The Potential of Tapping Palm Trees for Animal Production (PART 2)
Animal Production Officer
Feed Resources Group
ORIGIN OF THE NEW INTEREST FOR PALM TREE TAPPING ACTIVITY
In today's economy, the profitability of tapping palms for
sugar has improved: this is the case for coconut and Caryota
urens in Sri Lanka. In the mid-seventies, with continuing
foreign exchange crises, a reduction in the import of sugar
occurred and was immediately followed by a sudden rise in its
price and palm sugar again became a low-cost source of sugar
(Dissanayake, 1977). In parts of South Sumatra (Sriwangi),
tapping coconut for sugar production is 8 to 10 times more
profitable than selling nuts (Levang, 1988). In the
Philippines, a sequential coconut toddy and nut production
system can provide the small scale coconut farmers with
incomes nearly 10 times higher per hectare and per year
(Maravilla and Magat, 1993). In Nigeria, an oil palm estate is
likely to be better off devoting all its resources to the
production of 9,770 litres/ha/year of oil palm wine than
producing 10 tonnes of fresh fruit bunch per hectare per
annum. Furthermore, as oil palm wine production is more
labour-intensive than fresh fruit bunch production, tapping
oil palm trees for wine is likely to create more jobs than
harvesting fruit bunches (Udom, 1987).
Producing sugar from palm trees that can be tapped all year
round (like coconut and Nypa fruticans) is an advantage
compared to the seasonal production of sugar from sugarcane.
Palm trees that produce sugar seasonally, like Phoenix
sylvestris from November to March (cold weather) and Borassus
flabellifer from April to September (hot weather) would grow
very well side by side, as suggested by Annett (1913) in
Bangladesh, and would ensure continuous sugar production all
PROSPECTS FOR INCREASING SUGAR YIELDS
Indigenous knowledge is available in countries that have had a
long experience in tapping palm trees. The tapper generally
makes a selection before starting tapping: he chooses the
trees that, according to his experience, should fulfill the
following objectives: high sap yield, reduced time between
commencement of working an inflorescence and the first flow of
sap, maximum volume of sap sustained for as long as possible;
health and well-being of the tree maintained during tapping
Different management techniques permit increased sugar
production from palm trees. Nypa fruticans produces more
inflorescences (and potentially more sap) when the stands are
kept thinned of old leaves. Sap production can be improved by
wider spacing between trees than in wild almost pure stands of
Nypa fruticans: from 2,500/ha down to 500 or less (Hamilton
and Murphy, 1988). In the Philippines, Quimbo (1991) developed
a new, highly profitable method of tapping that increases the
sap yield from less than 60,000 litres/ha to more than
100,000. Daily Borassus flabellifer sap yields average between
6 and 10 litres per tree but can be as low as 1 litre or as
high as 20 litres per tree (Paulas (1983); Tjitrosoepomo and
Pudjoarinto (1983) cited by Kovoor, 1983). This can be
explained by genetic and environmental factors. More sap per
tree can be obtained if each inflorescence produces more, over
a longer period (skill of the operator), if there are more
inflorescences in a given time, if flowering starts on younger
trees and lasts longer (genetic factors) and if the response
to tapping is higher (genetic factors) (Kovoor, 1983). Tall
varieties of coconut trees yield twice as much sap as dwarf
palms and are also more resistant to pests and to droughts and
winds because their root system is more developed (Jeganathan,
1974). The impact of manuring trees on sap yields is reported
to be great for coconuts but scientific results are scarce. In
Sri Lanka, through hybridization work to identify the most
promising species with regard to nut production, an hybrid
between a tall variety (Typica) and a dwarf one (Pumila) was
found to be the best. Selection and breeding of the African
oil palm for high sap yields and high concentration of sugar
have not yet started. It is likely that yield improvement
research will produce varieties that will yield more than 100
litres of sap per palm and more than 14,800 litres per hectare
per annum (Udom, 1987). It is absolutely essential for most
tapped palm species in Asia to have a sophisticated
preparatory phase, sometimes continued throughout the tapping
period, in order to ensure high yields of sap. Such a
preparatory phase has not been reported in Africa for the
African oil palm and it is likely that south-south transfer of
technology could permit a major increase in sap production
from this tree.
