to set up soap factories and even export babassu oil to cosmetic companies abroad.
According to Health-Beauty-Guides, Carnauba also supports numerous local communities; its specific characteristic is the production of wax on its leaves. This happens as a way to protect it from the loss of moisture in a place where droughts are prolonged and low relative humidity prevails.
The importance of this palm tree is increased by the fact that the harvest of its numerous by-products can be done during the dry season, when workers are idle due to the end of the harvest in the fields of corn, beans and rice. Thus, the activity allows for the establishment and generation of income in this difficult period.
The tree of providence
Carnauba is known as the tree of providence because it provides numerous by-products. The wood, extracted from its stem, can be used to cover houses; the dried leaves are used to make ropes, hats and piassava.
The tree’s leaves also provide the famous carnauba wax, which can have many applications, including industrial ones, after undergoing a refining process: from electronic components, such as computer chips , to medicines that use the plant’s anti-inflammatory properties.
Cellulose can also be obtained from its leaves. And from the seed of its fruit an oil is extracted, which is converted into raw material for animal feed. Not over yet; the pulp of carnauba can be used as an ingredient in sweets.