Date Palm Development for INDO – BANGLA Relationship

January 16, 2013 11:59 pm 2,060 comments __
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India earned its independence in the year 1947 with unfortunate incidence of partition of the country, a direct impact of divide and rule policy of the British Raj. In other words one country achieved its independence as two countries with lot of ill feeling and sorrow. Within few years it was realized that while India and Western part of Pakistan enjoyed fruit of independence, Eastern part of Pakistan continued to suffer as colony except that its master changed. Bangladesh emerged in the year 1971 as East Pakistan finally could be released from colonial yoke with lot of sacrifices starting from Bhasha Andolon in the year 1952.


Independence does not mean only political independence. It also means economic freedom too. We cannot think of an independent nation with hungry millions. Pakistan exploited its Eastern part economically so much that West Pakistan flourished with resources of East without sharing anything. In addition when the Pakistan rulers realized finally they cannot hold back Bangladesh the further looted, planned genocide and even murdered intellectuals of Bangladesh thus even deprived its brain and power to think.


In order that Bangladesh to stand on its leg economically it has to plan development properly. The Nation also needs investment too. India as policy stood by Bangladesh since its birth. It was thought if Indian industries may be invited to invest. But will that help at all. It will mean Indian capitalists will establish industries on Bangladesh soil and produce goods with resources of Bangladesh employing few persons from Bangladesh and few from abroad. Will that help Bangladesh at large or larger portion of the people? Walmart did so few years back with much fanfare leading to a tragedy recently.


Let me refer to Gandhian ideology. To e specific let me discuss about Palm trees. Out of 345 Palm species there are four species which gives sugary sap from the plant which can be tapped. In most of the cases all over India this sap is fermented into Toddy and consumed as intoxicating drink. Choice of plant varies from region to region. Gandhiji wanted discourage intoxication. As he moved all over India he found in this respect undivided Bengal was exception where instead of making Toddy the sap of Date Palm or Khejur as locally known, people boil the sap to make Gud or jaggery to consume as popular sweetner known as Nolen gud and Patali gud. Even sap of another Palm variety, Tal is boiled to make crystallized sugar known a Michhri used as medicine. This concept of Bengal was considered as program for Gandhians. However I am limiting my discussions on Date Palm only.


After independence in India lot of research was carried out on rural industries including Palm sector. A Palm research institute was established and a number of training centers organized. In addition National Research Laboratories were asked to give priority on research on rural industrialization that benefits large number of people. Right from tapping sap, collection of sap, type of plant, making gud or sugar and diversification of products gradual improvement was noticed. The process continues even today and shall discuss later here. After independence of Bangladesh a team led by H. Hanumaiah, Development Officer of Palm products was deputed to Barishal in the year 1974 to interact and train tappers and gud makers of Barishal on request from Bangladesh Government. I interacted with him on his return and he told me that basic skill in Bangladesh was better than that of India and with little help they would have flourished better.


Date Palm is the only palm which is found outside the tropics, as far as north and south as 38* latitudes. It is generally believed that the Arabs took it with them wherever they went and it was introduced by them in Indian subcontinent. Contrary to this belief, Kalidasha, the ancient Indian classical poet described in his epic ‘Raghubansa’ that the Army of Raghu, the ancestor of Lord Rama was enchanted with the beauty and taste of Date Palm or Kharjur, which only says at least some variety of Date palm was available in India before the Arabs brought them. Perhaps, the Arabs might have brought with them superior varieties.


In general, it is known as Khajuri in Hindi, Odia, Marathi, Urdu, and Guarati, Khejur in Bengali and Date Palm in English. But actually there are number of species of Phoenix enus known as Date Palm belonging to Palmae botanical family. Various species commonly found in India, and Bangladesh are Phoenix dactylifera Linn., Phoenix sylvestris Roxb., Phoenix pusilla Gaertn., and Phoenix aculis Buch – Ham. The first variety was perhaps brought to this subcontinent by the Arabs which yield superior fruits popular as edible dry fruit. They are found mostly in desert region of Rajasthan in India and also some places in all over subcontinent including Bangladesh. This is identified in Bengali as Pinda Khejur. However, fruits of the plants that grows in this subcontinent is much inferior to those grows in Arab and other countries in Middle East. This plant grows up to a height of 30 to 35 meters. Its leaves are longer than other varieties, but look similar. Color of its leaves is slightly brownish. Sylvestris variety is common date palm plant those are found all over subcontinent. In Bengali this date palm is known as Desi Khejur. It grows up to a height of 10 to 15 meters. There are two sub varieties of this plant; male and female. Flowers appear in both male and female plants but fruits appear only in female plants. Fruits are 2 to 3 centimeters long, green while unripe and yellow while ripe but gradually turns red and blackish red when over ripens. Pulp is very less as its seeds are larger. Seeds are edible and often used as substitute for areca nut. Flowers appear during March/ April while fruits during August to October. Pusilla variety is found commonly on East Coast of India. It is considered wild having no utility. Aculis variety is found wild almost everywhere in wild state and in way side. It may be termed as dwarf Date Palm since the plant grows up to 30 to 40 centimeters. In Bengali it is known as Bhuin Khejur. It yields fruits identical to other varieties but are consumed by animals only.