PROSPECTS FOR FACILITATING SAP COLLECTION
For most non-destructive tapping techniques, a high degree of
traditional expertise is needed and where this technique is
not traditionally practised, great difficulties might be
encountered in training people. In the case of the high sugar
producing palms, reduced height would be a much appreciated
quality decreasing labour time, effort and risks. Unlike the
coconut, dwarf mutants and races have not been reported to
occur in the case of Borassus flabellifer (Kovoor, 1983). This
may be attributed to the lack of systematic research. An
alternative would be to select the most precocious trees (that
starts flowering at a very low height) as precocity is a
genetic trait (Kovoor, 1983). Devices for safer and more
efficient ways of climbing palm trees have been invented: one
by Davis (1984), cited by Davis and Johnson (1987); another
was developed by the Palmyra Development Board of Sri Lanka
and using it, the tapper would be able to tap about 100 trees
a day, more than twice the present average (Dissanayake,
1986). Hybridization of the African oil palm with the American
species, Elaeis oleifera, which has a creeping trunk and
better resistance to disease (Kahn, 1988) could produce a
productive variety, easy to tap because of low and stable
PROSPECTS FOR ANIMAL PRODUCTION
Storage of sap at local level is not possible as fermentations
rapidly occur even if delayed by some chemical agents.
Fermented sap is not suitable for the production of good
quality sugar and this usually limits the expansion of palm
sugar making at village level. Processing sap into good
quality jaggery is also a difficult and time-consuming task:
up to 16 hours per day in Cambodia (Khieu, 1996). It also
requires an experienced and skilled worker, often a woman
(stirring, removing of froth and maintaining the appropriate
temperature). This is also a major bottle-neck which limits
sap processing (Dissanayake, 1986). Furthermore, in many
countries, production and sale of toddy is prohibited by
regulations and some raw material is wasted (Dissanayake,
On the other hand, meat demand is increasing in many
developing countries as population grows and living standards
improve: in the case of Cambodia, the pig population is
increasing at a rate of 16.6% per year (Devendra (1993) cited
by Khieu, 1996). Instead of preparing sugar from the sap of
sugar producing palm trees, the sap can be directly fed to the
animals and provide most of the energy needed in the diet.
This has been done for centuries in two Indonesian islands,
Roti and Savu (Fox, 1977). They have a complex diverse economy
that has Borassus as the centre and which includes a
small-scale semi-intensive or intensive pig-rearing component
(7-8 pigs per household). In a Borassus economy, pigs are a
prime means of converting palm products to protein. Pigs are
fed fresh sap throughout most of the tapping season and
therefore fatten during the dry season while other livestock
lose weight. In addition, pigs always receive the residue
and spill from the syrup-cooking process. During the rainy
season they are frequently fed syrup mixed with water. Fox
concludes in these words: "Borassus syrup and fruit constitute
the primary food for pigs; pigs in turn are a principal means
by which Savu's palm economy is able to support its dense
population; pigs and palms go together and one can view pigs
as a reasonable indicator of palm utilization". This is further
demonstrated by the strong correlations (much higher than for
other livestock species) between pig and human populations in
the different areas of these two islands. The areas where the
population densities are highest, are the areas of most
intensive pig rearing; pigs also representing the highest
proportions of the total livestock (Fox, 1977). Captain James
Cook, sailing west from New Guinea stopped at the Savu island
from 17 to 21 September 1770, at the high point of the tapping
season. He reported in his book "Voyages" detailed information
on the use of Borassus. In this particular year, the crops
were reported to have failed. Therefore the maximum harvest of
sap was taking place in order to secure 6 to 8 months food
supply. Despite this threatened food security situation, Cook
witnessed that syrup was given to pigs and used even for other
animal production: "I have already observed, that it is given
with the husks of rice to the hogs, and that they grow
enormously fat without taking any other food: we were told
also, that this syrup is used to fatten their dogs and their
fowls..." (Cook, cited by Fox, 1977).
