Nipa Palm (Nypa fruticans), a species of palm that grows along the coastlines and estuarine habitats, is commonly used in the Philippines as roofing material for bahay kubo or is processed as vinegar (sukang paombong) or wine (laksoy). A group of enterprising farmers in Surigao del Sur are now engaged in producing another product - natural sweetener from Nipa Palm.
Nipa palm sugar, with lower glycemic index, looks almost like coco sap sugar, being granulated from the sap of the Nipa Palm. Given its promising potential amid the increasing demand for organic products, the Foundation for Rural Enterprise and Ecology Development of Mindanao (FREEDOM), Inc. is implementing a project that aims to provide livelihood opportunities to coastal communities and increase the income of tappers and wine processors in Barangay Agsam in Lanuza, Surigao del Sur.
The growing consumer preference towards natural sweeteners is manifested by the increasing market share of different natural sweeteners such as coco sugar, Stevia, and nipa palm sugar. There is a large demand for natural sweeteners in the foreign market including United States and Europe.
Considering the strategic position of the Philippines, being the country with the third largest area of Nipa palm plantations in southeast Asia, a team led by Mr. Antonio S. Peralta of FREEDOM, Inc. set out to take greater strides in expanding the selection of locally made, world-class, nipa palm-based products. Peralta and his team drafted a research proposal that was eventually funded by the DA-Bureau of Agricultural Research which is entitled, “Adoption and Utilization of Nipa Palm Sugar Processing Technology in Lanuza, Surigao Del Sur.” Partnering with DA-BAR and FREEDOM would be the Sitio Ipil Wine Makers Association (SIWA) and the Municipality of Lanuza wherein the latter will have the full marketing contract to purchase the Nipa Palm sugar produced by SIWA members for resale to interested buyers.
The said project is funded under the National Organic Agriculture Program and coordinated by the bureau, through its National Technology Commercialization Program (NTCP). The project seeks to improve the Nipa Palm sugar product of the community, contribute to mangrove rehabilitation and protection, and strengthen local people’s organizations. Components of the project include organizing innovative sap processing technology training, product packaging and labeling, and market linking.
Before FREEDOM’s research project, the farmers in Barangay Agsam, Lanuza had depended on Nipa wine making, and rice and corn farming as their sources of income. With the help of the BAR-funded project, their income opportunities significantly increased. SIWA, the chosen project beneficiary, in partnership with FREEDOM, Inc., is now managing the common service processing facility and is responsible for producing high quality Nipa Palm sugar. The facility that produces the sugar on a weekly basis, houses a mechanical dryer that can process 40 kilograms of sugar per batch.
Members of SIWA were trained in, not only on the proper methods of tapping nipa sap and processing nipa palm sugar, but also the basics of organizational and financial management. SIWA was also equipped with the machinery and equipment needed to properly harvest and process the tree sap for sugar production. According to Fritz Escudero of FREEDOM, prior to the project, farmers were not particular with the sanitation required in making sugar out of nipa sap, but thanks to the training and field trips to accredited processing facilities, the SIWA members were made aware of these concerns which ultimately expedited their efforts to develop the quality of the Nipa Palm Sugar taste.
To date, the Nipa Palm products were able to penetrate the Eco Stores, a national chain of stores operating in Davao City and Cagayan de Oro. “Local coffee shops have also shown interest in using Nipa Palm sugar for different varieties of specialty coffee that they sell,” Mr. Peralta added.
Presently, nipa palm sugar is packed in 150-gram stand up pouches. These are sold at PhP 150.00 per pouch. The product was favorably received during the Davao Agri Trade Expo (DATE) held at SMX Global in Lanang, Davao City, one of the major agri trade fairs in the country drawing both local and foreign buyers. Also, the Nipa Palm sugar was awarded as the “Best New Product” in the 11th Agriculture and Fisheries Technology Forum and Product Exhibition held by BAR in August 2015 at the SM Megamall in Mandaluyong City. “The award served as fuel to SIWA members to cooperate more for the project,” Mr. Peralta shared.
SIWA members highly appreciate the series of training activities as well as capacity building seminars facilitated by FREEDOM, Inc. to further improve their skills on Nipa Palm sugar processing and farm production management. Terrencio Orillaneda, a member of SIWA, commented that the training has helped them develop their production of Nipa Palm sugar into a viable micro enterprise. Other members have also come to recognize the value of the training provided to them as it has helped them manage their association in a professional manner.
“We have established a ‘Farmer Climate Field School’ to support the good agricultural practices that we are introducing in the project. Production standards and proper training for farmers which were introduced under the project will improve the quality of Nipa Palm sugar,” Mr. Peralta said.
According to John Largo, Officer-in-charge of the Municipal Environment and Natural Resources Office, not only has the project helped in increasing the farmer’s source of income but it has also elevated their awareness of climate change. Ever since becoming beneficiaries of FREEDOM’s project, members of SIWA have become more involved in the LGU’s activities aimed at protecting the environment such as tree planting projects and awareness campaigns during town festivals. This level of enthusiasm is significant for Largo’s municipality since the town is in close proximity to large-scale mining sites.
Today, FREEDOM and SIWA are in the next phase of the project which involves expanding nipa plantation areas and Nipa Palm sugar and wine processing facilities across Surigao del Sur while simultaneously securing the needed accreditations for both the Azucar de Lanuza enterprise and its processing facilities. Both Lanuza and FREEDOM look forward to day that Nipa Palm Sugar would soon penetrate, not only the larger local market, but also be exported internationally. ### (Ma. Eloisa H. Aquino and Ephraim John J. Gestupa)