Pollen grains of dactylifera have gonadotrophic activity. Extracts of 10 grams of pollen increases weight of ovaries, uteritestes and semiual vesicles. Various parts of these plants particularly their fruits and sap yields protein, fat, carbohydrates, mineral matters, carotene, riboflavin, nicotinic acid, ascorbic acid, thiamine, carotenoids, anthacynins, flavones, sorbitol etc.


Neera, the nectar is the delicious drink extracted from the sap of the palm tree. Collection of sap is most hazardous work and continues to be so. This work is tragedy of palm industry. Anyway this drink is refreshing, nutritious with agreeable flavor, and having medicinal virtues. It is wholesome, cool and good for improving general health specially as supplement for those having iron and vitamin deficiency. Therefore, it builds body, keep the system cool, improves appetite and digestion. Neera having pH of  7.2 contains sugar, calcium, iron, phosphorus, thiamine, riboflavin, ascorbic acid, nicotinic acid, protein and sufficient calories. Neera from Date Palm tree is popularly known in Bengali as Khejurer Rash which fermented quickly within few hours of tapping. This is one of the major lacunae about this product and failing to preserve also creates problem for making jaggery or gud which need to be processed quickly. However, fermented Neera known as Toddy is a popular alcoholic drink. But those who consume are looked down in the society. In Goa Toddy from coconut palm is sold as Coconut Feny and is standardized and packed well. This method may be accepted in Bengal too in respect of Date Palm toddy if it can not be discontinued to avoid hazard of adulteration. Preservation of Neera was major problem till a method was developed in National Chemical Laboratories, Pune a little over decade back. It was by accident I met well known scientist Dr. Sanjay Nene who took interest for research and developed method by application of membrane filtration so that Neera could be preserved for more than a month. It is now implemented commercially. Dr. Nene also conducted research on plants of Palm and tapping methods too.


Jaggery or gud is prepared by boiling Neera or sap of the plant. It is a traditional village industry in our subcontinent. The method of preparing improved variety of gud is quite interesting. Limed Neera is collected, slightly heated, clarified by adding superphosphates of phosphoric acid and finally filtered to remove impurities. The clear juice is the further boiled up to 116 to 118*C and molded in different shapes. Date palm gud is sweet scented and is popular every place where Bengali speaking persons stay. Depending on demand liquid gud or hard jaggery or Pataly or sugar crystals are produced. Liquid gud is popular as Nolen gud. Composition of Date Palm gud is given below:


Moisture   Sucrose   Reducing sugar  Fats    Protein     Total Ash     Calcium as CaO    Phosphorus as P2O5

%                 %             %                           %        %                %                  %                            %


9.16          72.01       1.48                        0.26    1.46        2.60               0.363                     0.52


In addition gud also contains thiamine (Vitamin B), riboflavin, nicotinic acid, ascorbic acid. Neera of Date palm is tapped between October to March.

It is not only fruit and sap but entire plant has potentiality to produce useful products of different value. They are popularly utilized in the villages and with a little value addition it may enhance earning of villagers. Potentiality of various parts of the plant is given below. Quantity mentioned are on an average and may vary little from plant to plant.


Raw material    Quantity                    Finished products                          Quantity


Neera                 120 liter                       Gud                                                  15 kgs

Leaf                       15 kgs                         Rope                                                 130 ft.

Petiole                  20 numbers


The stems of these plants are farinaceous. The leaves which ought more properly to be called leaflets contains fibres to the extent of 25 percent of their green weight. They grow up to 30 centimeters in length with a width of 3 centimeters. They have fairly strong and flexible midribs which harden into a spine at its tip. The leaflets after removing midribs are twisted into strings.


