This is a detailed look into how several Nigerian men have made quite a fortune from tapping the highly craved palm wine.
Palm wine is an alcoholic beverage created from the sap of various species of palm tree such as the palmyra, date palms, and coconut palms. It is known by various names in different regions.
Palm wine production by small holders and individual farmers may promote conservation as palm trees become a source of regular household income that may economically be worth more than the value of timber.
The beverage is consumed in both urban and rural areas of the country. It is good beverage for the old, young, male and female individuals. It is tapped from the palm tree after usually painstaking efforts by those skilled in the art.
It is created from the sap of various species of palm trees such as palmyra, date palms and coconut palm.
The sap is extracted and collected by a tapper. Typically, the sap is collected from the cut flower of the palm tree. A container is fastened to the flower stump to collect the sap. The white liquid that initially collects tends to be very sweet and non-alcoholic before it is fermented.
When palm wine is tapped, it is fresh and sweet but within 24 hours, it can become sharp and sour, containing more alcohol than some of our alcoholic drinks. This is because the palm wine undergoes various stages of fermentation.
In rural communities located in the thick forest belt, the process of tapping palm wine from palm trees is called palm wine tapping. A palm wine tapper climbs the palm tree with a rope (known as ete in Igbo land) that is locally designed for that purpose. It is tightly curled round the tapper’s waist.
When preparing to climb the palm tree for the day’s tapping, the tapper ensures that the rope or ete is in good condition to prevent it from cutting either mid-way to the tree top or when he relaxed on it to start tapping.
Apart from the rope which is the primary instrument for tapping, the tapper also climbs the palm tree with a cutlass, a knife and a gallon or calabash. When the tapper climbs to the top of the palm tree, he will cut some palm branches to expose the tissue and use the knife to create a hole in the tree. A hollow bamboo or empty pipe is used to direct the sap into a gallon or calabash which is fastened around the tree.
To enable him to collect the sap, a container is fastened to the flower stump into which the sap drops intermittently.
The white liquid that initially collects tends to be very sweet and non-alcoholic before it is fermented. An alternate method is the felling of the entire tree. Where this is practised, a fire is sometimes lit at the cut end to facilitate the collection of sap.
Ijan-Ekiti, a town located in Gbonyin (Ayekire) Local Government Area of Ekiti State is renowned for palm wine tapping which has impacted on its economy in terms of providing employment for the people.
A typical day for its palm wine tappers begins at 6:30 a.m. when they head to the farm on their bikes to carry out the business of the day.
By the time they go back to the farm again around 3: 00 p.m., the gourds tied to the stem would have been full of the juice which they take to the various drinking centres in the community where various customers are waiting.
Southwest Report met with a prominent palm wine tapper in Ijan, Mr. Moses Kolawole, whose entire life revolves around the business. Kolawole, popularly known as “Kako” in the community said he inherited the job from his late father, Pa Morayo Kolawole and had been in the business since the death of his father some years ago.
Kolawole, who is indigenous to Ogbagi-Akoko in Akoko Northwest Local Government Area of Ondo State, said he had been living in Ijan for over 40 years (from 1976 to be precise) also explained that palm wine tapping is a “big business” which many Nigerians underestimate.
He said palm wine tapping and its sale has had a positive impact on the grassroots economy, revealing that he had succeeded in training his children who are now graduates and had built two “palatial” houses and purchased decent cars.
According to him, palm wine business will continue to be relevant because it has more benefits than beer and other alcoholic drinks which are going out of the reach of the poor because of their “high” prices.
Kolawole said: “I began the business over 40 years ago and I never learnt it. I inherited it from my late father whose name was Morayo Kolawole in Ogbagi-Akoko in Ondo State. My father died 20 years ago (in 1996). My mother, Folake Ogundele, later came to Ijan here to marry and settle down.
“The work of a palm wine tapper is not an easy job because you cannot do it if you are a lazy person. If it is raining heavily, you must head for your farm in the rain because if you don’t go on time, the juice may turn sour and that will turn out to be bad business for you.
“At the spot on the tree where you get the juice, there are some particles and there are holes on the palm trunk and when it gets to a stage, you have to stop. As a tapper, you must have brain and wisdom.
“There is something called orio which develops on the body of the palm tree and if you fail to act on time, the palm juice will get spoilt and if it brings out the fruit, it will no longer be useful again.”
When asked on safety measures adopted when climbing palm tree, Kolawole said: “Our fathers used a rope called asifirin but during harmattan, it is usually dry and this usually causes tappers to fall from the tree if they didn’t take precautionary measures before climbing the palm tree.
“But currently, we make use of vehicle seatbelt and thick ropes used to tow vehicles. If you are cautious while tethering it, there is no tendency for you to fall off the tree.”
Speaking on benefits derived from palm wine, Kolawole said the commodity has economic and health benefits which have endeared it to more people than it used to be.
He said: “Palm wine has tremendous economic benefits, if you can endure and have luck on your side to get a good tree. Right now, palm wine is cheaper because people now run away from beer. If you have sight problems, drink palm wine because it was created by God and has natural yeast contents.
“The people drinking here cannot go to beer parlours again because the prices of various brand of beer have gone up. Before now, the smallest bowl of palm wine cost N50 but now it costs from N100.
