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Cuban Journal of Agricultural Science

Print version ISSN 0864-0408On-line version ISSN 2079-3480

Cuban J. Agric. Sci. vol.52 no.4 Mayabeque Oct.-Dec. 2018  Epub Oct 15, 2018


Review Article

Pig breeding with royal palm nuts and other palm by-products. Short review

J. Ly1  * 

Lázara Ayala1 

1Instituto de Ciencia Animal. Apartado No. 24. San José de las Lajas, Cuba


A survey was conducted among 200 randomly selected Cuban pig farmers and members of cooperatives in the provinces of Artemisa and Mayabeque, in western Cuba, and Granma, in the east of the country. The survey inquired about practices of palm cultivation and animal husbandry of pigs reared with royal palm nuts, and thus a digital data bank was constituted. A second digital bank was organized with documentation located in internet, on palm tree forestry. Surveys indicated that there was not much empirical knowledge related to the cultivation of royal palms in Cuba. Characteristics of the chemical composition of royal palm nuts make its digestible energy content equivalent to that of maize. However, its richness in insoluble fiber, can negatively influence on voluntary intake of food by pigs especially when the proportion of royal palm nuts in the ration exceeds a third of it. No different responses have been found when the animals are fattened with conventional maize/soybean or non-conventional diets, in which the imported food resources have been partially replaced (30-45 %) by an autochthonous one, royal palm nuts in the form of meal, ground after drying, with the rest of the ingredients of the dietary formula. The implementation of new research projects and technological innovation will allow the design of more complete model of non-conventional pig production in the non-state cooperative sector, in cooperatives throughout the country, through the training and participation of staff for the empowerment of the new knowledge in the use of royal palm nuts for feeding pigs, along with the generation of new complementary knowledge to those already existing.

Key words: pigs; royal palms; forestry; performance traits


In Cuba, there is a productive chain that implies pig feeding with palm tree nuts, the fruit of royal palm (Roystonea regia H.B.K. Cook), which was spontaneously established since the beginning of pig rearing in the country, during the first years of Spanish colonization. This chain, little identified abroad (Johnson 2010), and even less known within the Cuban island (Ly et al. 2005), has been essentially characterized by extended rearing of pig in the open air, and by the establishment of a feeding baseline that has been constituted by season fruits, mainly royal palm nuts, which is produced all year. This productive system began, and maintained for centuries, in forestry areas and with rough relief, where no other animal production system has been established and there are no ad hoc established agronomical practices.

The objective of this review was to carry out an update of the knowledge that has been acquired regarding the participation of royal palm nuts, as well as other Cuban palm products, in pig farming, and to propose new research aimed at increasing the efficiency of pigs production in which the feeding system includes the royal palm nuts as an important component in the formulation of rations.


The initiative to develop a Cuban dasonomy to cultivate royal palm trees in a plantation regime has never been taken (Ly and Grageola 2016 and Ayala et al. 2017), generally arguing that the abundance of royal palm trees in the country does not approach interest towards a native palm growing, although there are evidences that the domesticated cultivation of palms such as the oil palm (Elaeis guineensis) or the coconut palm (Cocos nucifera), markedly increase productivity, and it is a highly profitable activity, besides that, from a biologically point of view, oil-producing palms are the most efficient members of the plant kingdom in the capture of solar energy, transforming it into oil (Ly et al. 2005).

The anthropic planting of royal palms is usually carried out in periods after hurricanes go near the Cuban archipelago, and it is generally agreed that only these meteorological events are the maximum destroyers of Cuban palm trees, which are often located on state lands, have no owners, and always lack fertilization, irrigation, or any other dasonomy practice. Thus, there is no accounting for the effectiveness of these eventual plantings. The calculations made with the available information suggest that, under conditions such as the current ones, with the traditional collection of royal palm nut raceme with the help of the “desmochadores”, an average production of each royal palm equal to 51.1 kg/year can be counted (Ly et al. 2005).

With these circumstances as background, an experimental sequence was organized to research if the propagation of royal palms was as part of the production system for pigs, friendly and biologically and economically sustainable, with palms and pigs, which, with the royal palm nuts as a bond, has lasted in Cuban fields for more than half a millennium. A survey was conducted among 200 randomly selected pig farmers and members of cooperatives in the provinces Artemisa and Mayabeque, in western part of Cuba and Granma, in the east of the country. The survey inquired about palm cultivation practices and constituted a digital data bank. A second digital bank was organized with documentation located in internet, on palm tree dasonomy. Finally, a study of propagation of royal palms was carried out. Surveys indicated that there was no much empirical knowledge related to the cultivation of royal palms in Cuba.

