Foreign markets eyed for nipa palm sugar

MANILA — A group of enterprising farmers in Surigao del Sur is now engaged in producing a natural sweetener from nipa palm, given its promising potential amid the increasing demand for organic products.

Considering the strategic position of the Philippines, being the country with the third largest area of nipa palm plantations in Southeast Asia, the Foundation for Rural Enterprise and Ecology Development of Mindanao (FREEDOM), Inc. sets out to take greater strides in expanding the selection of locally made, world-class, nipa palm-based products.

Nipa palm is commonly used in the country as roofing material for bahay kubo or is processed as vinegar.

A team, led by Antonio Peralta of FREEDOM, Inc., drafted a research proposal titled, “Adoption and Utilization of Nipa Palm Sugar Processing Technology in Lanuza, Surigao Del Sur” funded by the Department of Agriculture-Bureau of Agricultural Research.

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 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.

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.

They are also equipped with the machinery and equipment needed to properly harvest and process the tree sap for sugar production.

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,” said Fritz Escudero of FREEDOM.

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 accreditation 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.

There is a large demand for natural sweeteners in the foreign markets, including United States and Europe.

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. Leslie Venzon/