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  Phoenix sylvestris


( Bengal Sugar Palm )




Key Points


  1. Bullet    High Sugar Yields

  2. Bullet    High Value Products

  3. Bullet    Minimal Inputs

  4. Bullet    Drought Tolerant

  5. Bullet    Salinity Tolerant

  6. Bullet    Frost Tolerant

  7. Bullet    Tolerant of Insect Pests

  8. Bullet   Extensive Root System

  9. Bullet    Ecology Friendly

  10. Bullet    Fits Rural Needs


 

Phoenix sylvestris : The Bengal Sugar Palm


Phoenix sylvestris is a palm endemic to the Indian subcontinent, it yields a rich harvest of sap which can be converted to refined sugar, though traditionally the sap has been boiled down into aromatic, caramelized raw sugars collectively known as gur [pronounced goor], and similar to high quality maple sugars.


Suprisingly, given its long history in the service of man, and its immense potential as a cash crop, this species has never been developed as a large scale sugar crop.  Our study shows that even in the current, 'wild' state, the Sugar Palm is suitable for commercial exploitation; indeed in the USA, the palm has an established market as an ornamental species, though not yet as a sugar crop.  Thus there is a great un-tapped potential in P. sylvestris, which must surely come to the attention of goverments, entrepreneurs, ecologists and environmentalists; as the implications of this novel sugar source are enormous, and especially in the face of very serious, and worsening water shortages across the globe.


Perhaps the most serious danger to the future of the Sugar Palm is its rapid disappearance in its home territory.  Although traditional palm sugars are highly prized in India and are an important part of the religious and culinary culture, particularly in West Bengal, yet there have been no efforts at preservation.  This matters, because the most promising genetic material for breeding programs is found in 'elite' palms whose sugar yields are consistently higher than average, and these palms are found in the traditional gur-producing areas, precisely the areas in which they are being cut down.  So there is a very pressing need to identify these elites, and to collect seed from them before the material is lost for ever. 


We are proposing a multi-step approach to the commercial development of P. sylvestris as a novel, large-scale sugar crop :


1 Plant Breeding Program – accelerated & advanced using techniques of molecular biology


2a Preservation of Wild, Diverse Eco-Types of the Sugar Palm from a range of latitudes and longitudes in India


2b Preservation of Elite Palm Stocks of known superior yield and sugar concentration


3 From 1 and 2 above :  Ecological Common Gardens to be set up across the length and breadth of India to study the environmental VS cross genotype effects


4 Resulting from 1,2 and 3 above :  Modernisation and Mechanisation of Palm Cultivation with the objective of stands of 600-700 palms per hectare


5 Intensification of Palm Cultivation across ALL aspects, ALL processes, using the data gleaned from 1-4


It is hoped that a complete set of studies will be done on the Sugar Palm, embracing genetics, physiology and eco-physiology in order to establish a comprehensive organismal biology starting at the level of the nucleotide and ending at the level of stand ecology.



We also plan to reap the benefits of these scientific and modernising developments for small-holders or subsistence farmers on the Indian subcontinent, but from the outset efforts will be aimed at producing the most efficient commercial systems possible. 

Attempts to promote or standardize Sugar Palm products for small farmers came to little in years past despite considerable Government expenditure, thus this project has a strong

commercial thrust.