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Sharing traditional skills in toddy tapping

Mr Pieris and toddy tapping trainees build a "ladder" from coconut shells

TCDC often means sharing new technologies and the skills that they require. But it can also mean passing on traditional skills. Toddy tapping - the collection of juice from the bud of palm tree flowers - has been practised in Southeast Asia for centuries. British explorer Captain James Cook found the islanders of Sawu, in the Indonesian archipelago, tapping toddy from palm trees in 1770 and using it as a drink and an animal feed. "It is given with the husks of rice to the hogs, and ... they grow enormously fat without taking any other food ... the inhabitants themselves have subsisted on this alone for several months, when other crops have failed," Cook wrote in his journal.

More than two hundred years later, FAO's Animal Production and Health Division (AGA) is investigating the potential of toddy as a modern day animal feed, and an FAO TCDC expert from Sri Lanka has visited Viet Nam to teach them the art of toddy tapping. In Sri Lanka toddy is tapped from the coconut palm. Known as the "tree of life", the palm is grown as a plantation crop in more than 400 000 ha and as a domestic tree in almost every garden.

Thammahetti Mudalige Pieris of the Sri Lankan Coconut Research Institute spent four weeks in Ho Chi Minh City in October 1996, providing practical training in toddy tapping. The first task is the selection of suitable trees, then the construction of ladders from coconut husks, a precise sequence of binding, beating and pounding before cutting the bud, and twice daily collection of the sap once it begins to flow.

In some countries in Southeast Asia, the use of fresh palm sap as an animal feed is being promoted as an alternative to processing the sap into sugar, as had been done previously. Since the processing into sugar requires fuel, which is often prohibitively costly for many small farmers, toddy tapping had been on the decline. Recent FAO experiments in Cambodia have confirmed the historical evidence of the value of fresh palm sap as a basic feed in intensive pig-rearing. Several trials showed that, from the economic point of view, the profit from using palm juice for pig feeding was much higher than for sugar production.

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