Nipah is the only productive palm tree crop which likes “wet feet”, and which tolerates salt water.
Nipah does not compete with food and feed crops or oil palm and rubber.
In South Kalimantan, around 2 million hectares of land are unused because of flooding.
Around 400,000 hectares have people living on these lands.
Nipah palm yields a sap with a sugar content of around 13% to 16%, the highest sugar content of all palm trees and also much higher than sugar cane. Around late 19th century, Nipah was the prime source of fuel for cars in the Philippines and Kalimantan. It was pushed out by the ascent oil industry.
Since then it has only been used as a source of supplementary feed for ducks, pigs and geese, and for Nipah wine. Hardly any research has been devoted to Nipah, it is not yet domesticated like rice and maize. This means there is still huge potential for increase of yield and sugar content.
Nipah has a long productive life span, no need for replanting and a high area productivity and yield.
The only real source of knowledge on Nipah is indigenous knowledge. Using this knowledge, we have selected elite clones which yield up to 2.2 liters of sap per tapping.
Nipah trees are tapped twice a day. To save labour, we have developed technology which can reduce this to one tapping in two days. Trees can be tapped for around 50 to 60 days per year. This period is to be expanded to 120 days through induced flowering.
Current annual yields are estimated at 110,000 to 160,000 liters of sap per year per hectare, equal to around 16 to 22 tons of sugar. This is much higher than the highest sugar cane yield anywhere.
The sugar can be converted to Ethanol with a defraction rate of slightly over 50%, with estimated Ethanol yields would be around 8 to 11 tons.
MARKETS FOR NIPAH
Palm Sugar / Syrup
The most dynamic component of the demand for palm sugar is expanded household use and the growing recognition by consumers of the health value of palm sugar. The main driving force is the awareness that palm sugar is much healthier than bleached sugar. It does not cause a sugar rush and its glycemic index (GI) of 35 is much lower than glucose which has a GI of 100. This makes palm sugar fit for modest consumption even by diabetics.
Palm sugar is traditionally used as a tastemaker in spicy food pastes and cakes and bakery products. It is increasingly used as a sweetener for ice cream, energy drinks, lemonades and sherbets, soy sauce and bakery products.
The rationale for focusing on sugar at the initial stage of the cultivation project is the expanding demand for palm sugar in Indonesia, Asia and worldwide. The value of palm sugar in the retail market is at least ten times higher than the price of white sugar. The growing volume of exported palm sugar indicates a new trend in sugar consumption. The Philippine authorities estimated the global market for palm sugar at USD1 billion annually, and to be the fastest growing segment of the global sugar market (Philippines Department of Agriculture, 2012). The retail value of the global white sugar market is around USD170 billion per annum. Asia and Indonesia are major importers at 3 million tons per annum. China and Vietnam are also big importers. Thailand and Australia are major exporters of white sugar.
Wholesale distribution prices for palm sugar in Malaysia, the Philippines and Indonesia range around USD6 to 12 per kg, packed and processed. Farm gate prices of raw palm sugar are around USD2 in Indonesia, with lower quality products priced at USD1.20 per kg. The industry prefers to take palm sugar in syrup form at 80 % sugar content. Low quality palm sugar syrup is priced around USD1.50 – 1.70 per kg at the farm gate.
In Europe and the USA wholesale distribution prices have recently fallen, but are still substantially higher than price levels in Asia.
Coconut palm sugar is a possible substitute for Nipah palm sugar. In recent years the production of coconut palm juice, for palm sugar, has boomed in the Philippines and Indonesia especially, while localised production of palm sugar from the sugar palm and the aren palm has remained stable. Currently coconut based palm sugar is exported to Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam, Europe and the USA, and increasingly China from the Philippines and Indonesia. At the same time coconut based palm sugar is increasingly being marketed in Indonesia for both industrial production and for household use.
Ethanol is a bio-fuel produced from sugar cane and oil palm. Bio-fuel is renewable, replenishing and sustainable in supply. It is a clean and environmentally sustainable resource, with significant potential for reducing the emission of greenhouse gases when compared to conventional fossil fuels. Though it is not the intention of the Company to produce ethanol from its nipah plantations in the foreseeable future, nevertheless should the Company choose to do so, by specialising in the use of degraded wetlands for the commercial cultivation of nipah palm, it will enjoy cost advantages over ethanol produced from sugar cane and oil palm.
Fermented into ethanol or butanol, the palm's large amount of sap may allow for the production of 6,480-15,600 litres (per year) of fuel per hectare. In comparison, sugarcane yields 5,000–8,000 litres per hectare (per year) and an equivalent area planted in corn would produce just 2,000 litres (per year) per hectare.
In addition nipah cultivation does not divert resources away from food production, unlike sugar cane and palm oil, which requires cultivable land.