“The one mixed can be gotten at N50 but the one that comes directly from the palm tree costs N100 per bowl. The least bottle of beer now is sold for N170 and is more expensive than palm wine.
“You can also use palm wine to cure measles that usually afflict children. There is something called ogirikoso in the bush which has yam at its base. The palm wine will be poured on it, some people do mix it with water but my father doesn’t mix it with water.
“Palm wine is good for the body than beer, because it makes one sleep well and when you drink it, you will not be going out time and again to urinate like when one drinks beer.
“I sell palm wine in large quantity here because people come to buy from me and resell when they get to their destinations. People do come from places such as Ado, Aisegba, Igbemo, Iluomoba and other places to buy from me.
“Palm wine provides employment for many people such as the tappers, sellers and those who transport the commodity from one place to another.
“If a jobless graduate embraces this job, he will never regret it. This is so because, from a single palm tree, you can realise N10, 000 daily. In this shop, if the palm wine finishes, there will be ‘problem’ because of huge demand by consumers.
“I also engage in part-time farming. I had just sold over N85, 000 worth of plantain but I want to emphasise that this job is not for lazy people. From this job, I have built two modern houses and the car parked there belongs to me. I have also sponsored two of my children in higher institutions.”
Another tapper who spoke with Southwest Report was Mr. Sunday Ejembi, who hails from Benue State who had settled in Ijan community since 1995. Ejembi said he is fulfilled being a palm wine tapper.
Ejembi said: “I came here in 1995 and this is what I have been doing in order to provide food for my family. It is from the proceeds of palm wine tapping that I married my wife, Mrs. Mary Ejembi, who sells soup condiments.
“The business has also helped me in sponsoring my younger ones in institutions of higher learning. One of them graduated from Ahmadu Bello University (ABU), Zaria and the other graduated from the Federal Polytechnic, Ado-Ekiti.
“I am yet to build a house here but the community has just given me a parcel of land to build my own house. I am fully integrated into the community and I attend meetings of Ijan indigenes.
“Another benefit derived from palm wine is that it helps a pregnant woman to have smooth delivery and after delivery, if she continues to take palm wine, her breast milk will increase which will be of great benefits to the baby.”
Kolawole’s mother, Madam Ogundele, who runs a palm wine drinking shop, revealed that she had been in the business for more than 30 years. She described her shop as a Mecca for buyers traveling to and from places such as Kaduna, Abuja, Lokoja, Okene and nearby communities in Ekiti.
Mrs. Ogundele said: “I have been in this business for over 30 years now and the business is moving very well. In fact, it is more lucrative now than beer because palm wine is cheaper and more accessible than beer.
“The five kegs I had in stock have been exhausted, you can see the empty kegs on the ground. I give respect while dealing with my customers. I ensure that there is no quarrel or fight among my customers.
“People come here from Ado and other communities in Ekiti to drink while drivers and passengers traveling long distances stop here to enjoy themselves.”
When asked whether palm wine sellers have an association, Mrs. Ogundele responded: “We hold meetings to defend our interests, especially the disturbance from sanitary inspectors.”
Palm wine drinkers who spoke about the benefits of palm wine included Chief Adebayo Ogunjemilehin, Mr. Idowu Olokunlade, Mr. Olaiya Kolawole, Mr. Ojo Adebowale and Mr. Gabriel Ogunleye.
Another resident, Alhaji Jinadu Erinfolami, said he doesn’t drink palm wine at the joint but to eat roasted meat of grass cutter known in local parlance as okuru.
Ogunjemilehin, 65, said: “My grandfather used to drink aran (palm wine) which he poured inside the bowl and mixed with garri. Even though it was not easy to drink, he never took injection in his lifetime and he lived up to 170 years.
“In the yesteryear, our fathers used money realised from palm wine business to do great things. People such as Prof. Sam Aluko and other great men were trained from proceeds of palm wine.
“In Ogbagi, palm wine business is the number one job and they use it to sponsor their children to school many of whom have become great today.”
Olokunlade said: “I am a driver and former coordinator of Big Lorries’ Association in Ekiti State. Drinking palm wine has many advantages; politicians do come here to relax and through their coming here, some of our young ones are connected and get employment in the process.
“Palm wine is natural because no chemical is added to it like beer and it helps you to have good eyesight. I have old men who are 120 years and still read their Bible without the help of eyeglasses.”
Adebowale said: “I have been drinking palm wine for many years and I have no regrets. The palm wine of this woman (Mrs Ogundele) is very good, indigenes and non-indigenes come here to drink and the business has enhanced her status in this community.
“The business has made her fame spread up to Ado, Iluomoba, Araromi, Ago Aduloju and other places. She is an important person in Ijan because when you enter the town and say you are looking for Iya Kako, they will bring you here.”
Ogunleye said: “Palm wine is better than beer and very good to the body. When you drink it, you will not experience malaria and diabetes. Palm wine doesn’t cause any ill-health.
“Another advantage of palm wine is that you are not susceptible to frequent urination. I had taken three bowls already but if it is beer, I will be standing up time and again to urinate and it is affordable for low-income earners.”
Via The Nation