The database on propagation of palms collected 100 documents. The study of the documentation allowed to prepare an article review on botany and propagation of the Cuban royal palm, without antecedents since the Roig (1953) era, which contemplated 13 sections and had 90 references. This meta-analysis suggested that the spread of the roystoneas can go from the traditional practice of selecting the plants, or selection of seedlings born at the root of mother palms, to more contemporary ones, such as tissue culture (Ly et al. 2005), allowing the use of genetic tools of selection and hybridization, to obtain trees of lower height and fruits richer in lipids and poorer in cell wall.


Chemical composition of royal palm nuts has been studied in different opportunities but the factors that could influence on that chemical composition are not already known. In average figures, protein content in dry basis is within the range of 6-7 %. It is unknown the composition of amino acids of royal palm nuts. Regarding two important components of royal palm nuts, approximately one third of these fruits is constituted by the fibrous fraction and another third is composed of fat, rich in medium chain fatty acids. These characteristics of chemical composition, make the content of digestible energy of royal palm nuts equivalent to that of maize. However, its richness in insoluble fiber can negatively influence on voluntary intake of food by pigs, especially when the proportion of royal palm nuts in the ration exceeds a third of it (Arias et al. 2015, 2016 and Batista et al. 2015).

There are recent experiments that focus on knowing the performance of fattened pigs with variable quantities, up to approximately 30-40 % of royal palm nuts, which is the proportion of food that every Cuban farmer must obtain by his own means. In tests conducted with pigs housed individually or in groups, no different responses have been found when the animals are fattened with conventional maize/ soybean or unconventional diets, in which the imported food resources have been partially replaced by an autochthonous one, royal palm nuts in the form of meal (Batista 2015 and Oliva 2017).

The experimental results related to the performance of pigs fattened with royal palm nuts meal are in line with other facts to determine rectal digestibility indexes (Oliva 2017). In fact, these nutrient assessment data tend to coincide with all those previously made under similar conditions (Ly et al. 2017a).

Reliable information regarding carcass traits and quality of meat in pigs fed on royal palm nuts meal diets is very scarce. In similarity with the previous fact, what is known about gathering and marketing that exists in the country is also insufficient, although it has not been described anywhere, in the knowledge of the author (Yanes and Hernández 1995 and Arias et al. 2016).


It is argued that real palms produce royal palm nuts throughout the year (Roig 1953). Each tree provides between two and eight raceme of royal palm nuts per year, according to Roig (1953). On this same subject, Ruebens (1968) has commented that this tree tends to have two annual fruiting, a main one that begins in April with the inflorescence and ends in August with the ripening of the fruit, and the other with a cycle that goes from October to February. However, there are usual deviations of this trend, since you can see fructified royal palms throughout the year.

In fact, there is no documentation that could be used to determine how the practice of climbing royal palms for collecting royal palm nuts originated, was established and has developed, and this has probably been a common activity among Cuban farmers, since the landscape of the islands was transformed into another anthropic, with Spanish colonization, which involved the introduction of pigs in the country, among other agricultural practices. Climbing royal palms and cutting them to obtain royal palm nuts, and also pods of leaves, called “yaguas” among Cubans, suitable to pack tobacco leaves, and leaves destined for roofing farm houses or shelters for livestock, could be perceived as another agricultural labor, customary among Cuban farmers, just as cutting sugarcane or taming horses. These royal palm climbers, commonly referred to as “desmochadores” in Cuba, have been mentioned by Zona (1991) and by Núñez (2008). It should be mentioned that the practice of climbing royal palms is not only attributable to Cubans, since it is a millenary practice in Indochina, where it is common to see Cambodians climbing the stipe of Borasus flabellifer (Borin Khieu 1996).

In the knowledge of authors, there are no rational references on the climbing of royal palms, although there are availability of articles related to this climbing in other trees, including palms (Rowe and Isnard 2009). Nevertheless, sporadic publications have been made about the climbing of royal palms in the Cuban press, both digital and printed, in what could be considered a practical contribution to ethnobotany of roystoneas.

Apparently, cutting royal palms is a rather masculine occupation, with no age limit in the Cuban rural environment. Interesting details related to these “desmochadores” have been rather the subject of journalistic articles with more emphasis on the social aspect of this activity, judging by some aspects related to climbing palms that have been commented by Núñez (2008). Some details related to collecting royal palm nuts by the “desmochadores” have been provided long ago (EIA 1969), and in essence, after the passing of time, no significant changes could be noticed, although the economic value of this activity has changed, perhaps in an attempt to get closer to an adaptation in the economic model of Cuba.