Trials on feeding pigs with palm juice have been initiated
recently in Cambodia by T.R. Preston, FAO consultant, within
the framework of an FAO Technical Cooperation Project (FAO,
1995). Pigs were reared from 20 to 80 kg, with ADG of 356g
using the following daily diet: approximately 8 kg of palm
juice, 156g CP (soya bean), lime, salt and 500g of fresh water
spinach per day. Twelve farms were studied. Taking into
account the price of fuelwood, the profit per tree per day was
nearly 14 times higher when the juice was used for feeding
pigs instead of making sugar syrup (Khieu, 1996). Using fresh
sap for feeding animals will avoid burning large quantities of
fuel. Nevertheless, as part of this fuel generally comes from
the palm tree itself, it might be possible to make syrup or
sugar that will be easy to preserve and that will be later fed
to the animals when the sugar production season is over. If
this is not possible, sap production can be entirely used as
fresh juice for feeding fattening animals and the fattening
cycle can coincide with the sometimes rather short tapping
season. This can easily be done with pigs and ducks. Sap,
syrup or sugar could also be used as emergency feeds,
replacing other feeds whose production has been compromized by
droughts or other calamities, whenever necessary. There is a
huge potential for capitalising on under-exploited sugar palm
trees which are not used because of the lack of fuelwood for
making sugar or the limited marketing possibilities (Mogea et
al., 1991). In Sri Lanka, only about 2% of the total area
suitable for tapping is reported to be actually tapped
(Sivilingam (1983) cited by Dissanayake, 1986). Therefore,
there is a niche for diversification. In these cases, the sap
could be used for animal production. Present labour
constraints can be overcome through the use of climbing
devices that enable the tapper to tap twice as many palm trees
To balance monogastric diets based on sugar palm juice or
syrup, a good source of protein is required. As soya bean is
hardly available at a reasonable price in many tropical areas,
some alternative sources of protein are needed: cassava
leaves, sweet potatoes leaves, fodder tree leaves, aquatic
plants (duckweed, Azolla, etc.), whole soya plant at milky
grain stage, fish wastes, etc. Proper use and management of
these different alternative sources of protein can contribute
to reducing pollution, increasing carbon sinks and decreasing
erosion. Animal feeding systems based on palm juice/syrup
favours keeping the animals in confinement instead of grazing
or scavenging systems. This protects the environment, limits
the dissemination of contagious diseases and also optimizes
the integration of livestock within an intensive farming
system. Manure can be processed through a biodigester,
producing the energy for family cooking needs, and the
effluent can be used as a fertilizer either for crops or for
fish ponds. The potential of feeding goats and cows with palm
sap as the main source of energy for milk production should be
investigated as well as the source of nitrogen (non-protein
nitrogen and by-pass proteins), minerals and fibre to complete
the diet. Incidentally, tapping palm trees will also always
offer an easy source of sugar for bees which will tend to
spontaneously harvest all wasted sugar. Honey production is
therefore increased in areas where palm trees are tapped (Fox,
Borassus palms are the most numerous palms in the world after
the coconut palm (Fox, 1977). Despite this, they are among the
least studied of all the palm species in the world. This lack
of interest can be explained during colonial history by the
fact that, from the colonizer's point of view, it was much
easier to set up, manage and control large sugarcane
plantations to produce sugar than to use existing scattered
palm trees that had been managed for centuries by the local
people, often within a subsistence economy. Beside this, these
trees are often associated with the poor. The fact that their
juice quickly ferments and makes alcohol made tapping
activities undesirable to governments, and also for the
Hindouist, Buddhists and Muslims orthodoxes (Fox, 1977).
Nevertheless, there are many good arguments for revitalizing
knowledge and research on sugar producing palm trees.
Considering their multipurpose uses, they can contribute in
many ways to the sustainability of integrated farming systems.
As these trees are often the main subsistence resource for the
poorest people (Borassus flabellifer), improving the way these
trees are used will contribute to the alleviation of poverty.
Palm tapping, especially as far as wild and semi-wild species
are concerned, is an activity that does not require capital to
start. In highly populated rural areas, it can be a major
source of self-employment for the poorest people and avoid
major drifts from the land. In the case of coconut (in Sri
Lanka for example) or African oil palm (in Colombia and
Nigeria for example), with the low and unpredictable world
prices of copra and palm oil, it has become increasingly
difficult for small farmers to depend on their production.
This encourages attempts to find other ways of using these
trees, including diversification for better sustainability of
the system. Sugar production and animal production are
alternatives to consider if markets can be developed for these
Future research on using palm tree sap for animal production
should consider the following issues:
- Assessment of existing stands of wild palms (Nypa fruticans,
Borassus sp., etc.) and the economic prospects for tapping
- Assessment of the economic potential of palm trees selected
over centuries for sap production to be used in other regions.
- Identification of criteria for proper selection of
individuals to be tapped and for recognizing the proper plant
stage for initiating successful tapping operations.
- Physiology of the production of sap flow and precise
significance of the various acts that constitute the art of
tapping in order to develop improved technologies for
increasing sugar yields (techniques of tapping, frequency,
fertilization, tree spacing) and to optimize the use of
- Improved technologies for safely tapping trees.
- Techniques to preserve the juice and avoid fermentation.
- Identification of production systems with palm trees, crops
and animals: according to the present economic and
- Assessment of the relevance of tapping sugar palm trees for
animal production in comparison with energy production
(ethanol) or other products (copra from coconut or oil from
What is needed is a thorough field survey reviewing in detail
all indigenous knowledge related to tapping palm trees for
sugar and animal production. This would permit a major
breakthrough for assessing all the future potential of these
trees and for sharing techniques and experiences between
regions and countries. Once the potential of tapping palm
trees for sugar and animal production has received the full
attention it deserves from decision makers through funding
research, selection, technology improvement, training and
extension and small credit for farmers, many rural areas are
likely to benefit from a new source of self-employment and
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LIVESTOCK FEED RESOURCES WITHIN INTEGRATED FARMING SYSTEMS
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