In Egypt, a fiber is extracted from the footstalks of the leaves by beating them and thereafter retting them wherever plenty of water can be made available. They are then twisted and made into cordage and ropes. The fibers of fully grown leaflets are brittle and harsh. Only the half grown and tender ones give soft and spinnable fiber. When extracted they contain gums. These later, if allowed to stay on in the fibers to make them harsh and brittle and weak. Hence fibers must be washed repeatedly or kept soaked in a reservoir of water for a day to enable them to dissolve in the water. The fibers should then be rinsed clean.


As food and medicine its use was recognized in India since time immemorial. Both Charakha Samhita and Susruta Samhita recognized its fruit as tonic and suggested its use to combat weakness and gives strength and gives strength when getting exhausted or tired. They described about four types of Dates such as 1. Madhu Kharjur, 2. Bhumi Kharjur, 3. Pinda Kharjur and 4. Raj Kharjur. First two varieties were of Indian origin and last two used to be imported from Arab countries.


Almost all parts of Date Palm trees, particularly Dactylifera and Sylvestris are medicinal. Neera considered as tonic and ensures proper flow of urine. Unripe, ripe fruits, sap, pulp of trunk are all medicinal. In both West Bengal and Bangladesh they are used as folk medicines. There is plenty of scope to study and produce medicines out of these.


In India after independence lot of research has been done on Palm trees inclusive of Date Palm. Productivity of Gud making has increased and quality of product improved. Life of Neera could be extended from few hours to several days which not only helped us to enjoy Neera for longer period but also made manufacture of Gud and candy easier. Bangladesh on the other hand continued to suffer from one colonial rule to more dreaded colonial rule till it was liberated in the year 1971. Therefore it suffered economically for years, no research was attempted and villagers were left in larch. Just a few days back I learnt that Nolen gud is sold almost in throw away price in Bangladesh, almost one tenth of that of India. That means market exploits Gud makers and they are not assured of fair price, consequently they are half starved.


There is need for us to work out. The two countries must collaborate to help poor of two countries. I may suggest following steps to be taken by two countries together:

  1. Governments of two countries must agree to work together to achieve goal.
  2. The two countries must take steps to go for GIS registration for Nolen Gud and Khejur patali. In other words these terms must e applied for the products produced in Bangladesh and West Bengal.
  3. A task force be formed by two countries with experienced scientists of two countries such as Dr. Sanjay Nene and even experienced persons from palm sector of two countries to plan and implement right program.
  4. Document of research and development done so far in two countries must be exchanged for mutual good.
  5. New product lines such as manufacture of medicine, fiber, food etc., must be planned and implemented.
  6. I learnt from late H. Hanumaiah, an expert in Palm gud who was deputed to Barishal for few months as part of mutually agreed program that even though productivity of Gud making in Bangladesh was not in par with India, the taste of Nolen gud of Bangladesh was far superior. This aspect must be studied and findings must be implemented.
  7. The greatest drudgery of this sector in both the countries remained unsolved. Tappers continue to climb trees at risk of life and there are many deaths. In India most of the tappers are covered by life and accident insurance but this step cannot save lives. It merely gives financial security to their family. Many suggestions made and implemented in India but they all failed. We must make this as priority research.
  8. No attempt was made to make product standard of Pal products. Since there is large Bengali speaking population in Europe and America, there is good scope for market of popular Palm products. Standardization and right packaging will fetch better price.
  9. Last but not least, the two countries must plan Cluster Program on Palm products with help of UNIDO. The Gud or jaggery or candy or even fiber product makers may produce products at their home but must be processed and packed at common facility center with uniform quality code. It will be easier to market. The profit must e shared equally by all exactly the way milk sector in India operates.

So there should be no capitalism, no exploitation. Nolen Gud will ensure cooperation between two great countries to help poorest of the poor of two countries. With last man of two neighboring countries smiling, an era of better Indo – Bangladesh relationship shall be created. Sweet products can ensure sweet relationship. Once implemented more to come with production of Nolen Gud sweets like Sandesh or Moya or Rasogolla produced together in same cluster capturing world market.

(G. K Ghosh: Born in the year 1948 in a well known Bengali family domiciled in Odisa.   Presented over 40 papers in Anthropology in Indian Science
Congress. Retired as Joint Chief Executive Officer of Khadi & Village
Industries Commission, an autonomous body of Government of India
serving rural poor. Authored over 50 books of various subjects. After
retirement he was made Chairman of a committee formed by Ministry of S
& T for three years.)


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