Nipa brings alternative income to Minalin folks

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ASIDE FROM selling chicken eggs and their local catch of fish and prawns, Minalin folks are now venturing into “sukang sasa” or local vinegar production made from the sap of nipa palm for additional income.

Scientific Nypa fruticans, nipa palm is a mangrove species that has traditionally been used for vinegar production in Bulacan and Pampanga, even before the Spaniards set foot on Philippine soil.

“Nipa has been originally cultivated in Minalin to prevent the siltation of the town’s river and to protect its banks from erosion. Little did they know that vinegar production could yet be another promising source of livelihood to local folks,” said Maximo Dichoso of the regional Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) here.

He said the DENR has been supporting the establishment of nipa plantation in the coastal village of Dawe since 2005.

At least 50 families are now producing “sasa” vinegar from the initial 2,000 germinants of nipa planted in a one-hectare lot in barangay Dawe eight years ago.

The sap of nipa fruits is collected once a year using a bamboo tube attached to a healthy stalk of mature nipa fruits, explained Francis Evasco, chief of the DENR Technology Transfer Division.

He said the best time for collecting the sap is during the rainy months when temperature is cooler and the flowers produce more sap.

A healthy stalk holds 20 clumps of nipa fruits and can yield 25 liters of pure vinegar that sells for P40 per liter, said Dawe village chief Zaldy Yamat.

Smaller nipa fruits are not harvested for their sap but are used to propagate seedlings, instead.

Village resident Nelia Deang said vinegar production does not involve much capital or technology but could be labor-intensive.

She explained that the vinegar production starts from tapping the stalk of nipa flower when the plants are about five years old.

The stalk is bent several times, its base kicked, and the flowers chopped to stimulate the production of sap, she said.

A bamboo container is tied to the stalk to collect the sap which then ferments to produce the “tuba” wine and the “sasa” vinegar. An individual stalk can be tapped for 60 days.  

Fermentation to produce “tuba” is completed within 30 hours for an alcohol content of 6.2-9.5 percent.

But because natural acid takes longer time to produce, “sasa” vinegar production would require that the “tuba” complete another round of acetic fermentation.  

Aside from sugar, wine, and vinegar, the nipa has other uses. The young nipa shoots can be eaten while the petals of the flower can be brewed to make an aromatic tea. The omnipresent leaves can be woven into mats, baskets and roofing material for houses, thus the quintessential “nipa” hut.

Last year, 10 families earned at least P20,000 to P30,000 out of weaving palms into thatch roof, locally known as “pawid” or “pinawud ” in Pampango, according to villager Rodolfo Sabado.

Local agriculturist Edna Manlapaz of Minalin said the nipa project is now a joint undertaking between the DENR, the parish of Sta. Monica, and the local government of Minalin.

“We plan to establish another one hectare plantation in Dawe this year to boost our vinegar production,” she explained adding that expanding their present plantation can provide better erosion control and river bank stability for the town’s river which is a downstream tributary of the great Pampanga River.

Nipa is among few palms that grow well in mangroves. It grows in soft mud, and in calmer waters where there is a regular inflow of freshwater and nutrient-rich silt.

Compared to coconut, nipa does not have a trunk. Its leaves grow straight out of the ground.

Nipa is a mangrove species with an oldest known fossil dating back to 70 million years.