The role of the sugar palm in Masarang projects
The sugar palm, a crop in which Willie probably is the world’s greatest expert, has a central role in Willie’s reforestation programs. This particular tree can be used both locally and globally as a sustainable resource and therefore be a very good alternative to the devastating oil palm.
Documentary by the BBC
Palm sugar: unique features
Palm sugar is made from the sap of the Indonesian Arenga palm. The sugar has a light caramel-like flavor and is not as sweet as f.i. sugar cane. Not only the taste of the sugar is unique, but also the environmentally friendly manufacturing process and the perceived health benefits.
After the manual harvest of the sugar palm juice, it is upgraded in the Masarang sugar factory in North Sulawesi to a granulated sugar. The processing of the sugar takes a lot of energy and originally timber was used for this proces. Willie Smits, supported by the Indonesian government, built a sugar factory, which produces waste heat from the local geothermal power plant instead of wood. Apart from sugar it is also possible to make fuel.
This innovative project is rated as one of the 12 best green initiatives in the world (in the World Challenge 2007), and the BBC has made a short documentary entitled ‘Steaming Ahead”.
The sugar is made in a process developed by Willie himself. The production has many advantages, some of which are described below:
The mixed tropical forest where sugar palm and other food crops grow, provides the local population with (sustainable) jobs. The forest also provides clean drinking water, so the local population doesn´t have to buy expensive water in supermarkets, or has to walk for miles to find clean drinking water.
The geothermal residual energy is not only used to produce palm sugar, but it is also used to dry other crops, which saves the local farmers a lot of work.
Because the local farmers’ income has increased, they can afford to send their children to school. Part of the income is also donated to projects in the local community, such as protecting endangered animals or helping children with lesser opportunities.
The production of palm sugar does not involve the cutting down of the tropical rainforest, but rather the planting of new forests, because the palm grows best in tropical mixed forest and not in a monoculture. Also, fertilizers and pesticides are not used, so the groundwater is not contaminated. The sugar palm also uses less water than other crops, and because the tree roots dig deep into the soil, this also prevents erosion.
In areas where the tropical rainforest has been cleared, secondary tropical forest is planted, and this results in the restoration of valuable features, and lowering the pressure on existing tropical forest. Also, the sugar palm grows on -otherwise-unused nutrient poor soils and even on steep slopes where other common trees (eg oil palm) can not grow.
Mixed tropical forest provides shelter to animals and plants, and prevents the loss of biodiversity.
The use of geothermal energy in the sugar does not harm the environment and prevents the the felling of 200,000 trees that otherwise would be used as firewood. In addition the cultivation of the sugar palms results in storing net CO2.
The production of palm sugar gives 6,285 local farmers in Sulawesi a paid job.
Palm Sugar is produced in a professional, clean and controlled environment without additives or other chemical substances, making palm sugar a top quality product.
The locals share in the profits of the sugar and they get a fair price (fair trade). Sugar production has resulted in a two to three-fold increase in the income of the farmers.
The production of palm sugar is environmentally friendly, and there are no (delayed) costs passed on to subsequent generations.
Palm sugar is very environmentally friendly, the sugar is not as sweet as cane sugar and has such a light caramel-like flavor.
Research also suggests that palm sugar has a number of advantages over other sugars, namely:
- Palm sugar contains a number of antioxidants, amino acids and vitamins that have a positive influence on health.
- People who use palm sugar suffer less from heart disease, and stroke.
- Palm sugar is much slower released into the blood, blood sugar levels are rising less sharply and the energy release happens much more gradually. Diabetes is less common in people who use palm sugar.
- White sugar easily leads to obesity and diabetes, palm sugar doesn’t.
- Palm sugar is often used as part of a prescription against cough and asthma.
The distinct flavor of palm sugar is suitable for desserts, cakes and drinks to sweeten, is used as an ingredient in Asian and Oriental dishes and as a seasoning for meat and fish dishes. Also, the sugar tastes great in coffee, tea, yogurt, etc.