There are two or three members of the team of collectors or gatherers of royal palm nuts: the “desmochador”, who climbs the palms, cuts the bunches of royal palm nuts and ties them to a rope to make them descend. The second man would be the roper, who takes care of lowering the bunch tied to the rope that hangs from the tuft of the roystonea, and then transfers to the third man, the loader, who loads and accommodates the bunches in a vehicle that will transfer these royal palm nuts to a certain place where they will be stored. In this place is where the pylon will be, a place where bunches are piled up to ripen and detach from the root. It is considered mature the royal palm nuts whose epicarp or cover is black-violaceous and is already shelled.

Although the use of royal palm nuts in pig feeding is known, little is known from the point of view of its participation in the farmer economy, mainly within family farming (Mesa et al. 1999, Leiva 2001 and Ly et al. 2005). Estimates about the price of a ton of royal palm nuts can be very variable, and it has been reported that in the West of Cuba, this food resource is more expensive than in the eastern provinces (Arias 2016). On the other hand, as evidence of the economic importance of the use of royal palm nuts, Yanes and Hernández (1995) reported that in a municipality in the center of Cuba, Cabaiguán, annual profits of about 475 thousand Cuban pesos could be generated, due to the concept of sales of guano and royal palm nuts.

Arias et al. (2016) researched some aspects of marketing and use of royal palm nuts among 40 pig farmers located in ten municipalities of three western Cuban provinces: Artemisa (Artemisa, Alquízar, Guanajay and Bauta), Mayabeque (San José de las Lajas, Santa Cruz del Norte and Nueva Paz) and Matanzas (Perico, Cárdenas and Unión de Reyes). All the pig farmers were male, and members of cooperatives. The selection of these pig farmers was random and a range of three to five respondents per municipality was reached.

The 97.5 % of the respondents reported that they used royal palm nuts to exclusively feed their pigs and 100.0 % said that this food resource was cheap. Surveys indicated that the endogenous royal palm nuts was not enough to satisfy the feeding needs of the herds, and the needs were usually met by purchasing it (86.7- 87.5 % of the pig farmers), both by cutting and carrying this food resource to the farm, up to 36.0 and 41.3 % of the pig farmers in Artemisa and Mayabeque, but not in Matanzas, or by management of the producer, between 58.7 and 100.0 % in the studied three provinces.

These results could indicate that there would be a sustained activity, perhaps very important, of royal palm nuts marketing, which could allow pig farmers to obtain the necessary food to guarantee a beneficial activity in the fattening of pigs by the modality of agreement between the pig farmers and the swine state company.


In Cuba, some approaches have been carried out with the use of products from other palms, such as coconut oil, Cocos nucifera, and copra (Ly et al. 1999, Ly and Delgado 2009 and Ly et al. 2017b), and the fruit of Acrocomia armentalis (Cuban belly palm). The first of these two palms is very well known (Johnson 2010 and Jaworski et al. 2014), as well as its use in pig rearing, while there is an almost complete ignorance on the nutritional value of the fruit of the second palm. Thus, maybe, it would be to apply known zootechnical methods in the case of coconut and the study with Cuban belly palm would consist on an appropriate evaluation of its potentialities as animal food


Royal palm-pig rearing production system was never studied as such, and with the introduction of new pig rearing technologies, in the second half of 20th century, at an industrial scale, a coexistence of intensive rearing with the traditional extensive and without zootechnical concepts began to take place.

The development of the Cuban cooperative movement helped the appearance of a pig rearing tending to increase meat production and other meat products derived from a pig rearing developed with economical and technical criteria. This rearing has gradually grown in the first decades of the 21st century, supported by production agreements in which state entities often provide animals with high breeding potential to pig farmers grouped in cooperatives, for fattening animals. Within these agreements, state entities are also involved with the supply of around two thirds of food needs for pigs, with an emphasis on providing protein resources, and premixes of vitamins and minerals. A third of feeding for fattening should be provided by the owners of pigs to be fattened.

The scheme of pig production created by farmers from cooperatives includes the alternative of using royal palm nuts as a locally available feeding resource, generated by royal palms, which abundance in Cuba is not argued. However, the use of royal palm nuts in pig rearing with an updated technology has not been a priority for the country. Therefore, the main knowledge generated in recent years to promote the development of an increasingly efficient and sustainable Cuban pig production, especially with the use of native food resources, should be reviewed.


The implementation of new research and technological innovation projects will allow to design a more complete model of non-conventional pig production management in the non-state cooperative sector, in cooperatives all over the country, through training and participation for empowering new knowledge on the use of royal palm nuts for pig rearing, together with the generation of new knowledge that complement the already existing ones.


This test was partially financed by the Project “Use of palm products in the production of pigs and other monogastric species”, from the Integral Program of Livestock PRCT-07. In addition, the authors would like to thank the libraries from the Pig Research Institute, mainly to Mrs. Yoandra Fernández, and the Institute of Animal Science for the support with the proper bibliographic references.


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Received: February 01, 2018; Accepted: October 15, 2018


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