Palm wine is one of nature’s beverages in most rural parts of Nigeria. This sweet-to-sharp tasting alcoholic juice is an important pre-requisite in many traditional events including bride prize and marriages, burials, etc. The brew is harvested from palm trees (family of Arecaceae) and once provided lucrative businesses for palm wine tappers in rural communities.
When considering and comparing the economic benefits of all products of the oil palm industry – palm oil, palm kernel, timber, palm wine and brooms, palm wine is arguably the most important product. This is without prejudice to the economic importance of palm oil and palm kernel. In most rural communities of Southeastern Nigeria, revenue from palm wine could surpass the yearly income from palm oil, palm kernel, and brooms together.
It is an art to watch as agile wine-tappers climb up palm trees on specially woven ropes. However, with increasing rural-urban migration, palm wine production has lost its pride of place to competing brands of bottled beers resulting in fewer and fewer wine tappers of the older population who still cherish a family tradition of tapping this gift of nature.
But the demand for this nature’s brew persists even among the rich urban dwellers. Universities have partnered with some breweries to research into bottling and packaging of palm wine but their products still do not come close to competing with the range of beers that line up the shelves of bars and grocery shops.
Mr. Kelvin Okeke, a small, statured man in his late sixties still derives pleasure in his family tradition of tapping palm wine for sale in his community and neighbourhoods of Iju, Ajuwon. He is a regular sight on the roads and bush paths of Ajuwon, peddling away on his old bicycle of 20 years with his precious kegs and bottles of palm wine. After a few home deliveries to houses close to the FAYODE offices, the sight and sounds of his rusty and battered bicycle triggered conversations on his priority needs. In no time, Mr Okeke became a recipient of a grant for a new bicycle from FAYODE! “Ehwoh!!”, he exclaimed, “for me”? He could not believe that the same old model of bicycles of the 1960s was still on the market!
Maybe someday, he would join the list of suppliers to the palm wine bottling companies; or perhaps open a bar of locally bottled and chilled palm wine!