A recently established orphanage has satiated Sylhetis’ thirst for the juice
Sylhetis have long been deprived of date palm juice despite living in the northern part of the country, a productive region for the fruit.
The acidity of Sylhet's soil undermines its otherwise supportive weather for date fruit production. However, the soil poses no threat to its trees and the sap in their trunks, a fact that has been ignored by the stakeholders in Sylhet's agro-business, much to the despair of consumers in the district.
However, things changed dramatically a few weeks ago, thanks to a new madrasa-cum-orphanage in Sylhet Sadar upazila. Hundreds of people from the district thronged to the orphanage to buy the long-awaited juice.
Established last September as Darul Aytam Halimatus Sadiya (R) Etimkhana, the orphanage has 63 date trees, 55 of which yield sap. It is in the Jangail area of Kandigaon – a union located 10 kilometres away from Sylhet city – beside the Sylhet-Sunamganj regional highway.
Though the trees were planted several years ago, the orphanage only recently started tending to them. A month ago they even brought Iman Ali, an adept honey collector from Narayantala of Sunamganj district, to care for the trees and collect their sap.
People have been crowding by the orphanage at dawn, every day, since December 27 after news of Sylhet's first date plantation broke out. A local youth discovered the wonder zone a few days earlier, and posted a photo of the orchard on social media, claims Iman Ali.
The Business Standard visited the site on January 4 and found over a hundred people waiting there before dawn. People kept arriving from far: in private cars, on motorbikes, on autorickshaws, and in other vehicles available in the rural area.
"I have heard of date juice quite a lot but never had the chance to drink it. I learned about this place from a Facebook post and instantly decided to come and get the drink," said Syed Saifur Rahman.
Saifur had come at 5am from Bateswar area of Sylhet Sadar with some of his friends to drink the date palm juice.
A sip of date palm juice is a first for almost everyone coming to visit the orphange's date orchard. Among them is Fahim Ahmed, a student of Leading University, one of Sylhet's private universities.
"I have read about date palm sap in books. I have also heard stories about this nutritious and tempting drink. Today I tasted it for the first time and found it delicious," Fahim said.
According to the locals, 20-to-40 litres of date palm sap is collected every day from the orchard. The liquid is collected every three days from a single tree. The juice costs Tk10 per glass and Tk50 per litre.
The sap was primarily intended for use by the orphanage's students and teachers. However, Iman Ali found there was an excess of sap collected every day after the students' demands were fulfilled. He used to produce molasses with the extra sap and the orphanage authority decided to sell it.
The situation changed soon after the orphanage went viral on Facebook. Now all the sap collected in a day is sold before 6am.
The orphanage takes precautionary measures for the sap. Hafiz Zakaria Ahmed, chief of the Hifz Department at the orphanage, said the authority is aware of nipah virus, carried by certain bat species.
Thus, the collection jars are covered with nets, and guards are put on duty at night to scare bats away, he added.
Rakibul Hasan, agricultural officer in Sylhet Sadar upazila said despite supportive weather, farmers in Sylhet are not eager to cultivate date trees. Dates require sufficient sunlight, low humidity, low rainfall, and a warm climate – which are primary indicators for weather in northern Bangladesh including Sylhet.
Sylhet's soil is suitable for date trees and palm sap. However, the soil's acidity means there is less date fruit production.
Upon seeing the high potential of date palm sap at the orphanage in Jangail the government has decided to plant date trees – as well as palmyra palm plants – in the district, the agicultural officer added.